The St. Louis Cardinals, winners of the World Series only a year ago, are in transition. The General Manager (Walt Jocketty) was fired. And we're still waiting to see if Tony LaRussa will return as the team's Manager next season.
Jocketty was forced out in a power struggle when the ownership of the team preferred the philosophy of a marketing executive now running the scouting department. John Mozeliak, Jocketty's assistant, is in charge until the post is filled permanently.
LarRussa doesn't seem to be tied to Jocketty as once thought. But LaRussa is now running out of other options, unless he wants to go to Pittsburgh or Kansas City or the Yankees come calling. So the prevailing thought now is that LaRussa will return, unless the person they hire as the GM prefers someone else.
At some point someone will be in charge of the roster, although the franchise has made two moves already this offseason by re-signing free agent pitchers Russ Springer and Joel Pineiro.
The Cardinals need a lot of help this winter. They finished third in the National League Central with a 78-84 record and that was only part of the trying season. LaRussa was arrested for a DUI in spring training. Opening Day starter Chris Carpenter got hurt that night and had to have Tommy John surgery. Scott Spiezio left during the summer for treatment for substance abuse. And outfielder Juan Encarnacion was struck in the eye with a foul ball while he was on deck and may never play again.
But the worse tragedy was when reliever Josh Hancock was killed in an automobile accident early in the season.
So the Cardinals are trying to turn the page. They have a lot of needs, so the new guy will have a lot of work to do to get the Redbirds back on track. St. Louis also needs a dose of good health, as every member of the starting lineup missed time with injuries in 2007.
The pitching staff had trouble. It finished 11th in the National League with a 4.65 ERA and the rotation's ERA was 5.04 (14th in the NL). The rotation had lost Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis from the World Series team a year earlier, and then after Carpenter went down in April the rotation was left in shambles.
Adam Wainwright quickly became the ace, and was extremely dependable in his first full season as a starter. The former Brave (yes it's still painful to say) was 14-12 with a 3.70 ERA in 32 games started. He's not a solid top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in the big leagues.
Many scoffed when Pitching Coach Dave Duncan wanted to switch Braden Looper to the rotation, but Looper had a very decent season. Yes, the ERA was high (4.94), but Looper was 12-12 in 30 games started. Kip Wells struggled as the third starter going 7-17 in 27 starts and a 5.70 ERA. He also did not give the Cardinals many innings per start (5.1).
Joel Pineiro was released by the Red Sox and the Cardinals brought him in to help the rotation, and the right-hander did just that. He made 11 starts and was 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA. The fine work resulted in the Cardinals giving Pineiro a new two-year contract last week, so he'll be in the middle of the rotation next season.
Anthony Reyes, who a few years ago was considered by the Cardinals a better prospect than Wainwright, made 20 starts and struggled. Reyes was 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. He's a young pitcher and still has decent potential, so the Cardinals might use him to strengthen the team in a deal this winter.
Mark Mulder is once again a question mark after having more shoulder in late September. The tall lefty came back late in the season and pitched three games, but Mulder was clearly not right and tests showed his shoulder needed more repair. So it's just not certain how much the Cardinals can count on him for next season.
Brad Thompson was pulled out of the bullpen and was 6-4 with a 4.66 ERA in 17 starts. He's a decent backup option, but the Cardinals are expected to try and find help for the rotation this winter.
The bullpen was a bit better, with an ERA of 4.00. Jason Isringhausen will be back as the closer after saving 32 games this past season. Russ Springer was re-signed to continue to be Izzy's main setup man. Springer had a 2.18 ERA in 76 games and will be joined by Ryan Franklin, who had a 3.04 ERA in 69 games. Tyler Johnson (4.03 ERA) and Randy Flores (4.25 ERA) are two decent lefty relievers that should be back.
Troy Percival came back from retirement and was very solid in 34 games (1.80 ERA). He's a free agent again and might look for a team where he can have a bigger role. Atlanta might at least check to see how much Percival wants if they decide to go after another veteran reliever for the bullpen.
Todd Wellemeyer was brought in when the rotation was struggling and then split his time between the rotation and bullpen. The former Cubs' prospect was 3-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 20 games (11 starts). And Josh Kinney had Tommy John surgery back in March, so they hope he'll return sometime next season.
The lineup is in need of a tune-up. St. Louis was 13th in the National League in home runs (141) and 15th in stolen bases (56). They were also 11th in runs scored with 725.
Obviously the Cards have one of the best players in the game at first base in Albert Pujols, who hit .327 with 32 home runs, 103 RBI, and a .429 OBP. They'll try to rebuild the offense a bit around him.
They need some impact players, and Rick Ankiel has a chance to fill that role. The former pitcher had 32 home runs and 89 RBI in AAA Memphis, and then when he came up to the big leagues he hit .285 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI in 172 at bats. Ankiel is pretty much set to be the right-fielder next season, even though questions will linger about his steroid use.
The Cardinals seem ready for Chris Duncan to be the regular left fielder. The pitching coach's son hit .259 with 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 127 games played. Ryan Ludwick hit well (.267 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI) and played all three outfield positions. He'll be insurance for Jim Edmonds, who has now turned into an aging outfielder that can only plan a partial schedule. Edmonds will return, however, after hitting just .252 with 12 home runs and 53 RBI in 99 games played.
If LaRussa returns it will be interesting to see what happens with Scott Rolen, the third baseman that hit .265 with 8 home runs and 58 RBI in 112 games. Rolen and LaRussa have not gotten along in the last few years, but there's no doubt that if healthy Rolen can be a nice compliment to Pujols in the lineup.
There are serious questions in the middle infield, where second baseman Adam Kennedy had a horrible season (.219, 3 home runs, 18 RBI in 87 games) and shortstop David Eckstein (.309, 3 home runs, 31 RBI, 10 stolen bases) is a free agent. The Cardinals have always been strong up the middle and they need to improve these positions.
That might prompt them to call the Braves about Edgar Renteria, the Cardinals' former shortstop who might make a huge difference. Even though the Cardinals need pitching, they may be interested in dealing away Anthony Reyes in a deal for Renteria.
And finally the Cards' catcher will again be Yadier Molina, who hit .275 with 6 home runs and 40 RBI.
St. Louis is waiting on Colby Rasmus, an outfield prospect and brother of Braves' prospect Cory Rasmus. Colby needs another full season in the minor leagues, but he's a top prospect that could replace Edmonds in center in 2009.
The Cardinals need another power hitter, a leadoff man, and more help in the rotation. So they could be one of the busiest teams in baseball this offseason – after they find somebody to make those decisions.
Eligible for Free Agency: Kip Wells, Troy Percival, Gary Bennett *, Kelly Stinnett, Russ Branyan, Miguel Cairo, David Eckstein, Eli Marrero, Preston Wilson
Eligible for Arbitration: Todd Wellemeyer, So Taguchi, Yadier Molina, Aaron Miles, Mike Maroth, Josh Hancock, Rick Ankiel
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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