The St. Louis Cardinals have created as many headlines as any team in Major League Baseball since the 2013 season ended about a month ago, but their next major headlines might not come until Spring Training in February.
The Cardinals traded third baseman David Freese and righthanded reliever Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for center fielder Peter Bourjos and a minor leaguer Nov. 22 and signed former Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53-million contract two days later.
Those moves answered the largest questions the Cardinals faced about their roster after they lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in six games.
Cardinals management thought second base prospect Kolten Wong would be ready to take the big-league job at that position in 2014, so they needed to move Matt Carpenter to free up a spot in the infield for Wong.
St. Louis was not going to trade Carpenter, who finished fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting and won the Silver Slugger award for the top hitting second baseman in the league.
That meant the most expendable position player was Freese, who at age 30 hit a career-worst .262 with nine homeruns and 60 runs batted in.
So Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak made the trade that created room for Carpenter to move to his natural position of third base and give Wong the opportunity to win the full-time second base job in Spring Training.
But despite that deal, the Cardinals still desperately needed a shortstop who could hit with some power and a better batting average than the combined .228 average Cardinals shortstops Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso hit for in 2013.
In came Peralta, who is a career .268 hitter who batted a career-best .303 through 107 games with the Tigers in 2013 before MLB suspended him 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis drug scandal.
Peralta is probably a downgrade defensively from the shortstops the Cardinals had in 2013, but with the way Freese, Kozma and Descalso hit, they certainly needed an upgrade in the lower half of the batting order.
Now, barring injury or an unexpected trade, the Cardinals will send an infield of Matt Adams at first base, Wong at second base, Carpenter at third base and Peralta at shortstop onto the field on Opening Day of the 2014 regular season.
Granted, the team that reached the World Series did not have many holes to fill and has a young pitching staff that is the envy of nearly every other team in baseball, but this could still be one of the most stress-free holiday seasons the Cardinals and their fans have had in recent memory.
The Winter Meetings begin Dec. 9 in Orlando, Fla., but the Cardinals likely won’t have much business to attend to because they’ve taken care of nearly all their needs earlier than normal.
The Cardinals still could use another decent hitter to come off the bench, but that is a relatively small need and they don’t have much of a standard to surpass after last year’s signing of Ty Wigginton to be a righthanded reserve player.
Without a first baseman seeking decade-long contracts or a pitching staff in need of reinforcements, the 2014 season could start next week and the Cardinals would be a favorite to make yet another deep run into the postseason.