2014 Outlook: St. Louis Cardinals

2014 Outlook: St. Louis Cardinals
January 30, 2014, 5:45 pm
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2013 record: 97-65, 1st place in NL Central
Manager: Mike Matheny, 3rd season
Estimated 2014 payroll: $109 million
Key additions: OF Peter Bourjos, IF Jhonny Peralta, IF Mark Ellis
Key losses: OF Carlos Beltran, SP Chris Carpenter, IF Rafael Furcal, IF David Freese, RP John Axford, RP Edward Mujica

Projected lineup
3B Matt Carpenter
CF Peter Bourjos
LF Matt Holliday
RF Allen Craig
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
SS Jhonny Peralta
2B Kolten Wong

Projected rotation
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Shelby Miller
RHP Michael Wacha
LHP Jaime Garcia
RHP Joe Kelly

Top relievers
CL Trevor Rosenthal
RHP Carlos Martinez
RHP Lance Lynn

[RELATED: Nats players respond to offseason trade rumors]

Biggest questions entering 2014
1. How will they replace the guys who left? The Cardinals have had no trouble moving on after losing star players in recent years. Albert Pujols is a great example, as they've made it at least as far as the NLCS in the two seasons since he left. This year, however, they are losing a significant group of players that will affect their roster up and down. Beltran was a big part of their run last year, Freese had a down year but is still a quality player, and Mujica saved 37 games. Beltran will certainly be the most difficult to replace.

2. How good will Oscar Taveras be? With Beltran gone, the door should open for super prospect Oscar Taveras. The 21-year-old outfielder has been a monster in the minors, holding a .320 batting average across 374 games. He also showed in 2012 he can hit for power with 23 homers, 94 RBI and a .572 slugging percentage in Double-A. He's one of the most talented young prospects in the game, but now he has to prove he's worthy of the hype.

3. Where will they fit in the NL Central? The Cardinals have finished second or higher in the NL Central for five consecutive seasons. With the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, the division looks to be as competitive as any in the next few years. The Reds and Pirates put up a good fight in 2013 and there's no reason to believe either will take a step back this season. Can the Cardinals defend their crown? You can bet it will be a battle until the very end.