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Cardinals’ lack of action could be their undoing

Feb 21, 2013, 11:59 PM EDT

Mike Matheny, Chris Carpenter AP

It’s hard to blame the Cardinals for staying the course. Even with free agents Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman set to depart, St. Louis ended 2012 with a roster that already looked like a winner entering 2013:

Rotation: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal

Bullpen: Jason Motte, Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, Kelly, Marc Rzepczynski, Eduardo Sanchez, Victor Marte

Lineup: CF Jon Jay, RF Carlos Beltran, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Allen Craig, C Yadier Molina, 3B David Freese, SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Matt Carpenter/Daniel Descalso

What did it make sense to do from there? Upgrade at second base? Perhaps, but it was probably the weakest position in free agency this winter. The Cardinals were rumored to have made a run at Marco Scutaro before he re-signed with the Giants.

Upgrade the rotation? Since the Cards seemed committed to Carpenter and Westbrook, that probably would have meant sending Lynn back to the bullpen and there simply weren’t many starters available in free agency that were better bets than Lynn and those few would have been expensive.

Adding to the bench should have been a priority, and the Cardinals did. Unfortunately, they did so with Ty Wigginton, a defensive liability no longer worthy of a roster spot. They also signed Ronny Cedeno as a shortstop fallback rather than trust an encore performance from late-season surprise Pete Kozma.

Besides those two, the only notable newcomer is lefty specialist Randy Choate.

That the Cardinals did so little might have been just fine if not for the events of the last month. Carpenter is expected to miss the season after his nerve problems returned with a vengeance. Miller, the early favorite to replace him in the rotation, is sidelined with shoulder tightness. And Furcal, the lineup’s biggest question mark, is still having problems with his throwing elbow.

The Cardinals are still fairly well protected in the rotation. Even if they have to dig down deeper as the season progresses, top prospects Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha could prove ready. Rosenthal should be a big weapon wherever he happens to be deployed.

The team is also very well set in the outfield, what with top prospect Oscar Taveras available to step in if Beltran goes down. The Cards can even put Craig back in a corner and call up power-hitting Matt Adams to play first base if needed.

The middle infield is a big issue, though, particularly in light of Furcal’s ill health. Ideally, Matt Carpenter will prove capable at second base and win the job there. However, if he can’t handle the defensive responsibilities, the Cards could be looking at spending big chunks of the season with the light-hitting Descalso covering one spot and Cedeno, Kozma and Ryan Jackson vying for the other.

At third base, Freese also has an extensive injury history, and while Carpenter is a fine fallback there, he can’t play second if he’s starting at the hot corner.

With spring training games having even yet to start, the Cardinals’ depth has been whittled away. If it stops now, the team is still in very good position, particularly since it should have plenty of flexibility to pull off in-season trades. Still, it’s fair to express disappointment that the team didn’t do better than Wigginton and Cedeno for the bench. A Scutaro to start at second or a Kelly Johnson to give added protection would look quite nice right now. The left-handed-hitting Eric Chavez would have made a lot more sense as a backup to two right-handed-hitting corner infielders than Wigginton does. Time will tell if those misfires come back to bite them.

  1. thebadguyswon - Feb 22, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    They have the best farm in baseball, with several near-ready talented prospects
    They’ll be fine.

  2. ultimatecardinalwarrior - Feb 22, 2013 at 1:12 AM

    The Wigginton deal is still incomprehensible to me. Sometimes I forget that the Cardinals ever signed him. Those days are good days. I will throw my hat at the TV every time he comes up to the plate.

    • tuberippin - Feb 22, 2013 at 11:53 AM

      Can’t hit much worse than Pete Kozma

  3. ahuophfe - Feb 22, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    Reblogged this on bnfblogs.

  4. blacksables - Feb 22, 2013 at 5:05 AM

    Typical Cardinal-hating and headline-trolling post from Matthew. Start off with how the Cardinals are in trouble, follow-up with all the reasons they aren’t, and fail to mention how bad the rest of the division is outside of Cincinnati.

    Competent reporting doesn’t matter as long as they click on the headline, right?

    • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 7:39 AM

      If you’re feeling put-upon, go back through the articles on the Tigers this off-season and see how many of them do any kind of serious breakdown of the team like this.

      • blacksables - Feb 22, 2013 at 7:42 AM

        I’m not feeling put upon. I just think Matthew is a hack blogger who writes posts to troll for clicks, without actually providing any type of competent analysis at all.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 7:48 AM

        Well, then hopefully next time he dedicates that much attention to the reigning AL champs instead of pissing you off — and you can get the fluff posts about leadership & unsigned former closers being ignored.

