Albert Pujols has dominated much of the baseball news in St. Louis this offseason, but he may not hold the key to the Cardinals' success in 2011.
One of baseball's brightest and most underrated pitching stars, Adam Wainwright, will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery this spring, leaving a gaping hole in St. Louis' rotation.
Wainwright, the Cardinals co-ace, has the game's lowest ERA over the last two years and finished second and third in Cy Young voting during that time.
Along with Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals had arguably the best one-two punch at the top of their rotation, as good or better than that of the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels), Giants (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain) and Angels (Jered Weaver, Dan Haren).
Now, one of those teams might just offer the best option to fill the void left by Wainwright.
Scott Kazmir may not be Wainwright's equal, but the once-and-future ace has a resume that includes a strikeout crown and appearances in both the All-Star Game and the World Series. Since coming to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2009, however, Kazmir's road back to stardom has been a little bumpy.
His first six appearances for the Halos were stellar. Two nightmarish postseason starts and an injury-plagued season later, Kazmir is a reclamation project with No. 5 starter written all over him.
Perfect for Dave Duncan.
The Cardinals pitching coach is to struggling hurlers what Dr. Gregory House is to dying patients, minus the limp. The acerbic wit is up for debate.
Dr. Duncan is known league-wide for his uncanny ability to diagnose and treat formerly great pitching talents, repairing any mechanical or mental issues along the way and bringing them back to a competitive level.
Just look at Angels pitcher Joel Pineiro, a guy with all the talent in the world who somehow lost his mojo and risked toiling in the minors before retiring in anonymity.
A couple seasons under Duncan and suddenly Pineiro arrives in Anaheim with new confidence and a new pitch, a sinker ball that causes frustrated batters to ground out at an alarming rate.
A guy like Kazmir, who seems to lose velocity on his fastball every season without any apparent cause, is a project begging to be worked on by Duncan. And when the rehab is done, the Cardinals will get not one, but two players to use: a stud to plug in Wainwright's spot, and a powerful trade chip when the co-ace returns.
In his stead, the Angels could give Trevor Bell a chance to prove he belongs in the starting rotation. If not, Matt Palmer and newcomer Hisanori Takahashi will be there to provide backup.
Of course, Bell wouldn't be the only one to benefit from the trade. The Angels have an even greater need than the Cardinals pitching woes: third base.
After the failure to develop Brandon Wood and the failure to sign Adrian Beltre, super utility man Maicer Izturis has been tabbed as the interim starting third baseman this season.
His graceful fielding and clutch hitting aside, though, he is not a prototypical corner infielder and cannot provide the pop still missing from Anaheim's lineup.
Factor in his injury history and it's no great leap to expect the Angels to be players on the trade market this year. But Kazmir and the Cardinals could help settle the issue before the season ever gets underway.
Allen Craig, a 26-year-old prospect, has shown some promise in the Cardinals system, playing the corners in both the outfield and infield. The Mission Viejo native has got a little pop as well, belting four homers and driving in 18 runs in 44 games last season.
With a good showing this spring, he could work his way onto a major league bench come April. There's no reason that bench couldn't be in Anaheim.
The Cardinals have stated that Wainwright's replacement will likely come from within the organization, but they may be willing to part with a decent prospect or two if it means getting someone like Kazmir, who has shown brilliant stuff in the past and is young enough to reclaim his former prowess.