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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


Dexter Fowler's helmet comes flying off as he slides into third base during a playoff game at Atlanta last month. Photo by David Carson,

If you’re eager for a winter of change in Cardinal Nation, take a step back and relax.

It’s not likely to happen. Expect much inactivity while other franchises do new and exciting things.

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. values continuity, so he gave new deals to his key principals on the baseball side. That was a no-brainer after his team rallied to win the National League Central title and advance to the NLCS.

Manager Mike Shildt especially was deserving of the added financial security.

As for the roster, earlier decisions by the entrenched braintrust restrict what can be done during this offseason. The front office is not so much complacent as handcuffed.

“As you think about our club and how it was built this year, there’s not a lot of room for change,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “But we recognize if we can create some that we should.”

Making significant changes on this roster would be difficult for a variety of reasons.

After the 2017 season the Cardinals spent pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen as well as outfielder Magneuris Sierra to get outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who could exit as a free agent this winter after two so-so seasons in the STL.

The next offseason the team spent pitcher Luke Weaver and catcher Carson Kelly to get first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. And the trades that sent away outfielders Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk and Oscar Mercado yielded dismal returns.

So the Cardinals don’t have many surplus assets to trade.

Other teams covet outfielder Dylan Carlson and slugging corner infielder Nolan Gorman, but dealing either prospect would be stupid unless this team gained many years of cost-controlled, All-Star-caliber play in return.

“This year in terms of how we think about acquiring talent versus what true opportunities might exist, we might have our limitations in that regard,” Mozeliak admitted.

The Cardinals don’t see much in free agency, either. Gerrit Cole, Steven Strasburg and Anthony Rendon figure to land far outside DeWitt’s price range. After those three players, the available talent falls off precipitously.

Besides, this team’s payroll budget is pretty much spent. The Cardinals owe $72 million to Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler for the next two years.

The Ghost of Brett Cecil will collect $7.25 million next season and another $4 million goes to former Cardinal Mike Leake. Reliever Andrew Miller is owed $11.5 million next year plus a $2.5 million buyout if the club doesn’t pick up its option for 2021.

The franchise committed $130 million to Paul Goldschmidt and $68 million to Miles Mikolas. Yadier Molina still has another $20 million coming.

Freeing up payroll budget would be difficult. Getting DeWitt to take his payroll up another notch would be very, very, very difficult.

“Our payroll this past year I think was sixth in Major League Baseball and our revenue was 11th,” DeWitt said. “I think this coming year we’re in a similar category as last year, which is a pretty robust payroll given where we stand revenue-wise.”

Various trades and investments pushed the Cardinals back into postseason play after a three-year absence, which is a big deal. But if Mozeliak could go back in time, he might welcome a do-over so he could avoid his current situation.

If he could go back and undo trades, he could have an outfield of Pham, Mercado and Grichuk with Magneuris Sierra competing for work as well. They could have Luke Voit playing first base for minimal pay, Kelly catching behind Yadier Molina and Alcantara, Gallen and Weaver adding pitching depth.

If they could go back and undo contracts, they would have massive payroll flexibility instead of gigantic financial commitments.

Time travel remains impossible, though, so the Cardinals are left hoping that many well-paid veterans improve and at least a few young players step up and provide a lift.

“How does our offense get better? It’s not by one position, it’s by collectively producing more,” Mozeliak said.

Hmmm . . . that’s not as exciting as wooing Rendon or even a Mike Moustakas to play third base. And speaking of that, management’s solution for the Matt Carpenter Problem is to hope he gets better.

“In terms of my confidence or our confidence in him, it’s high,” Mozeliak said. “You look at where he was a year ago to what happened this past year, we’re going to look at that as an outlier. Our expectation for him next season is to be a contributing member in that order.”

For the money he’s making, he better be. Like the other huge contracts, Carpenter’s extension costs the Cardinals an opportunity to invest in somebody better.

Mozeliak is hoping that hitting guru Jeff Albert can help Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader and others get to a better place next season.

“Everybody that sits up here is very excited about what Jeff brings to the table,” Mozeliak said at the news conference.

So this winter’s theme is “Do more with what’s in place.”

That’s not much of a slogan for ticket sales billboards, but it will have to do.

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