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2013 Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Mar 24, 2013, 8:43 AM EDT

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The St. Louis Cardinals.

The Big Question: Can the Cards keep rolling?

The Cardinals have made the playoffs nine times since the start of the 2000 season and they have reached the National League Championship Series seven times in that span — securing three National League pennants and two World Series titles. And there is no end in sight for this run of success.

Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher in baseball and has suddenly become a real offensive threat. Matt Holliday has hit .308/.389/.528 in 502 games since joining the Cardinals in a summer 2009 trade. Allen Craig is emerging as an elite slugger and Carlos Beltran had 32 home runs and 97 RBI in 2012.

And we’ve only scratched the surface on this club’s arsenal of heavy weaponry. Jon Jay (4.1) ranked just behind Josh Hamilton (4.4) and Adam Jones (4.6) on the center-field fWAR leaderboard last season. David Freese won the World Series MVP in 2011 then went on to post career-highs in home runs (20), RBI (79) and OPS (.839) in 2012. Matt Carpenter, who has made an incredibly smooth transition into the starting second base role this spring, batted .293/.372/.467 in 340 plate appearances as a utilityman last summer.

Albert Pujols is entering his second year in Anaheim and ace right-hander Chris Carpenter won’t ever pitch again, but the Cardinals organization is a well-oiled machine, and it’s greased up nicely for the 2013 season.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The rotation is missing Carpenter, but he made only three regular-season starts last year anyway. Adam Wainwright is two years removed from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and Jaime Garcia has experienced no shoulder trouble in camp. Jake Westbrook had a 3.97 ERA in 174 2/3 innings last season and Lance Lynn posted a 3.78 ERA and 180/64 K/BB ratio in 176 frames. The final spot will either go to Joe Kelly, a solid sinkerballer, or Shelby Miller, one of the game’s top pitching prospects.
  • The bullpen took a hit this month when closer Jason Motte was diagnosed with a mild right elbow strain, but it’s not a long-term concern at this point and there’s enough high quality depth to keep things ticking in his absence. Mitchell Boggs, who registered a 2.21 ERA and 1.05 WHIP across 78 relief appearances last season, will fill in at closer. Setting Boggs up will be young fireballer Trevor Rosenthal, and behind him you’ll find a solid group of middle relievers and left-handed specialists. Kelly will presumably join the bullpen in a long relief role if he loses out to Miller in the race for the fifth rotation spot.
  • Rafael Furcal tried to rehab a torn ligament in his elbow this winter and it did not work out. He needs Tommy John surgery and will not appear in a game this season. Taking his place at shortstop will be Pete Kozma, who owns a nice-looking .303/.373/.506 batting line in 104 major-league plate appearances but a .236/.308/.344 batting line in 2,752 minor-league plate appearances. It’s highly likely that he will be exposed early on. Look for the Cardinals to launch a shortstop hunt by the end of June.
  • The Cardinals’ farm system is widely considered to be the best in baseball, and it’s about ready to spit out some potential game-changers. Oscar Taveras, a 20-year-old Dominican outfielder, hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 homers, 37 doubles and 94 RBI in 124 games last season at Double-A Springfield. Michael Wacha, the No. 19 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, owns a 0.50 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and 59/6 K/BB ratio in 35 2/3 total spring and minor league innings. Kolten Wong should develop into a solid everyday second baseman and Carlos Martinez is a hard-throwing 21-year-old righty with great upside. Matt Adams had 18 homers and 50 RBI in 67 games last summer at Triple-A Memphis and will open the 2013 season on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster. And don’t forget the aforementioned Miller and Rosenthal.

Prediction: Second place in the National League Central, winners of a Wild Card spot.

  1. proudlycanadian - Mar 24, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    Only second place in the Division? Paperlions will be having a word with you about that.

    • paperlions - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      Nah, on paper, I think this prediction is correct. I think the Cardinals have better depth, so losing a SP or position player to a major injury wouldn’t affect them as much as it could affect the Reds….but I think the Reds have as much talent and a longer track record of that talent producing. On paper, they are probably 2-5 wins better than the Cardinals.

      • spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:24 AM

        No problem here with the Reds getting the nod. 6 teams vying for 5 play-off spots. But the Reds are going to suffer more than people realize with Shoo/Bruce in centerfield, and I doubt if they can replicate 5 guys getting 96% of the starts. Should be fun. Can’t wait.

      • paperlions - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:33 AM

        I agree. Last year a lot of things went right for them (no pitcher injuries, Frazier hitting better than he ever did in the minors, Chapman having one of the best seasons ever for a reliever)….but hey also didn’t have a full strength Votto for most of the season, and Choo could be a huge offensive upgrade. The small size of their park may mitigate the lack of a true CFer on the roster for those games. Like you said….just wish the season would get here already….I’m excited to see what some of the “new kids” can do.

      • spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM

        Memories are seldom statistically accurate, but mine is laden with Stubbs taking away extra base hits, be it gliding into the gaps, leaping for catches at the wall, or charging in to rob someone of a bloop hit. His OBP was lousy, and the KOs troublesome, but that guy is a monster on defense and on the road especially the Reds will miss him, and the pitching staff will be stressed because of his absence.

