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Tuesday is Bryce Harper’s birthday.

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He’s 26 now.

Tuesday was additionally the day of the Cardinals’ end-of-year columnist conference.

They’re now three years afterwards the playoffs.

The best-case book is that a year from now, Harper is at-bat on his altogether while cutting the birds on the bat.

The Cards, of course, won’t animadversion on specific chargeless agents, but John Mozeliak was bright on Tuesday: “I still feel like aback you attending at our club, and you anticipate aback to the year, it seems to still array of absence that hitter.”

But what we don’t know, and can’t know, is the amount of the splurge. The admiral of baseball operations was honest about his chargeless bureau decisions of the past, acknowledging that he’s been labeled a bridesmaid at times and, at added times, questioned for a signing he did make.

But one affair of Tuesday’s columnist appointment was frustrations with uncertainties. Accede that Carlos Martinez was declared to be the Cards’ best abode in 2018, but his abridgement of concrete focus in the offseason led to a leash of trips to the disabled list. And Marcell Ozuna was declared to be the Cards’ best hitter in 2018, and he came to affected with a bum accept and had an asperous year, while application the important cleanup spot.

So the catechism for the Cards activity advanced is: What’s the amount you’ll pay for certainty? Because Bryce Harper is a active baseball amateur who produces abundantly and yearns for a championship. Again, this will be the chargeless abettor outfielder’s age-26 season — he’s a for his prime. He’s a career .900 OPS player. He walks well, alike aback he’s not hitting. Oh, and he’s that adorable lefty bat the Cardinals accept coveted in the boilerplate of their lineup.

“Trying to acquisition a way to advance our breach on a added constant akin is activity to absolutely accept to be our goal,” said Mozeliak, whose Cards won 88 games. “People are activity to jump to a lot of abstracts aback they apprehend that — I don’t apperceive if that’s how I would anticipate about it. It does assume that if we can acquisition a way to strengthen that calendar on a approved basis, it would accomplish sense. … It doesn’t accept to be (a lefty), but there’s no agnosticism that from the larboard side, we did not accept that impact. …

“There’s no agnosticism that as we adapt for aing year, our focus is activity to be how we advance the 2018 aggregation for 2019. But that doesn’t beggarly we’re activity to accept to advertise our body to be all-in for ’19 and ’20 and anguish about ’21 later — that’s never how we approved to accomplish this organization. Whether you accede with that aesthetics or not, you could altercate we accept had abiding success over this aeon that actual few organizations can mirror.”

So yes, on Tuesday we got both abandon of the situation. We were told a lot about the ache to advance offensively. And we were told about how you don’t aloof buy to buy, and allotment of the acumen the Cards were alike in the mix in contempo Septembers is because of antithesis and actuality prudent.

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Mozeliak was asked about the repercussions of accessible capricious spending. The Cards can’t blot hits as able-bodied as, say, the Yankees or Dodgers, admitting their TV accord helps them added than the advice abounding added teams get.

As for giving a long-term, franchise-impacting arrangement to one player, Mo was measured.

“One of the things I’ve consistently taken a lot of pride in is accepting the albatross to administer the affairs in a acute way, or in a amenable way,” he said. “So to artlessly win an auction — and usually the proxy is the better contract — isn’t artlessly my ambition to afresh get in advanced of (the media) and accept that moment of joy, aback I apperceive there can be abiding ramifications that ability not be advantageous for the franchise. I would booty a little bit of a footfall aback actuality and say — I admit that aggravating to acquisition a authorization amateur or face-of-a-franchise is article we admit we haven’t had aback Albert (Pujols) left. Yet we still accept managed to win. But it’s a altered way of architecture a club aback you don’t accept it. I do anticipate it’s a little bit harder.”

Mozeliak fabricated abundant references Tuesday to application “pencil not pen” in commendations to the 2019 Cardinals (and beyond). There are a lot of questions involving key names, including Dexter Fowler in appropriate acreage and abundant starting pitchers abiding from abrasion or a analysis accomplished in the bullpen.

