St. Louis Cardinals coaching changes might be most-notable offseason moves

The St. Louis Cardinals made several changes to their coaching staff this week before free agency gets started. That’s not huge news, but it might be more than the team changes to its player roster during the offseason.

Hitting coach Mark McGwire said Friday he will take the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals also announced earlier in the week that bullpen coach Dyar Miller had not been offered a contract to stay with the team.

The team will replace Miller with Blaise Ilsley, who had been the pitching coach for the AAA-affiliate Memphis Redbirds, and it is expected to promote John Mabry next week from assistant hitting coach to McGwire’s old position as hitting coach, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The team will likely fill the assistant hitting coach position with someone already in the organization.

But don’t expect a similar amount of changes to the Cardinals roster during the offseason.

The Cardinals offered a $13.3-million qualifying offer Friday to starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, but it would be shocking to see Lohse accept that offer or remain with the team heading into 2013. Lohse’s value is very high right now given his 16-3 record in 2012 and a weak free agent class.

But other than Lohse, the Cardinals will likely trot out a team very similar to the 2012 squad. Lance Berkman won’t return, but every other position player on the team’s regular postseason lineup is under contract for next year.

Following the Cardinals disappointing seven-game loss to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series, many people have trumpeted the need for improvements at the shortstop and second-base positions.

However, those yearnings for new faces up the middle might be misguided.

Assuming his elbow is healthy heading into Spring Training, Rafeal Furcal should be back for the start of the 2013 season. Regardless if people think he is the best possible solution, he is an accomplished veteran who can handle the position. That takes care of shortstop, and Pete Kozma can be Furcal’s back up.

Many also seem to think Kozma was a one-hit wonder down the stretch last season, which he very well might be, but he certainly played well enough while in the big leagues to earn serious consideration as the team’s back-up shortstop.

That is also a much cheaper scenario than signing a mid-level free agent such as Stephen Drew or Alex Gonzalez.

Second base is a tad more tricky. Skip Schumaker did not play well in the second half of the season, but he is still under contract for next season and has proven in the past that he can be an everyday starter. Daniel Descalso is the best fielder on the team besides Yadier Molina, but his surge at the plate in the postseason will have to become his norm for him to hold the second-base job for an entire season.

The Cardinals also have highly touted prospect Kolten Wong, who will have a shot to play second base for the Cardinals, perhaps as soon as 2013. Even if he needs more time in the minor leagues, he figures to be the team’s long-term plan at that position.

Maybe a veteran could fill the spot until Wong is ready, but this year’s free agent class at second base includes players such as Placido Polanco, Marco Scutaro and Adam Kennedy. The Cardinals have already had Polanco and Kennedy earlier in their careers, and both are surely in the final steps of their careers.

Scutaro might be an option. He played great for the Giants this year, hitting .362 in 61 games after he was traded mid-season from the Colorado Rockies, but he is a career .276 hitter. That’s not bad, but Schumaker is a career .288 hitter and does a fine job defensively.

All of that means the team that sneaked into the playoffs, made a miracle comeback to win the division series in the playoffs and missed the World Series by one game will likely be the same team that takes the field on Opening Day 2013.

Changes are always interesting and exciting, but St. Louis fans probably won’t have many of those feelings this winter.

The current team, with supposedly full seasons from Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and a large group of talented, young pitchers, already has the pieces to create expectations that it should at minimum be in strong playoff contention at the end of the season.

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