      • paperlions - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:57 PM

        Agreed. My memory is rather full of those types of memories of Stubbs’ defense as well.

    • okwhitefalcon - Mar 24, 2013 at 6:38 PM

      Per about every Cards writer, there’s “growing concern” about both Freese and Beltran availability to start the season.

      If that’s indeed the case, we maybe seeing Oscar Taveras and who knows who else sooner than later.

  2. steelers88 - Mar 24, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    The cards will be good (again) this year! UGH!

  3. midwaymonster161 - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    It pains me to say this as a Cubs fan but this organization is incredible. It keeps reloading & reloading & reloading. Mostly through the minor leagues. Great scouting department.

    • stevequinn - Mar 28, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      This, in someway, is a credit to Jeff Luhnow who is now with the Houston Astros. Look for Houston to start improving soon too.

      The Cardinals also got an extra first-round pick in the draft after losing Kyle Lohse to Milwaukee. That’s big when you consider the excellence of the cardinal scouting staff.

  4. hustleandflomax - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    Cards guy here. Not much to argue with. For the first time in many years I am excited about the infusion of youth this club has had over the past couple seasons…however, ever since Edgar Renteria left ,the shortstop position has been the achilles heel of the organization. The thingI like that the Cards have done is develop lots of interchangable parts, guys like Descalso, Craig and Carpenter that can play multiple positions to allow flexibility. That way when an aging vet like Beltran goes down, there wont be a major hole in the lineup. The Reds are going to be tough again…2nd place sounds about right. I could see a tight 2 team race.

  5. jm91rs - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    As a reds fan, I despise the cardinals. As a baseball fan, I envy that organization. If they make the playoffs there’s no team in baseball I’d hate to face more.

  6. thebadguyswon - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    The Cards truly are a machine. Much respect from this Mets fan.

  7. greej1938l - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Starting rotation is not as good as people think, I think they will disappoint this year..3rd in central..maybe

    • spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM

      Their young arms are better than you know. If the present rotation stumbles, they have lots of options, Rosenthal is an all-star waiting in the wings.

    • okwhitefalcon - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      Starting pitching has been my main concern for quite sometime, way too many unknowns to consider a strength just yet.

      However, I freely admit to becoming a card carrying member of the HPGF (Hyperventilating Prospect Geek Fraternity) with Shelby Miller, he’s an exciting talent.

      My other concern is the all or nothing offense and their lack of ability to to execute in situational play. It’s extremely frustrating.

      I think they’re in that 84-88 win range as is, just depends on how healthy they stay, how well the young guys play and what moves they possibly make to bolster as the season takes shape.

      Bright siding it, they’ve got assets to dangle and payroll flexibility so I don’t see standing pat as an option.

  8. johnstjc - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    in the central i think the reds are slightly overrated(90 to 92 wins probably), cards are properly rated(87 to 90 wins) and cubs are underrated (could see them getting to slightly above 500)

    • spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      500 what?, Hits in 2013, yeah maybe.

      • historiophiliac - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:36 PM

        …BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, 500 BOTTLES OF BEEEEER, IF ONE OF THOSE BOTTLES SHOULD HAPPEN TO FALL, 499 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL…

  9. mikedi33 - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    The Cards are going to have a much tougher time this year since there is no Astros to beat up on.TheNL east teams have that advantage this year with the Marlins and Mets

  10. drez146 - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    I know there are a lot of people out there that don’t like the Cardinals….but here is my argument for them. One they don’t over spend every year on free agents like some of the coast teams, they develop from within, and in my opinion they don’t get nearly the coverage as the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers, just sayin this team has a pretty significant history and I believe they do it in a pretty solid manner

    • johnstjc - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      i think they have a case for the best team this century along with the yanks and red sox and considering how much less they have traditionally spent than those two thats quite an accomplishment…underpaying pujols for 10 years has a lot to do with that

  11. hustleandflomax - Mar 24, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    John….”underpaying Pujols”? While he was probably the bargain of the century relative to what other (way overpaid) guys were making; you have to look at the last Pujols contract WHEN IT WAS SIGNED. If I’m not mistaken, it was a record for a player with the amount of tenure he had. For once, a long term contract worked out in favor of the team. An exception and definitely not the norm.

    • historiophiliac - Mar 24, 2013 at 1:14 PM

      People always assume that long term contracts are bad for teams, but they can be very, very good in the “short term.” Of course, you could say that really bit them on the ass later…but that’s another argument.

  12. gibbyfan - Mar 24, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    I totally agree with the tenor of the commentary—I have been a cards fan since the 50s but it’s so refreshing to now see them a winner yet not spending like foolishly just because they have unlimited $$$ like a few of the other teams……….Great management and scouting is still appreciated. This is the reason why I think they should let Waino go if he is looking for 20+ mil for mor ethan 3 years—Just look at the mets with Santana and most others long term pitching contracts—I say pay a guy what he is worth for the time where there is reasonable probability it will be sustained –like they wanted to do with Albert for a vaery reasonable 5 year period…..great work Mo

    • okwhitefalcon - Mar 24, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      gibbyfan – I understand you’re a long time fan and an astute one at that but I’m absolutely baffled by your continual “Let Waino walk if its more than 3 years over $20 million” line of thinking.

