Matt Carpenter

St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter watches his RBI single off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kohl Stewart during the second inning of a baseball game Friday, June 11, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

( — The St. Louis Cardinals roster is going to look a little different in 2022, with a few noteworthy contracts coming off the books this off-season. In addition, several of the club's mid-season pitching acquisitions are free agents this winter. Might the Cardinals look to bring any of them back on new contracts?

Let's take a look at the list of potential departures and examine where St. Louis might be leaning with its internal roster decisions this off-season.

Carlos Martinez: We'll start off with an easy one. It's obvious that St. Louis won't pick up the $17 million option on Carlos Martinez for next season—and you shouldn't expect any re-negotiation from the the team on a more reasonable contract for the 30-year-old pitcher.

A quick glance at Martinez's Instagram indicates he's been living up the exotic beach life for the last few months. One might infer that rehabbing his thumb injury to expedite a possible late-season return wasn't high on the priority list. Without it needing to be said, the Carlos topic was pretty well overtly understood by all parties—reporters didn't really ask about him, and the team didn't have to pretend to consider him in any capacity.

It's an unceremonious end to the Martinez era in St. Louis, but was the only possible outcome given the path that brought us to this point.

Andrew Miller: Elsewhere on the pitching staff, Andrew Miller's time with the team has probably reached its logical conclusion, too. Though Miller served as a valuable veteran presence for the St. Louis bullpen group, Mike Shildt didn't seem to trust him in meaningful situations throughout the 2021 season.

Based on his underwhelming numbers, that was probably a reasonable managerial viewpoint—and therefore a disappointing reality given the narrow margin by which the Cardinals allowed his $12 million option for 2021 to vest at the end of 2020.

Matt Carpenter: Carpenter's 2021 story was more Andrew Miller than it was Carlos Martinez. Carpenter spent the 2021 season on the Cardinals' bench, but was constantly lauded by the organization for his willingness to adapt to the lesser role while remaining an integral part of the clubhouse. The decline in his baseball-playing skills, unfortunately, has been precipitous. Carpenter posted career lows in every major statistical category this season, resulting in a paltry .581 OPS. He didn't come close to drawing enough plate appearances to vest an $18.5 million option for 2022. The Cardinals will pay him a $2 million buyout, per the terms of his April 2019 contract extension.

Though Carpenter has expressed interest in continuing his playing career in 2022, it just seems implausible the Cardinals would kick this can any farther down the road. Though it would be nice to see the lifetime-Cardinal—and deserving future red jacket recipient—end his career that way, St. Louis simply doesn't have much use for what he brings to the table from a production standpoint.

Kwan Hyun Kim: This is kind of a strange one. Though he appeared at one point like a potential extension candidate for the Cardinals starting rotation, KK finished up the 2021 season as an afterthought in the St. Louis bullpen. His performance in that role was decent enough, allowing two earned runs in 7.1 innings. But his usage—and the swiftness of his hook from the rotation following one bad start in early September—indicates that Kim fell out of favor down the stretch.

KK dealt with a variety of nagging injuries this season and as the adage goes, the best ability is availability. It seems the team's patience ran thin on Kim as the Cardinals sought more reliability from his rotation spot. As a result, fans shouldn't expect him to return on a new contract for 2022.

T.J. McFarland and Luis Garcia: Here's where the list of Cardinals free agents starts to get interesting. I'm lumping McFarland and Garcia together for obvious reasons. The pair is forever intertwined after joining the team off the scrap heap in the middle of the season only to become a driving-force duo behind the stabilization of the St. Louis bullpen. What I'm saying is, they'd be great in a buddy cop movie.

It's uncertain whether the Cardinals will be able to resign either or both of them, but it stands to reason that there should be genuine interest from the team in doing so.

Jon Lester and J.A. Happ: Another viable buddy cop duo! The Cardinals acquired both veteran left-handed starters on deadline day in a low-cost effort to bring some stability to the rotation. Incredibly, it worked, as both Lester and Happ served as viable options every fifth day. Each posted ERAs in the low 4.00s with the Cardinals—nothing remarkable, but for a group that had struggled all season with finding dependable replacements for injured starters, their combined presence proved to be just what the doctor ordered.

With Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas slated to return to the rotation, the Cardinals may look in the direction of one of these lefties to help round out the group for 2022. Based on his big-game experience, the Cardinals might prefer a reunion with Lester over Happ if it's a one-or-the-other kind of decision. Happ, though, has already publicly expressed his desire to continue his big-league pitching career next season. He turns 39 later this month.

Lester hasn't yet revealed his intentions for 2022; the veteran turns 38 in January.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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