Is everyone ready for spring training? I know I am. With the preseason lurking around the corner I would like to take this time and recap the team that I have been watching since I was a kid, the St. Louis Cardinals.
After their miraculous championship in 2006, they had a very disappointing 2007 season. 2008 was an improvement, but they had major issues with the bullpen and they were plagued by the injury bug.
Let's take a look at the changes they made for the 2009 season.
One issue the Cardinals had last year was offensive production from the middle infielders. Ceaser Izturis and Adam Kennedy combined for 92 runs, 3 home runs, and 60 RBI. Aaron Miles helped off the bench with his aggressive play, but lacked the pop in his bat to make any major impact.
Felipe Lopez was a great pick up late in the season by the new General Manager, John Mozelieak, but he did not come quick enough as the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs for the second staight season.
So, lets see who the Cardinals have penciled in for the 2009 season. Izturis, Lopez, and Miles all left via free agency and Kennedy was released at the request of manager Tony La Russa. John "MO" Mozileak made a splash by trading RP Mark Worrel and a player to be named later for SS Khalil Greene, a former first round pick by the San Diego Padres.
Khalil had the worst year of his career after a promising 2007 season. In 2008, he batted .213 with 10 HR's and 35RBI's compared to his .254/27/97 2007 campaign. Maybe a change of scenery will get him back to the player he was drafted as. His defense is above league average and he has a lot of upside offensively.
Overall, this move upgrades the team's offense while maintaining the defense the Cardinals are known for.
Second base became a big question mark when MO released Adam Kennedy. The move came as a shock to Cardinal fans as Kennedy was due to make $4 million in 2009. Kennedy requested a trade after he lost playing time to Felipe Lopez last season, but he had no takers. La Russa believed the team would be better without him, so he put in the request to MO and got his wish.
Now the posistion has been declared an open competition in spring training between Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, and Joe Thurston. This is interesting because Skip was an outfielder for the Cardinals last season and recorded the 2nd most plate appearences with 590. He is the best offensively out of the group but has not played in the infield since college.
With the outfield jammed with tons of talent it would be great to see him at second base. It is merely a matter of his defensive abilities.
Lets move on to the corner infield spots. The third base posistion opened up when Troy Glaus underwent surgery to repair a torn muscle on his right shoulder. Lucky for St. Louis, they have plenty of major league ready depth in their farm system to fill the void.
The position will be open for competition between David Freese, Brett Wallace, and Joe Mather with the favorite being Freese.
Freese was acquired via a trade with the Padres for CF Jim Edmonds. Freese really came alive for the AAA Memphis Redbirds last year. Freese will turn 27 this summer and has really turned it on since being traded.
Wallace was the first round pick in the 2008 MLB draft out of Arizona State. It would not make very much sense for the Cardinals to start his abirtraiton clock when you have a major league ready player like Freese able to step in. Wallace can absolutely smack the cover off the ball and will be wearing a major league uniform very soon.
At first base you have the reigning 2008 NL MVP, Albert Pujols. He had off-season elbow surgery to repair some nerves. The procedure was simple and Pujols will be ready for opening day. Joe Mather was a September call-up last year and played very well. His role for 2009 is unclear. I see him coming off the bench pinch hitting and playing a back up role at first and third base.
The outfield last year was the Cardinals' greatest strength. Ryan Ludwick had a break-out year by becoming an All-Star and winning the Silver Slugger award. He will be the Everyday right fielder. Rick Ankiel and his amazing story continues in St. Louis. He was the everyday CF last season and hit 25 home runs.
His season was cut short due to injury, but he is fully healthy and ready to play. Ankiel is likely going to be moved to left field to make room for top prospect Colby Rasmus.
Cardinal fans were expecting this kid to be called up last season, but that was not the case as Tony La Russa believed he did not deserve it. La Russa has now said that the job is his for the taking.
Look for this future star to make an instant impact with his incredible blend of speed and power. For back up roles, it will be a competition between Chris Duncan, Skip Schumaker, Brian Barton, and Joe Mather. All of these players will compete for at least two roster spots.
La Russa has made it clear that the player who performs the best out of spring training will make the roster. In my opinion, I see Brian Barton being the odd man out. The only way he will make the squad is if Chris Duncan is not healthy. Barton was a rule 5 draftee from the Cleveland Indians last season and he proved that he belongs on a major league roster somewhere. I believe one of these players will be traded during spring training.
Now that the offense is set, lets take a look at the pitching. Last year's pitching was a failure to say the least. It was really frustrating to watch as a Cardinals fan. Injuries to former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright really put the team in a tough spot.
The Bullpen was in even worse shape. Jason Isringhausen looked as if he had never recorded an out, literally. Once Izzy lost his role, no one shaped into the closer and the team suffered for it. MO signed Kyle Lohse this offseason to solidify the No. 3 role and it has been silient since then.
Wainwright is healthy and will be the team's opening day starter. Chris Carpenter has made significant progress and is projected to be ready for spring training. Todd Wellemyer had a career year last season working with pitching coach Dave Duncan. Joel Piniero failed to find a groove after a promising 2007 season.
Pinerio will be challenged by prospects Mitch Boggs and Jess Todd for the fifth rotation spot with the possibilty of sophmore Kyle Mcellan coming out of the bullpen to fill the void if nececcary.
Rookies Chris Perez and Jason Motte look to be closer by commitee after St. Louis failed to aquire Brian Fuentes through free agency. Personally, I feel that one of these guys will be able to step up to the challenge.
Perez fascinates me with his stuff and looks the role. He just needs to have better command with his slider. Motte throws staight gas in the upper 90's. If he can develop an offspeed pitch he will be tough to face. Either way, I dont see these guys doing any worse than what Jason Isringhausen did last year.
The lefty speciaist this year will be the verteran Trevor Miller. He pitched for the AL champion Tampa bay Rays last year and brings experience with the stellar ability to get batters out with runners on base. Look for La Russa to use him in situational apperences with a few ninth inning save opportunities early in the season.
I am looking forward to the 2009 season and wish all of your favorite teams the best of luck.