The fine folks here at Heading For The Exits were gracious enough to host my team-by-team baseball previews. Look for a new one every day from March 1st through March 30th. We’re coming down the home stretch now, stopping in the NL Central. We next check in with a team who is, in my entirely uninformed opinion, in for a very rude awakening.
The 2012 Cardinals were a case study of changing luck. It started with the loss of the face of the team, Albert Pujols, in free agency to the Angels. Pujols, wounded that the Cardinals first offer was “only” a five year deal, later rejected a 10 year, $210 million contract offer and moved west. Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter, two key components of their 2011 World Series run, were basically no-shows during the season due to injury. Jaime Garcia, a decent contributor in his own right, missed roughly a third of the season with a shoulder injury as well. Even with these high profile losses, the Cardinals were in the bottom half of the league in terms of days lost to players on the DL. David Freese and Allen Craig, two consistently injured guys, stayed healthy all season and stabilized third and first base respectively with excellent offense. Homegrown pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly filled in admirably for the rotation, the former having a Cy Young caliber first half. All this contributed to 88 wins and a wild card spot, probably more than fans expected in April.
This year? The rotation is looking as strong as ever. Adam Wainwright, fresh off a live fire rehab season after Tommy John surgery, is pitching great and should have no hiccups this season. Lance Lynn has earned a rotation spot, and the Cards are looking for another step forward from him as the #3 starter. Rookie Shelby Miller, after only a single start last year, will plug in the back of the rotation, and expectations are high. The bullpen remains stocked with reliable talent from long relief to the closer. Though Jason Motte will start the season on the DL, Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica will handle late innings just fine. They just need to count on the offense holding up their end of the bargain.
How’d The Offseason Go?
They signed Ronny Cedeno to help fill in while Rafael Furcal recovers from surgery, and Ty Wigginton will do his usual everything the team needs up to and including disposing of the bodies of hookers (it’s not a full-time position anymore since La Russa left town). That’s it… the rest of the holes will be plugged with good old-fashioned American farm product.
The Cardinals Will Make The Playoffs If
Mike Matheny can juggle several pieces of fine crystal without error.
The Cardinals Will Miss the Playoffs If
The Cardinals’ vaunted depth turns out to be more of a wading pool.
How The Season Will Go
How’s The Farm?
There is a veritable shitload of prospects who are going to make an impact this season, especially given the looks a lot of them got last fall. Shelby Miller is the most obvious choice here. After a brief stint with the team last year posting an ERA well under 2, he’s on track for the final spot in the rotation. Expectations are high for him especially given how easily other prospects have made their mark on this team recently. Trevor Rosenthal got extended time in the bullpen last year, but he’s still a starting pitcher prospect. If anyone in the rotation struggles with injury, expect him to be the next man up. John Gast is on a similar track, though a year behind. He’s got an immediate future as a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy) with potential to contend for a rotation spot in 2014.
On offense? Pete Kozma and Matt Adams are the most familiar names here, both getting a good 20-something games last year to audition for 2013 roster spots. Kozma slides into shortstop by default after Furcal’s surgery took him out for the season while Matt Adams will have to wait for the inevitable Allen Craig injury at first to get his at bats. Oscar Taveras is a top prospect who would likely be in the majors if it weren’t for so many serviceable outfielders on the roster already, but a few near-guaranteed injuries should have him up and working by the All-Star Break.
Your Brief Fantasy Preview
There are a lot of established names here that carry some unfortunately substantial risk if you draft them. Allen Craig, David Freese, and Carlos Beltran offer top 10 upside at their respective positions, but they all have very, VERY spotty injury history. I personally have not been targeting any of them in my drafts. Not everyone believes that you should pay for a catcher, but Yadier Molina is about as sure a bet as you can get at a pretty shallow position. I have targeted and drafted him in every league this year for about his average cost. Matt Holliday will be worth his price, per usual. There’s a big sleeper here in Matt Carpenter. He’s taken the starting 2B job from Daniel Descalso and has been getting reps at lead-off. With his 1B-2B-3B-OF eligibility, I would absolutely target him late in the draft as a *very* useful backup.
For pitching? Adam Wainwright was back to his old self the second half of last season, finally regaining his elite stuff after 2012 Tommy John surgery. I would be shocked if he finished outside of the top 10, so gladly pay his asking fee this year. There are a couple of other pitchers who should offer production above their draft value. Lance Lynn’s second half collapse has really lowered his draft value, and his peripherals suggest that an ERA around the 3.60-3.80 range is reasonable to expect with an excellent strikeout rate. Jaime Garcia seems back to his old tricks after shoulder issues last year as well. For the bullpen? Jason Motte will start the season on the DL, but it’s very hard to see him losing his position to Boggs during his time off. If you can snag him at a discount and stash him, grab Boggs to fill in in the meantime.
Projected Finish in the NL Central?
3rd. And I’m going to throw them a coming back to earth party.
Oddly Apropos Futurama Quote
“Every time something good happens to me you say it’s some kind of madness… or I’m drunk… or I ate too much candy.”
Body By Bacardi has been making bad sports jokes on Twitter since 2010 and on Deadspin since 2011. If you’re not tired of reading things he’s written, you can follow him on Twitter at @wineaccguy.