Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak will be a busy man this week during baseball's winter meeting just outside Washington, D. C. (File)

By Rob Rains

As baseball’s winter meetings begin just outside Washington, D.C., here is a quick summary of how the Cardinals are positioned to make moves during the next week:

Roster – Not offering reliever Seth Maness a contract for next season opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. That spot could be filled ether through a free agent signing, a trade or a selection in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. The Cardinals used the later path last year to obtain pitcher Matt Bowman, who was able to stick on the major-league roster for the entire season.

Money – The departures of Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss and Jaime Garcia freed up about $36 million from last year’s payroll. The Cardinals already have spent a little more than $7 million of that total on free agent left-hander Brett Cecil. More of it will go through raises to arbitration-eligible pitchers Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Michael Wacha. Trevor Rosenthal and Matt Adams also are eligible for arbitration, but it isn’t likely Rosenthal will get much of a raise based on his injury-filled 2016 and Adams is projected to be one of the Cardinals who could be traded this week.

The Cardinals’ payroll this year was about $145 million and it is unrealistic to expect it to be much higher in 2017. Not counting the five arbitration-eligible players, they have 13 players under contract for next season at a cost of $107 million. Of the players signed to long-term deals, Matt Carpenter is getting the biggest raise from last year, $3.5 million, while Mike Leake’s contract calls for a $3 million raise and Jedd Gyorko will receive a raise of $2 million. The front-loaded contract for Jhonny Peralta goes down by $2.5 million.

Needs: Signing Cecil to pair with Siegrist as the left-handers in the bullpen filled one need, but the biggest offseason priority of finding a centerfielder who could upgrade the team’s defense remains a priority and should occupy much of general manager John Mozeliak’s time this week.

Dexter Fowler remains the top free agent at the position, but the bidding will be high in terms of both dollars and years, and signing Fowler also would cost the Cardinals their first-round pick in next June’s amateur draft, something they have not been willing to do in the past.

At this point a trade seems to be a more likely path to fill the spot, and some of the players who could interest the Cardinals are Lorenzo Cain of the Royals, Kevin Kiermaier of Tampa Bay, A.J. Pollock of the Diamondbacks or Adam Eaton of the White Sox. The Reds have said they will listen to offers for Billy Hamilton, but would they trade him within the division?

The Cardinals aren’t necessarily looking for a third baseman, but if the Rays decide to make Evan Longoria available, Mozeliak will no doubt have that conversation. Depending on what it would take to make the deal, a Longoria and Kiermaier package would seem to be very attractive to the Cardinals.

While the starting rotation for next season appears set, to use one of Mozeliak’s favorite words, the team likely will be “opportunistic” when it comes to discussions about starters. If Chris Sale or Chris Archer magically falls into their lap, they won’t automatically reject the deal.

Bargaining Power – The Cardinals could make several players available in the trade discussions that figure to interest other teams. Adams, seemingly without a chance to start in St. Louis if Carpenter becomes a full-time first baseman, is deserving of an opportunity to start on a regular basis to see what kind of power numbers he could produce.

Peralta and Gyorko could see their names included in trade discussions as well. Any potential deals likely would also include prospects, and the depth of the organization in the minors is in right-handed pitching; it is always easier for team’s to deal from a position of strength.

It would not be a shock if Wacha, Rosenthal or Luke Weaver saw their names come up in trade discussions as well.

What to expect:
A surprise deal might not be out of the question. Mozeliak always keeps a low profile in any trade or free agent discussions, not letting outsiders and especially the media know what he is thinking or planning. It also is worth pointing out that sometimes discussions which begin this week are not finalized until sometime in the future, so if the Cardinals do not complete a trade or free agent signing this week it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains