Though unable to defend their World Series title, the Cardinals saw 2012 become a year of emergence and establishment. A core of young pitchers, led by 18-game winner Lance Lynn, rose to the Majors and assumed key roles. Others entrenched themselves as starters.
David Freese proved he can stay healthy. Jon Jay showcased a defensive ability above expectation. Allen Craig showed himself to be one of the most prolific first basemen in the league. Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly impressed on the biggest of stages.
All were a part of the story written in 2012, and all will be impact pieces moving forward for a St. Louis team that looks ahead knowing it will retain almost its entire core of talent. The outlook is a refreshing one for an organization that, a year ago, headed into the winter anticipating it would be one of transition.
"Obviously, the general narrative of 2012 has been all the turnover and change and still able to have some success in the season," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Really the takeaway from my end of things is looking at the ups and downs or the hurdles that this organization had to deal with, and then being able to handle them internally. So if you look at our identity, I think we understood the depth of what our Minor League system was capable of producing and [we were] really able to utilize that as an asset to be able to sustain the success we had this year."
While that depth was integral in helping the Cardinals weather several key injuries, it also sets the organization up with a much tidier to-do offseason list than in years' past.
Mozeliak has cautioned against complacency, noting that this club would be misguided not to still seek upgrades. However, the needs are not great, nor are the holes glaring.
On the position player side, the only potential loss will be Lance Berkman, who, because of recurring knee problems, hardly factored into the Cardinals' 2012 success. Everyone else remains under contract through at least next season.
As for the pitching staff, the loss of Kyle Lohse will leave a void in the rotation, but one that the Cardinals believe can be covered internally. Not only is Chris Carpenter expected to be healthy for a full season, but those young power pitchers have already begun their breakthroughs.
It puts the Cardinals on solid ground going into the offseason, during which the organization will eye players who can complement what's already here. So with the offseason upon us, here is a position-by-position look at where the club's 2012 roster stands going into '13.
Catcher: Any concern about perennial Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina walking away as a free agent this winter was eliminated during Spring Training, when Molina and the Cardinals agreed to a multi-year contract extension. Molina followed with the best overall season of his career, as he complemented his stellar work behind the plate with a breakout offensive season. No one is going to supplant Molina in St. Louis for a long time, barring injury. Tony Cruz, Molina's backup in 2012, will return in competition for a backup role next year. The club may also look for a veteran backup option to bring in as competition for Cruz.
First base: Once he moved past some early-season injuries, Craig proved he is the prolific hitter that many thought he'd eventually be. With Carlos Beltran returning as the team's right fielder, first base will be Craig's spot in 2012, even though he feels a bit more comfortable as an outfielder. The versatile Matt Carpenter will likely be Craig's backup, with Matt Adams also waiting in the wings. The trouble for Adams is that the Cardinals likely won't want to risk him getting stale sitting on a Major League bench, so his ability to break the Major League roster could depend on Craig's health.
Second base: The Cards used a carousel of second basemen in 2012, and there is no definitive answer as to who will emerge as a regular there next season. Daniel Descalso got the majority of starts at the position late in the year and will be a returning option in 2013. Coming back, too, is Skip Schumaker, though Mozeliak recently said he doesn't expect Schumaker to get substantial playing time at second moving forward. Carpenter, who was told to work on the position this offseason, could emerge an intriguing option. And coming up quickly through the system is former first-round Draft pick Kolten Wong, who could make an impact in 2013.
Shortstop: If Rafael Furcal has no setbacks in his recovery from an August elbow injury, he'll return as the starting shortstop. The picture gets fuzzier, however, if Furcal's rehab is slowed, or, even worse, if he's eventually forced to have surgery. Pete Kozma, after a surprise emergence in September/October, will come into camp with a chance to prove his small sample size of success was no fluke. The Cardinals also plan to eye upgrades from outside, as their system is not teeming with shortstop talent in the upper levels.
Third base: Freese stepped onto the national stage in October 2011. However, he finally proved he could stay healthy for a full season in 2012. Freese overcame an injury-plagued history by appearing in 144 games last season. He's under team control for three more seasons and will be the team's starting third baseman again in 2013. Matt Carpenter gives the Cardinals depth behind Freese, and Descalso is also more than capable of serving as a fill-in option, if needed.
Outfield: The Cardinals will enter 2013 with zero questions in the outfield. All-Stars Matt Holliday and Beltran will again assume the corner outfield spots, as well as key spots in St. Louis' lineup. In between will be Jay, who thrived in his first full season as the team's starting center fielder. In addition to handling the responsibilities of a leadoff hitter, Jay showed he is also above-average defensively. Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson will again provide depth on the bench. And keep an eye out for top prospect Oscar Taveras, who could push his way into the outfield before the end of next season.
Rotation: Though the Cardinals will not make an attempt to re-sign Lohse, the club is plenty stacked with starters. Returning are veterans Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook. Lefty Jaime Garcia will own a rotation spot, too, assuming he can properly recover from a recurring shoulder injury. Lynn, an 18-game winner in 2012, has a leg up for the final rotation spot, but he'll have competition next spring. Young pitchers Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Rosenthal will enter camp preparing as starters, each intent on making a push to join the St. Louis rotation. The depth leaves the Cardinals little need to look for external help this winter.
Bullpen: The back end of the Cards' bullpen will remain strong, with closer Jason Motte and setup men Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica set to return. Some of those young arms discussed as future starters could fill in holes in the bullpen next year, too. The Cards will be seeking left-handed relievers this winter, as Marc Rzepczynski and Sam Freeman are the lone internal options seemingly ready to contribute at the start of the year.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.