2008 NL Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

2007 W-L: 78-84
2007 Pythagorean W-L: 71-91

IN

3B Troy Glaus, SS Cesar Izturis, SP Matt Clement, OF Brian Barton, C Jason LaRue

OUT

3B Scott Rolen, SS David Eckstein, CF Jim Edmonds, OF So Taguchi, SP Mike Maroth, SP Kip Wells

The '07 Cardinals were worse than their mediocre won-loss record suggested. Their pitching went from dubious to downright bad when Chris Carpenter went down with an injury early in the season, and they soaked up 46 awful starts from Kip Wells and Anthony Reyes. Desperate for bodies, they allowed a number of questionable pitchers to rack up innings. Some of those guys did end up sticking to the wall - Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro were fine - but there were way too many horrible performances from Mike Maroth, Andy Cavazos, Kelvin Jimenez and others.

Offensively, the '07 team was passable, but barely. Jim Edmonds' fade continued and Adam Kennedy was a disaster, although Yadier Molina had a nifty season for a defense-first catcher, Rick Ankiel emerged as a power bat in the outfield, Chris Duncan put together a good first full year with the stick (well, at least when he was healthy) and Albert Pujols was still Albert Pujols.

New GM John Mozeliak's offseason did little to address the Cardinals' most obvious weaknesses and may have created even more problems. That many of the biggest decisions were made for him probably didn't help; second base was an area where the Cardinals clearly needed an upgrade, but the market for second basemen wasn't great, and the only player from that class who signed a favorable deal was Tadahito Iguchi. And Scott Rolen was feuding with manager Tony LaRussa and probably had to go.

Albert Pujols
Photo: Iscan.
But the Cardinals' decision to replace David Eckstein with Cesar Izturis is puzzling. After signing to a cheap deal with the Blue Jays, Eckstein claimed that he would've been "willing to listen to anything" if the Cardinals had approached him to negotiate. But they didn't, and they didn't offer him arbitration, either. Instead, they signed a much, much worse player in Izturis for only about $1.5 million less.

Given Rolen's problems with LaRussa, grabbing Troy Glaus in exchange for Rolen wasn't an awful return, but in pure baseball terms, that wasn't a great move either. Rolen isn't an elite hitter anymore, but his excellent defense makes up for the large gap between his offense and Glaus', and if Rolen's bat does come back, the Jays will have a steal on their hands.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals radically reshaped their outfield, dismissing Edmonds and longtime outfield reserve So Taguchi. Edmonds, 37, was a shell of his former self, and could no longer be relied on to play more than 100 or so games in a year. Ankiel's emergence lessened the urgency to replace Edmonds, but three of the top four outfielders from last April's ballclub (Edmonds, Taguchi, and Juan Encarnacion) are now either gone or out indefinitely, and the Cardinals now lack a clear outfield starter to accompany Ankiel and Duncan. Grabbing Brian Barton in the Rule 5 draft was an inspired move for them, so that helps, but they've still got Ryan Ludwick penciled in in right. Uber-prospect Colby Rasmus could join the outfield at some point in the season, but the Cardinals haven't decided how they're going to use him, and he could probably use at least a little bit of time at Class AAA anyway.

The Cardinals' rotation should, at the very least, be interesting. Not good, but interesting. Chris Carpenter still shouldn't be back until midseason, and who knows how effective he'll be when he returns. That leaves Adam Wainwright as their ace. Their rotation also includes Braden Looper, a converted reliever, and Pineiro, who enjoyed a mini-Renaissance last year after two bad seasons in Seattle. Then there's Clement, who's trying to recover from shoulder surgery and may not be ready for Opening Day. Finally, the last one or two spots (depending on whether Clement's ready to go) will go to Wellemeyer, Reyes or Brad Thompson.

Wainwright's the only one of these guys who's obviously good, but none of them are old, and most of them have at least a bit of upside. Reyes, in particular, is a guy I've always liked - his minor league numbers were dominant. But he might have to move to a new organization or work with new coaches to blossom, if he ever does. Pineiro's numbers last year could suggest his problems are over (and the Cards' coaches would agree), but they also could just be a fluke. And Clement was once a very good pitcher, but who knows how much he has left after the shoulder injury. Some combination of these guys could hold down the fort for a while, but it's more likely that one or two of them have success while the rest frustrate Cardinals fans to no end. In other words, pretty much what happened last year.

The bullpen superficially looks fine, but there are many questions. Jason Isringhausen is a perpetual injury risk, and he isn't the dominant player he once was. Ryan Franklin, formerly a mediocre starter with bad stuff, isn't a great bet to continue to post good numbers. Neither is Russ Springer, who's 39 and posted a career high in appearances last year. And there's nothing particularly inspiring about the other relievers who are slated to begin the year in the Cards' bullpen. However, watch out for Chris Perez, a prospect who's close to being major-league ready, has ridiculous minor-league numbers and 98-MPH heat, and is close to being ready for the big leagues.

This isn't a great team, and they should struggle to match even their 78-win total last year. But Pujols himself is always worth the price of admission (well, as long as he's healthy), and there are plenty of other players here worth watching, including Ankiel, Duncan, Wainwright, Reyes, and, as the year goes on, Carpenter, Rasmus and Perez. I predict the Cardinals will finish fourth - their starting pitching is dubious, but it's still more interesting than the Astros', and their offense shouldn't be so much worse than Houston's that they can't hold them off.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Houston Astros
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Discussion of this preview at the Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos

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