But again, I appear aback to — with Carlos and Ozuna, we acutely acclimated pen to address in their assembly for 2018 afore the analysis began … yet, attending how that didn’t appear true.

There seems to be a lot to like about the Bryce Harper investment. Added teams see it too. It’ll acceptable appear bottomward to a sales angle and money.

“When you attending at the accomplished offseasons, we’ve absolutely had some swings and misses,” Mozeliak said. “We’ve had some successes. We accept to acquisition a way to get over that hump. Because we now apperceive 88 was not acceptable enough. And our analysis doesn’t attending like it’s activity to get any weaker. It’s activity to crave advance and intelligence to get us over that hump.”

Ron Gant tosses his helmet aback adjoin the dug out at the end of accession account beneath inning adjoin the Reds/

His five-year accord from the Cards afore the 1996 season, account an estimated $33 million, was the aboriginal multi-year arrangement of the 30-year-old’s career. “It’s been a continued time coming,” the larboard fielder said at the time. “I’ve put up a lot of acceptable numbers in the aloft leagues.”

The acceptable numbers dipped. Injuries and strikeouts increased. He hit .246 and agape 30 homers in 1996, but addled out a career-high 162 times in 1997, and his role was decreased in 1998. Afterwards he was traded to Philadelphia, Gant accurate his assessment that Mark McGwire batting third befuddled up the Cards’ lineup.

“That calendar formed for Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan and Delino Deshields and J.D. Drew in his few amateur in September, ” administrator Tony La Russa attempt back. “The alone one it didn’t appointment for was Ron Gant. It was whiff, whiff, whiff.”

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Friday, February 23, 2001 — Cardinals outfielder Bobby Bonilla (left) talks with aboriginal baseman Mark McGwire as the two delay their about-face to bat during bounce training at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. POST-DISPATCH PHOTO BY CHRIS LEE

After a 15-year career that spanned seven teams, the six-time All-Star was accessible for retirement until the Cards alleged branch into the 2001 season. Injuries, best conspicuously the bedfast larboard hamstring during bounce training that helped a adolescent Albert Pujols accomplish the roster, bent up with the 38-year-old switch-hitter who was declared to be the club’s top pinch-hitter during his one-year accord account $900,000. Instead he hit .213 with 12 extra-base hits in what became his final season.

St. Louis Cardinals aboriginal baseman Tino Martinez (21) argues with third abject adjudicator John Hirschbeck, center, afterwards he was ejected from the d adjoin the San Diego Padres by aboriginal abject adjudicator C.B. Bucknor in the additional inning Saturday, July 13, 2002, in San Diego. Cardinals’ administrator Tony La Russa, right, listens. Martinez was agitation Bucknor’s cardinal on his ground-out in the top of the additional inning. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Signed to a three-year, $21 actor accord afore the 2002 season, the 34-year-old who faced the alpine appointment of replacing Mark McGwire spent two slump-prone years in St. Louis afore the club traded him to Tampa Bay to chargeless up aboriginal abject for Albert Pujols.

Martinez hit .267/.345/.434 during his two seasons with the Cards. His 36 accumulated home runs were two added than he hit as a Yankee in 2001. And he was a no-show in the 2002 postseason, area he went two for 25. He afterwards pushed aback adjoin the “malcontent” and “cancer” labels activated by media and fans.

15 April, 2006 — Cardinals casting drillmaster Dave Duncan (right) talks with starting abode Sidney Ponson in the dugout amid innings during a d amid the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. POST-DISPATCH PHOTO BY CHRIS LEE

The Cards won the World Series in 2006, but the 29-year-old righty didn’t do abundant to advice them get there. Afterwards signing a one-year accord account $1 million, Ponson rarely lasted best than bristles innings yet pushed aback the angle of a move to the bullpen.

He had a 4-4 almanac and 5.24 ERA in 14 appearances aback he was appointed for assignment. He was appear and agreed to a accord with the Yankees — the aforementioned day his T-shirt debuted in the Cards’ aggregation store.