  5. ghostofjimlindeman - Feb 22, 2013 at 5:32 AM

    Easy there dip head it’s not even March yet, it’s a bit early to start with your anti Cardinal rants so soon isn’t it? Ty is a quality bench player he plays multiple positions, and hits for power, not sure what else you think a bench player should be exactly a 330 hitter? We have best farm system in game with players I’m sure you know next to nothing about. I”m confident we’ll be ok even without your oh so crucial endorsement.

    • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 7:50 AM

      Just because someone says something that’s not all rah-rah doesn’t mean they’re anti- your team.

      • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 7:57 AM

        Nah, Mathew has earned this one. He has written a number of posts ripping the Cardinals that have a personal tone to them….and that have no amount of unbiased analysis at all. For example, calling a team the “biggest dipwads” for doing exactly what every other team does is pathetic. Yeah, he’s “a blogger” and not a reporter….but he has written too much obvious bull shit to get any benefit of the doubt….and his defense of this indefensible positions often read even worse. He pretty much lost all credibility with many this post (yeah, I’m sure he loses sleep over it): http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/08/28/minus-tony-la-russa-cardinals-still-leagues-biggest-dipwads/

        In action in FA is usually the best action, because most FA signings are horrible over-pays….almost by definition, signing a FA is paying premium prices to buy into a declining market.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:19 AM

        See my above about whining Cards fans.

      • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        Booooo!

        *throws bar of soap used to prepare head for wearing beaver as a hat*

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:25 AM

        Isn’t there a Phillies or “anti-Cards” rant you should be trolling? BTW, thanks for the great insight on the last Tigers post.

      • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:30 AM

        Tigers post?

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:31 AM

        Exactly. Whiner.

      • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:32 AM

        Jose Tigre FTW

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:33 AM

        Bite me.

      • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:34 AM

        Didn’t you get snow? Shouldn’t you be all happy now?

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        Why don’t you turn on the Braves-Tigers game.

      • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 1:39 PM

        Is it radio only? Can’t find video on MLB.TV

      • historiophiliac - Feb 22, 2013 at 1:46 PM

        I have the gametrax up. IDK about the TV since I’m at work. 0-0 3rd

      • stlouis1baseball - Feb 22, 2013 at 10:38 AM

        No I am booing YOU. Booooo!
        You keep it up…and you’re gonna’ get a taste of that timeout!

    • stlouis1baseball - Feb 22, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      Jim…
      It’s dipwad….not dip head.
      Nonetheless, I appreciate the spirit of your post.
      Except for the part about Ty Wigginton.

      • ghostofjimlindeman - Feb 22, 2013 at 10:35 AM

        Doh! Dip Wad not Dip Head of course.

      • ghostofjimlindeman - Feb 22, 2013 at 10:40 AM

        Wiggy is no Gerald Perry, Milt Thompson, or John Mabry in terms of legendary cards bench guy’s. He does have pop in that bat though despite his other failings.

    • Francisco (FC) - Feb 22, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      TY Wigginton is just awful. Ask any Phillies fan; he’s so defensively challenged that his hitting doesn’t make up for all the base-runners he allows.

      • ghostofjimlindeman - Feb 22, 2013 at 11:27 AM

        Meh 300 AB’s 15-20 dingers and fill in where needed. Works for me, we’ll see.

      • salvomania - Feb 22, 2013 at 12:35 PM

        You do realize that “Wiggy”–the Cardinals’ new right-handed bat off the bench and backup IF/OF corner—had a lower OPS last year than Skip Schumaker?

        If you supposedly have “pop” you’d better be slugging better than .375, which is what “Wiggy” put up last year, when he was one year younger and playing half his games in a hitter’s park.

      • ghostofjimlindeman - Feb 22, 2013 at 1:20 PM

        How many 20 HR seasons does Skip have in career again? Ty has 4 during his. Skip was a fan fav for grit or whatever he had. Still you can’t spell scrappy without crappy. I’ll still take Ty.

  6. Mark - Feb 22, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    With or without Carpenter it made, and still makes little sense to go after a SP considering their depth of major league ready starting pitching prospects.

    I’m not sure why you’re criticizing them for upgrading over Kozma who had a 650 OPS in the minors. It’s not like he’s going to come anywhere close to that.

    I agree that Freese is injury prone, but he did play in 144 games last year.

    So basically your entire post boils down to Furcal being injured.

    • paperlions - Feb 22, 2013 at 7:50 AM

      Yep.

      Yes, their MIF is in bad shape….but who were the upgrades?

