Feb 13, 2012, 6:00 PM EDT
The World Series champion Cardinals will go it without Albert Pujols, but the additions of Adam Wainwright (back from Tommy John surgery) and Carlos Beltran should sufficiently make up for that. On paper this year’s team looks just as good as the one that won it all. Of course, last year’s winners wouldn’t have sniffed the postseason playing in any division besides the NL Central, so there is room for improvement.
I didn’t leave a spot for Lynn here, even though I project him as the Cardinals’ fourth best starter. He’s quite a luxury for the team at the moment. The Cardinals could try to dump Westbrook’s salary and slide him into the rotation or move McClellan and use him as a long man. The best option, though, is probably to stand pat and see what happens this spring. I doubt Carpenter and Garcia are going to combine to make 66 starts again. The Cards are sure to need at least six starters, and as great as Miller will be someday, they’re not going to want to have to call on him in the first half.
The bullpen should be strong, even if neither Motte nor Salas can quite duplicate their 2.2x ERAs from last season. The closer’s gig is Motte’s to lose after a fine postseason that included five saves.
Disabled list: Allen Craig (R)
Next in line: C Bryan Anderson (L), C Koyie Hill (S), 1B/OF Mark Hamilton (L), 1B Matt Adams (L), 3B Matt Carpenter (L), INF Pete Kozma (R), INF-OF Eugenio Velez (S), OF Adron Chambers (L), OF Erik Komatsu (L)(Rule 5)
The offense doesn’t lack for big names even with Pujols gone, but I do have my concerns. Berkman and Molina are due for at least mild declines, and Berkman, Furcal, Beltran and Freese all rank among the biggest injury risks at their positions. Given those issues, one would think the Cardinals would have invested more in their bench this winter.
Of course, the bench situation would look a lot better if Craig makes a quick return from knee surgery. He’s the team’s third best outfielder, and he’ll be great insurance for Beltran and Berkman if healthy.
As is, the bench spots are largely up for grabs, with only Schumaker completely assured of his place (though Greene is probably safe). Cruz will battle Anderson to become Molina’s backup, with Hill possibly sneaking in if neither youngster impresses. Cora, Hamilton and Carpenter are the candidates for the sixth infield spot. Robinson, Chambers and Komatsu will compete for one gig in the outfield. I don’t have much faith in anyone from that group, but that’ll be Craig’s spot eventually.
My guess is that the Cardinals start strong, but that injuries take a toll as the year goes on. There may be enough pitching depth to get them back to 90 wins anyway, but the NL Central crown could come down to whether Furcal, Beltran and others are close to 100 percent come September.
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