Cardinals abode Kip Wells signs autographs at bounce training in 2007. Afterwards a 7-17 analysis in St. Louis, Wells spent the bounce of 2008 elsewhere. Chris Lee | Post-Dispatch

Randy Hendricks, Wells’ representative, had this to say about the one-year accord account $4 actor that his applicant active afore the 2007 season: “If Kip does what we and the Cardinals hope, he will be account a lot added afterwards 2007. So we are action on anniversary added and the future.”

Former Cards casting drillmaster Dave Duncan had a adroitness for animating adept arms, but his abracadabra didn’t appointment on the righty starter.

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The 30-year-old started 26 games, and the Cardinals absent 20 of them. He was demoted to the abode at one point and accomplished the analysis with a 7-17 almanac and 5.70 ERA.

Cardinals baserunner Adam Kennedy is best off additional abject in a d adjoin the Cubs aboriginal in the 2007 season. Cubs ambush Ryan Theriot applies the tag. (Chris Lee photo / Post-Dispatch)

The Cards called the additional baseman 20th in the 1997 draft, and he fabricated his aloft alliance admission with the club in 1999 afore he was traded to Anaheim in the accord that beatific Jim Edmonds to St. Louis.

Kennedy, the 2002 AL Championship Series MVP, came aback to his aboriginal club for the 2007 analysis acknowledgment to a three-year accord account $10 million. It wasn’t a blessed accession for the 31-year-old, and it concluded aboriginal acknowledgment to an actual release. He hit .219 during an injury-shortened aboriginal season, afresh requested a barter afterwards his arena time alone off.

May 21, 2010 — Cardinals starting abode Brad Penny stops throwing countdown tosses and waits for administrator Tony La Russa to abate him at the alpha of the fourth inning during a d amid the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. Penny hit a admirable bang in the basal of the antecedent inning, he was replaced by Mitchell Boggs. Chris Lee [email protected]

The 32-year-old righhanded amateur hit the aboriginal admirable bang of his career on May 21, 2010. The aback abrasion that acquired his avenue in the aforementioned inning concluded his alone analysis with the Cards.

Signed to a one-year accord account $7.5 million, Penny fabricated nine starts (3-4) and pitched 55.2 innings (3.23 ERA) afore the abrasion that was accepted to alleviate in a few weeks angry into the abode sitting the blow of the 2010 season.

Cardinals infielder Ronny Cedeno (right) runs bottomward administrator Mike Matheny amid additional and third in a assignment during St. Louis Cardinals bounce training on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Chris Lee, [email protected]

The Cards anticipation the adept infielder ability accept amateur abeyant afterwards they active him to a one-year accord account $1.15 actor afore the 2013 season. Beneath than two months later, the 30-year-old was off the agenda via actual release. The reason? Pete Kozma exhausted him out. Ouch.

“It wasn’t fair to annoyance him on,” Cards administrator Mike Matheny said at the time. At atomic Cedeno got about $284,050 for his spring-training stint.

Cardinals infielder Ty Wigginton fields a arena brawl during St. Louis Cardinals bounce training on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Chris Lee, [email protected]

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The aloft All-Star (2010) wasn’t declared to be The Man, but he was accepted to action a adept bat off the bank aback he was active to a two-year accord account $5 actor afore the 2013 season. The 35-year-old went 9 for 57 with 19 strikeouts and no homers afore the club gave him an actual absolution afterwards alone 47 appearances.

He exited with class. “I’ve got annihilation but acceptable things to say about the Cardinals,” he said.

St. Louis Cardinals additional baseman Mark Ellis deflects a distinct off the bat of Milwaukee Brewers’ Lyle Overbay that denticulate the ambitious run in the 11th inning during a d amid the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee, [email protected]

The accession of the 37-year-old additional baseman afore the 2014 analysis fabricated abundant sense. Actuality was an earlier yet still reliable infielder who could aback up Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong.

The one-year accord account $5.25 actor angry out to be a bad investment. Ellis, a .265 hitter during his 11-year career afore aing the Cardinals, hit a career-low .180. At one point he went 29 amateur afterwards an RBI. He additionally set career lows in home runs (zero), runs (15) and RBI (12). He appear his retirement in February.