      Scutaro? Seriously? A 37 yr old MIF whose defense is now below average is probably a downgrade over what they have…especially when the guy was looking for a multiple year deal, he can really only play 2B now, and Kolten Wong seems destined to be ready to contribute this year.

      Kelly Johnson? A 30 yr old 2B that has had one good season since 2008?

      The SS options out there are thin. Drew would have been a solid signing on a 1 or 2 year deal….but again, he wouldn’t be a huge upgrade, and his ankle issues make his defense going forward a huge question mark.

      If you look around and there aren’t any viable upgrade options, you don’t make moves just to make moves…..of course, you also don’t waste roster spots on guys like Wiggington and Cedeno either.

      • phillyphreak - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:02 AM

        This I agree with 100%. I’m not sure what the Cardinals were supposed to do really besides perhaps overpay for players that really aren’t very good. I think someone could write this kind of post for most teams that were more or less quiet during FA. Besides, that lineup looks pretty good to me.

        And Scutaro got a 3 year contract as a 37 year old. Maybe he’ll earn that value but still, it’s not an investment I’d want my team to make.

  7. lionsflyersandredbirds - Feb 22, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    I am completely okay with no major moves being made. I liked our roster last year and still do…

  8. stlouis1baseball - Feb 22, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    I too am glad they didn’t dip heavily into the FA market.
    As Paper and I have discussed….maybe Stephen Drew. I would have liked the aquisition.
    But not if it was going to break the bank. And dude wasn’t going to sign a 1 – 2 year contract.
    At this point…I am not sweating it too much.
    Check that…I am still sweating the SS position a little. Hahaha!
    For all of Pete Kozma’s “grit”…I am not looking forward to a full season of him.

  9. thomas844 - Feb 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Geez, chill out everybody, he said it “could” be their undoing not “will” be. He said the team is still in very good position.

  10. forsch31 - Feb 22, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    I’m not sure how you can classify this as “trolling.” There’s no real personal swipes or snark, and it’s filled with coulds and mights.

    However, it is a bit ill-thought out:

    1. The Cardinals were missing Chris Carpenter for all but a few games last year, and they still managed a second wild card spot.

    2. They had the same issues at short for most of last year. Granted, Kozma’s unpredictable performance in August was a huge boost when Furcal finally went down for the count, but St. Louis has had a weak middle infield for a couple of seasons while waiting for the farm system to catch up. It’s nothing new, just an irritating thing Cardinals fans wish would be fixed quicker. Cedano at least can play the position (unlike Daniel Descalso last season), as can Ryan Jackson, who really needs the opportunity to prove he can play in the majors with the prospect crunch in Memphis.

    3. It looks bad that this posted after Drew’s post that Shelby Miller has been cleared to throw off (basically, he’s fine).

    4. No mention of Joe Kelly doing a solid job filling for an injured Jamie Garcia last season? That’s right…the Cardinals were down two starters last year, and still were contending for the playoffs. They still have Kelly, Miller and Rosenthal are about as close as you can get to being ready for the rotation, and at least four pitchers will be ready for call-ups in Memphis (the aforementioned Martinez and Wacha, along with Tyler Lyons and John Gast).

    5. If David Freese goes down, either Matt Carpenter or Daniel Descalso can play the position. Descalso is also the incumbent 2B, with Kolten Wong and Greg Garcia in Memphis in case things go horribly awry.

    6. For the past few seasons, the Cardinals have shown that they’re more comfortable making necessary moves during the season rather than loading up in the off-season. The only way this analysis makes any kind of sense is if you assume St. Louis is done acquiring needed players until 2014.

    Every team has to deal with potential injuries, and the Cardinals are obviously a team that is vulnerable to it given some of the aging key players on their team. But if you’re going to write a piece on the problems with their depth, you should at least look at the team’s full depth, especially since St. Louis has been boosted by reinforcements from their farm system for a couple of seasons now. And you should at least acknowledge how they’ve dealt with similar issues in the past, especially since that two of the players that seemed to have spurred this piece (C. Carpenter and Furcal) were lost for nearly the entirety or large chunks of last season.

  11. stevequinn - Feb 23, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    If Furcal stays healthy, Cardinals win their division going away. Even with the loss of Carpenter, St. Louis still has a formidable rotation and the addition of Randy Choate really strengthens the BP.

    I believe the Cardinals have 5 of the top 100 players in MLB farm systems. All of them have a chance of sticking with the “big club” this year.

    And if Mozeliak sees he needs to make a deal to strengthen the team, he has plenty to bargain with.

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