The Cardinals — and the case of Carlos Beltran

The Cardinals had four players declare for free agency — Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran and Edward Mujica — on Thursday. A fifth joined the market after Jake Westbrook had his mutual option ($9.5 million) declined for a $1 million buyout. Carpenter is expected to retire. The Cardinals do not plan to pursue re-signing Westbrook or Furcal. If Mujica seeks to be paid like a closer, he, too, will not draw the Cardinals’ interest.

And then there is Beltran.

The right fielder, who just completed a two-year, $26-million contract, has expressed interest in returning to the Cardinals. But he has also spoken of his desire to sign a multi-year deal, an understandable request for an aging outfielder. He’ll likely get a few such offers, too, after another productive season. The Cardinals have not shut the door on his return, but they also have three players — Allen Craig, Matt Adams and top prospect Oscar Taveras — who could help them move forward without Beltran.

The first decision the Cardinals will have to make is whether to give Beltran a qualifying offer. They have until 4 p.m. CT on Monday to do so. This offer — a one-year, $14.1 million contract — likely would not be accepted by Beltran as he looks for something longer. By making Beltran a qualifying offer, the Cardinals would at least be guaranteed a compensation-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft should he leave.

– Jenifer Langosch

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