St. Louis Cardinals starting abode Mike Leake allotment to the dugout afterwards acceptance two runs in the aboriginal inning during a d amid the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, August 9, 2017, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee, [email protected]

There are bad deals. Afresh there are the affliction affectionate of deals, the ones that end aback a club not alone raises a white flag, but decides to bandy money abdicate in the process. The Cardinals don’t do this often. Abnormally aback there are assorted years larboard on the dud player’s deal. But they absitively it was the alone acknowledgment with Leake, whom they active to a five-year, $80 actor accord in December  2015, afresh traded to the Mariners in August of 2017, chipping in some $17 actor forth with $750,000 of all-embracing signing-cap amplitude in barter for … a accessory alliance infielder called Rayder Ascanio. 

Leake, who landed the better arrangement amount of any free-agent starting abode in Cardinals history, acquaint a 16-24 almanac in 56 starts with the Redbirds. He ancient with a 4.46 ERA. He was abnormally abhorrent adjoin the National Alliance Central; he went 5-14 with a 5.04 ERA in 27 starts adjoin analysis foes. Leake absent 10 of his aftermost 12 decisions as a Cardinal and acquaint a 6.94 ERA in his aftermost 10 starts. A abominable action with a case of the shingles impacted Leake’s aboriginal season. The poor fit with his new aggregation lingered continued aloft that. Would things accept angry about if the Cardinals gave him added time? We’ll never know.

Cardinal abode Brett Cecil sits in the dugout afterwards giving up a two-run in the 8th inning on Friday, August 31, 2018, afterwards hitting a 3rd inning home run in a d adjoin the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Christian Gooden, [email protected]

Cecil is two years into a four-year, $30.5 actor contract, and to say things accept not gone able-bodied is an understatement.

In 2017, the lefty reliever let a career-high cardinal of affiliated runners account (40.6 percent). Awkward hitters averaged .343 and slugged .539 adjoin him. In 2018, Cecil struggled with injuries and command all season, campanology up an agitative 6.89 ERA while acceptance 39 hits and 20 accidental walks in aloof 32⅔ innings. Again, he had problems with awkward hitters, who had a .310 boilerplate adjoin him.

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St. Louis Cardinals abode Greg Holland in the dugout afterwards he accustomed two runs in the ninth inning during a d amid the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Chris Lee, [email protected]

Holland came to St. Louis as an All-Star closer, signing a one-year, $14 actor accord hours afore the 2018 approved analysis started. He larboard St. Louis by the end of July, never able to acquisition command of his fastball or his slider, advised his specialty.

The right-hander had no saves, a 7.92 ERA and absolved an amazing 22 batters in 25 innings. Anon afterwards abrogation the Cardinals, he active with the Nationals, acceptance aloof two runs and nine hits in 21⅓ innings, which alone worsened the bite of this of a signing.

St. Louis Cardinals’ Dexter Fowler allotment to the dugout afterwards arresting out in a pinch-hit actualization to end the sixth inning during a d amid the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Chris Lee, [email protected]

After an all-star analysis arena centermost acreage with the World Series-winning Cubs, Fowler active a five-year, $82.5 actor accord with the Cardinals afterwards the 2016 season. Fowler, who angry 31 anon afore aperture day in 2017, was accepted to be the abiding acknowledgment in centermost acreage in St. Louis.

His aboriginal analysis with the Cardinals wasn’t awful, but absolutely boilerplate a what the aggregation hoped for, accustomed the big salary. His additional season, 2018, was awful. Afterwards 12 games, he was hitting alone .152 (7 for 46), and afterwards April 15, Fowler’s batting boilerplate never rose aloft .200 all season, finishing at .180 on Aug. 3, the aftermost d he played. He additionally acquaint abrogating arresting runs adored metrics.

Fowler should get accession adventitious to redeem himself, with three years and $49.5 actor actual on his deal.

Chris Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Mike Matheny

Will the Cardinals accomplish a move in chargeless bureau this offseason?

While we delay to acquisition out, columnist Ben Frederickson reviews some of their best signings — from Carp and a catcher, to Berkman, Beltran and beyond:

BEST FREE-AGENT MOVES OF THE DEWITT ERA

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