ST. LOUIS -- Baseball's Hot Stove season has ignited quicker than normal this winter, with teams not hesitant to start dealing and signing before baseball officials from all 30 clubs gather in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday.
The Cardinals have been no exception.
When general manager John Mozeliak and Co. gather in their suite next week, they'll find an offseason checklist that has already been substantially dented. The team's biggest need was addressed last week with the signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Days before, the Cards acquired Peter Bourjos in a move designed to boost the team's speed and defense.
A team that won 97 games and the National League pennant in 2013 does not have any additional glaring holes with Spring Training now just a little more than two months away. It does not mean the Cardinals will necessarily be silent at the Winter Meetings. But they also will not arrive inclined to have to act.
As the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort prepares to be overrun by team personnel and media in a few days, here is a look at the Cardinals' position heading into the Winter Meetings:
While the Cardinals have already upgraded in the areas the organization deemed most critical, their bench could still use some tweaking. It was an area of weakness last season, especially late in the year when Matt Adams was thrust into a starting role. Depending upon how all the pieces are put together in 2014, Adams could be starting at first base or back on the bench. If he's needed in a starting role, the bench would lack a legitimate power bat.
Mozeliak has noted an interest in creating a bit of spring competition for Kolten Wong, which could lead the Cardinals to add another middle infielder this winter. If so, it would likely be a right-handed hitter who could complement the left-handed-hitting Wong.
Who they can trade if necessary
By landing a shortstop via the free-agent market, the Cardinals were able to hold onto their surplus of pitching. The fact that they have more starting pitchers than rotation spots is seen as a luxury, not a conundrum. However, if the Cards wanted to make another impact trade, they would seemingly have the pitching to pull it off. Young pitchers like Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal have drawn interest by other clubs looking to upgrade. With no glaring needs remaining, the Cardinals would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to part with any of those arms.
Per MLB.com's most recent prospect rankings, the Cardinals' top 10 list includes: Oscar Taveras, Wong, John Gast, Tyrell Jenkins, Marco Gonzales, Carson Kelly, Stephen Piscotty, Rob Kaminsky, Charlie Tilson and James Ramsey.
The Cards have worked hard to stock their farm system with talent, and they reaped the benefits of that in 2013. The organization is not opposed to dealing prospects for an already established player, though with the team's primary offseason needs already addressed, it seems unlikely that the club would need to do so.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for Thursday, the final day of the Winter Meetings. The Cardinals have openings on their 40-man roster, meaning that they will be eligible to make a selection in the Draft should they want to. However, the crop of Rule 5 Draft-eligible players will have already been picked through by the time the Cards get their chance. By virtue of having baseball's best record in 2013, the Cardinals have the final selection in each round of the Draft.
Since 1998, only three of St. Louis' Rule 5 Draft selections have stuck through a season. If a player does not remain on the team's 25-man roster for a full year, he must be offered back to his previous club for half of the $50,000 purchase price. The Cardinals did not make a selection in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft last year.
Big contracts they might unload
With close to $50 million having already come off the Cardinals' payroll through offseason departures, the Redbirds find themselves in an ideal financial position. Peralta will add $15.5 million to the 2014 payroll. Adam Wainwright, Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia are in line for raises of at least $2 million. But with only three arbitration-eligible players to pay and the majority of the roster still having less than three years of service time, the Cardinals' projected payroll is currently well below the 2013 Opening Day total of $116 million.
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.