A look at the decisions to come for Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak as baseball's off-season officially began on Thursday. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals made their first big moves of the off-season on Thursday, announcing that manager Mike Matheny has signed a three-year extension and promoting minor-league managers Mike Shildt and Oliver Marmol to the coaching staff.

More decisions lie ahead. Here is a look at some of the most important ones facing the Cardinals in the coming weeks:

What happens with Jaime Garcia?

The team has until Monday to officially exercise or decline the $12 million option on Garcia’s contract, but it appears the Cardinals have decided to pick up the option instead of giving him a $500,000 buyout. The lack of quality starting pitchers apparently played a major role in the decision, considering as of now Garcia is not projected to be a member of the starting rotation next year. By picking up the option, the Cardinals believe they could either trade Garcia this winter or next spring, or retain the possibility of putting him in the rotation should they made a trad involving another one of their starting pitchers.
This could be somewhat of a risky decision. Other teams know all about Garcia's injury history, and it will remain to be seen what kind of offers the team can attract for Garcia. If they are unable to trade him, and he doesn't crack the rotation, they could be stuck with paying a pitcher $12 million that they really have no spot for.

Will they make a qualifying offer to Brandon Moss?

The deadline to make an offer is the same as for exercising Garcia’s option, five days after the end of the World Series, meaning Monday. The player then has a week to accept or reject the offer.

This is another decision which could have changed in recent weeks, because of Moss’s slump at the end of the season and the amount of the offer, $17.2 million.

It seemed to make sense to make the offer to Moss a few weeks ago, believing that he would almost certainly get a better offer as a free agent for a two or three-year contract. By making the offer, the Cardinals would have been guaranteed an extra pick after the first round of the draft next June if he signed with another team.

There seems to be more of a feeling now that Moss could accept a qualifying offer, which would more than double his salary from this season, and that would have an impact not only on the Cardinals’ budget but on their goal of becoming better defensively next season. As much as they would like to get that extra draft pick, the possibility that Moss might accept the offer appears to be too great of a risk to take that chance.

Do they still have interest in free agent Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel?

Yes. The Cardinals know the player very well and have done their due diligence on him, but there has been no indication of when he will make a decision and sign with a club. He turned 23 on Oct. 10, making him eligible to sign with any team and not be restricted by the bonus rules that apply to players younger than 23.

The question will be how much the Cardinals are willing to spend to sign Gurriel, and what kind of bidding war will exist for his services. Keep in mind this is not a great year for major-league free agents. There does not seem to be a timetable for when Gurriel will make his decision, but the Cardinals are still believed to be one of the teams he is considering.

When will we know the penalties for the Astros hacking incident?

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he wants this investigation completed as soon as possible, certainly before the end of the year, but it is believed they have not received the level of cooperation they had hoped for in their inquiries. The Boston Herald reported recently that former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa has declined to speak with the investigators, and they also have not received as much help from federal authorities as had been hoped.

The commissioner does have broad power to enforce penalties against the Cardinals but the internal belief within the organization now is that those penalties will not include the loss of picks in the amateur draft. The primary reason is that the draft is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and thus the Players Association would have to agree to that kind of penalty and they are unlikely to do so.

How are the players in the Arizona Fall League performing and what impact will that have on the makeup of next year’s roster?

Outfielder Harrison Bader and left-handed starter Austin Gomber have been the best so far. Bader has played all three outfield positions and through Wednesday was hitting .318, which ranked 14th in the league. Gomber is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in four starts, recording 19 strikeouts in 17 innings while allowing just 11 hits and five walks.

Shortstop Aledmys Diaz used success in the Fall League last year as a springboard to a big-league job this year, and it’s possible Bader could do the same thing. Gomber likely will begin next year at Double A Springfield, where he finished this year but made just four starts.

For some reason Gomber was not selected to pitch in the league’s All-Star game on Saturday night. Named to the roster for the game were Bader, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Paul DeJong and reliever Rowan wick.

DeJong, interestingly, played mostly third base for Springfield this year but has played shortstop in the fall league.

Who else is a player to watch this winter?

One player is one of their recent Cuban signings, 21-year-old Randy Arozarena, who is playing center field for the Mayos de Navojoa in the Mexican League.

In his first 18 games, Arozarena is hitting .328 with four stolen bases. A 5-foot-11 righthanded hitter, Arozarena is described as a top of the order hitter, with speed, who is an excellent defensive player. Where he begins next season is still to be determined, but it most likely will be in either Peoria or Palm Beach.

Could they sign another player from Japan or Korea?

This remains a possibility. The Cardinals are closely monitoring the Far East market, waiting to see which players are posted from these two countries, and then will make decisions on whether to submit offers and how high they want to bid for those players. Obviously Seung Hwan Oh’s success this season gives them a better idea on how to compare a player’s performance in Japan and Korea with expectations at this level.

When will trade discussions begin to heat up?

Some could already have begun, but most talks likely will begin in earnest next week. The general managers’ meetings begin Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will be the first time all of the GM’s will be together in the same place. Mozeliak has used these meetings in the past to generate discussions which have led to trades later in the winter.

The annual winter meetings will begin on Dec. 5 at a conference center just outside Washington, D.C.

Where are the Cardinals on making 40-man roster decisions?

Counting players on the disabled list the Cardinals currently have 42 players on their roster. This total still includes their eligible free agents, such as Moss and Jordan Walden, as well as Matt Hollliday and Garcia – so there will be some spots opening up in the next week.

In addition, several players likely will be outrighted off the roster so the team can protect prospects who otherwise will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, which takes place at the winter meetings in December.

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