      The Cards are not a franchise on a shoestring budget that can’t retain their core players, they are an extremely profitable organization, they can well afford Waino if they choose to do so.

      He’s going to get at least 5 years and it’ll be north of 100 million. I suspect something in the 5/110 range will get it done, just speculating of course.

      Is it a risk?

      Sure. All long term high $ contracts are – it’s the nature of the beast.

      Is it worth the risk?

      Absolutely.

      It’s not a franchise crippler and it won’t keep them from competing in the years to come.

      They’ll be fine financially, 3+ a million in annual attendance and the probability of a renegotiated TV deal before the current deal expires in 2017 should make this a near no brainer if his demands aren’t totally goofy.

  13. johnstjc - Mar 24, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    the pujols contract was a record i think…angels should be doing the same thing with trout right now and nationals with harper…that contract was worth probably 200 million dollars to the franchise

  14. hustleandflomax - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Historiophiliac, your comment is contradictory. when judging a ‘long-term’ contract you have to judge it by each year the player played, not just the early years when, of course, the player played according to expectations. The back-end years usually are the ones which make a contract terrible, especially because so many of them escalate when the player is already past their prime. The Pujols contract that the Angels signed, for example. Maybe that contract wont be an albatross because the Angels’ television contract can absorb it…but that contract would have been a serious hindrance to the St. Louis Cardinals.And while Allen Craig is no Albert Pujols, the value for the production they get from him makes the chasm in talent negligible.

    • historiophiliac - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:23 PM

      Wow, I had no idea how long-term contracts work. Thanks.

      /s

      • hustleandflomax - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:37 PM

        Okay, if you say that a long term contract “really bit them on the ass later”, can you really say it was a good contract then?

      • historiophiliac - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:41 PM

        I would say no, but a lot of Cards fans would say it was good that the team didn’t make Pujols the new contract he wanted and let him walk. I was speaking outside of the term of the contract, btw. Career is longer term than contract.

  15. hustleandflomax - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Okay, that’s a fair comment. My apologies for the misunderstanding.

    • historiophiliac - Mar 24, 2013 at 2:57 PM

      I tried to indicate the difference by putting “short term” in quotes when referring to a long-term contract.

      I know I’m fighting popular opinion on that one.

  16. turdfurgerson68 - Mar 24, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Totally admire/envy the Cardinals organization. Smart and more importantly, level-headed.

    As a Red Sox fan (will receive at least 10 thumbs down just for saying that) was hoping we were going to emulate St. Louis in terms of scouting and not over-spending. Unfortunately, having the Yankees in the same division intimidated Boston mgmt, hence the Carl Crawfords and Edger Rentiras and Julio Lugos and Eric Ganges and, etc

    Congrats Cardinal fans on having the best and classiest organization in all of baseball

  17. albertmn - Mar 24, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    The Cardinals do make money, so they can afford to pay a few guys. But, they also have one of the smaller local TV deals (less than $20 million, I believe). So, they do have to take care with their money. Not having resigned Pujols likely helps them retain 4 or 5 other stars during the tenure of Pujols’ deal.

    • johnstjc - Mar 24, 2013 at 6:38 PM

      I’d like to know the ratings for cardinal games…i remember like 12 years ago fs midwest tried to cut the cards broadcasts to like 120 games and the whole state went crazy on them

      • spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 7:51 PM

        They have the highest viewership per capita, and it isn’t even close.

      • paperlions - Mar 24, 2013 at 7:53 PM

        They have been in the top 3 in local TV ratings every year for the last 13 years, and that is without adjusting for market size.

    • paperlions - Mar 24, 2013 at 7:52 PM

      Yep, that Cardinals TV deal is for $15M/year. The A’s and Rays are the only teams that get less (between $10-15M)….even the Royals ($18M), Pirates ($18M), Marlins ($18M), and Indians ($40M) get more TV money.

  18. johnstjc - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:07 PM

    pretty sure its up after 2016…hopefully we can get it into the indians 40 million range

  19. johnstjc - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:11 PM

    i still find that 90% of tvs in st louis were tuned to game seven 2 years ago crazy…ppl don’t believe me that opening day of baseball is basically a holiday in missouri(i live in texas now)

  20. stevedubs11 - Mar 25, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    Just adding to the “well-oiled machine” part. They’re only “flaw” might be they don’t have the money to sign those top free agents (Pujols), because of their tiny TV deal with Fox. They only get $15 million a year from Fox until 2017 when they can sign a new deal like Anaheim’s $150 million a year. You think the Cards are beasts in the league now? Just wait until they don’t have to worry about money.

  21. stlouis1baseball - Mar 25, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    I think the 2nd place prediction is probably on point. The Redlegs are going to be the team to beat in my opinion. I also dont see them (the Redlegs) replicating the number of innings their rotation threw last year. I (think) there were two weeks left in the season and Cincinnati finally had someone on the hill that was NOT part of their opening day rotation. Unreal. And highly unlikely to happen again.

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