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Another win in Cards? Depends on offseason moves

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals have tasted postseason
success, and they likely will have to pay for it now.

Jeff Weaver Weaver

Jeff Suppan Suppan

St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty's biggest challenge this
offseason will be keeping the World Series champions on top while
facing budget constraints. Some of his biggest decisions will deal
with his starting rotation, beginning with postseason standouts
Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan -- two free agents who could be looking
for more money after strong playoff runs.

Jocketty believes it's unwise to judge potential free agents on
what they do in October, and that philosophy may be tested after
Weaver and Suppan played key roles in the franchise's first World
Series championship in 24 years.

"I'm sure an agent will try to sell that aspect," Jocketty
said. "But you've got to judge a guy on his career, you've got to
judge him on the entire year.

"You can't do it on a couple of short series, or you shouldn't
anyhow."

Weaver was plucked from the junk yard after going 3-10 with the
Angels and getting released to make room for kid brother Jered in
the rotation, and even though he was 5-4 with the Cardinals his
overall ERA was 5.76. Last year he had a one-year, $8.25 million
contract.

Weaver resurrected his career in the postseason with a victory
in each round, and he dominated for eight innings in the Game 5
clincher against the Detroit Tigers. He wants to stay, noting the
Cardinals have made it to the postseason in six of the last seven
seasons.

"Why wouldn't you if you have the opportunity to have the
chance to do this each and every year?" Weaver said. "This is
what we play for, to have the chance to win, and we'll just have to
wait and see what happens."

Suppan generally has been regarded as a middle to back-end
pitcher in the rotation, even after consecutive 16-win seasons in
2004 and '05. He won 12 games this season with a strong second
half, and rose to prominence for the first time in his career with
the NL championship series MVP award. He made $4 million in the
final year of his deal.

Those are just two of the many decisions facing the Cardinals
after a run of the mill regular season. Their 83-78 record was the
worst record by a World Series winner.

The Cardinals survived a pair of eight-game losing streaks, then
lost seven in a row during a 3-9 near-meltdown at the end of the
season. There was plenty of doubt.

"You kind of prepare for the worst and you hope for the best,"
manager Tony La Russa said. "There were many times that things
just didn't seem like they were falling into place for us."

In October, they were reborn. They took out the Padres in four
games and outlasted the Mets in seven before capping off their
unlikely season.

"It just shows you this is the best game in the world because
you can't predict it," Series MVP David Eckstein said. "You get a
bunch of guys that are on a mission, that are going out there
playing as hard as they can, as smart as they can, until the game
ends, anything is possible."

The other big choice: Whether to pick up a $10 million option on
Jim Edmonds' contract.

Edmonds, 36, had an injury-plagued year with post-concussion
syndrome sidelining him for a month, a sore left foot requiring
daily pain-killing injections to get him through the postseason and
a shoulder likely to require offseason surgery. Then he led the
team with 10 RBI in a resurgent postseason.

Does second baseman Ronnie Belliard, the top trade deadline
acquisition, make sense as a long-term fit? Belliard was prized for
his bat when he was acquired from the Indians but has been streaky
offensively, impressing most on defense.

Preston Wilson was the primary left fielder in the postseason
after being cast aside by the Astros.

"In this game, some teams might feel like you're not the right
fit for them, but in other clubs you are," Wilson said. "In this
clubhouse, we welcome everybody."

Change is inevitable. This year's team had only 10 holdovers
from the 2004 team that got swept in the World Series by the Boston
Red Sox.

"We really haven't sat down and figured it out," Jocketty said
before the Series began. "We've thought about it, but we haven't
sat down and said this is our plan for next year.

"I would hope we could keep some of them around."

The rotation could be due for the biggest overhaul with only ace
Chris Carpenter, a 15-game winner who could win his second straight
NL Cy Young Award, under contract. Mark Mulder, who had a 7.14 ERA
before undergoing shoulder surgery, could return with an
incentive-based deal but he, too, is a free agent.

Rookie Anthony Reyes, who threw eight impressive innings in the
World Series opener, likely will get a spot in the rotation.
Jason Marquis, who won 14 games but with a 6.02 ERA, was left off the
roster the last two rounds of the postseason and will be allowed to
test free agency.

The closer also is a question mark. Jason Isringhausen, who has
one year remaining on his contract, believes he'll be ready for the
start of next season after undergoing his second hip operation in
two years in September.

Rookie Adam Wainwright was impressive as Isringhausen's
stand-in, and closed out the clinching game for his fourth save of
the postseason. He could factor into the rotation if the Cardinals
are convinced soon enough that Isringhausen, the team's career
saves leader, will be ready.

Jocketty and the rest of the Cardinals' brass will be charged
with making those decisions after a Series in which St. Louis made
the most of the Tigers' bumbles. La Russa won't be apologizing for
that good fortune. He waited 17 years for his second World Series
title, and as he said after Game 5, there are no bad victories.

"That's just baseball," La Russa said. "It happens."