Any team entering spring training without Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan will be weaker, no question.
Without perhaps baseball's top hitter, best manager and best pitching coach, the Cardinals will have to be a bit more resourceful under rookie manager Mike Matheny and his staff.
Many eyes will be on popular former Cardinals' catcher Matheny and how he conducts his first big-league camp.
Matheny has prepared diligently since November since he got the job and was always known as a no-nonsense type of player, but how will that translate to managing players with whom he was a friend, plus, in the case of right-hander Chris Carpenter and catcher Yadier Molina, a former teammate?
When folks aren't watching how Matheny operates, they will no doubt be observing the progress of right-hander Adam Wainwright, nearly a year removed from Tommy John elbow surgery. Wainwright has looked good in unofficial drills.
Also of interest is the
rehabilitation of outfielder-infielder Allen Craig, a postseason hero who had
off-season surgery on his right knee, which he hurt when he slammed into a fence
while playing in
There are very few new players who will be wearing Cardinal uniforms, with the foremost being outfielder Carlos Beltran, a free agent signing at $26 million for two years.
Beltran, who played exclusively
right field and not a minute in center all last season with the New York Mets
There probably is a spare infield job available with veteran Alex Cora, a non-roster invitee, a possible candidate.
Scott Linebrink was invited to camp as non-roster player and will have a chance to win a job in the bullpen, although Linebrink isn't necessarily considered an eighth-inning man.
RHP Adam Wainwright threw a simulated two-inning game against hitters even before camp officially opened. Rebounding from a season lost to elbow surgery, Wainwright said he felt good but, "command-wise, I've been much better than I was." New manager Mike Matheny said: "I was impressed with how smooth and fluid he was."
Former Cardinals star Jim Edmonds is expected to be in camp as a special instructor. RHP Ryan Franklin, the club's closer at the start of last season, has been hired as a special front office assistant and also is likely to be on hand.
RHP Jake Westbrook reported to camp some 20 pounds lighter and said he hoped to be more consistent than the 12-9, 4.66 ERA pitcher of a year ago. "I want to see how much longer I can play," the 34-year-old Westbrook said. "I'm not young anymore."
RHP Kyle Lohse, who led the Cardinals with 14 victories last season, has been dabbling with a different, biting curveball, rather than his bigger-breaking one. Healthy in the off-season for the first time in several years after a long stretch of forearm problems, the 33-year-old Lohse said: "I was able to do my normal work and experiment with stuff. I've got to. I'm getting old now."
INF Tyler Greene was the first position player on hand at camp, well ahead of the rest of the non-batterymen. Greene, erratic in previous trials, is bidding for, at most, the second base job or, at least, a backup infield job.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 - Team high for sacrifice bunts last year by RHP Jake Westbrook and INF Daniel Descalso.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If the weather stays like this, we'll be in shape and ready to go in five days."
- Red Schoendienst, a member of
the Hall of Fame and a Cardinals instructor, on the perfect
1. RHP Chris Carpenter
2. RHP Adam Wainwright
3. LHP Jaime Garcia
4. RHP Kyle Lohse
5. RHP Jake Westbrook
The return of Wainwright, a year removed from elbow surgery, should made a good rotation even stronger. Garcia, who has won in double figures twice in his first two full seasons, might be ready for a breakthrough year if he can avoid being distracted during games.
But if Wainwright is right, the Cardinals had the two aces (Wainwright, Carpenter) with which they figured they would start last season.
RHP Jason Motte (closer)
RHP Fernando Salas
RHP Lance Lynn
RHP Kyle McClellan
RHP Eduardo Sanchez
LHP Marc Rzepczynski
LHP J.C. Romero
RHP Mitchell Boggs
Motte, a late-season success as a closer, will be the Cardinals' ninth inning man at the start of the season. Salas, who had 24 saves last year, will be a reliable setup man but the club is hoping to find another veteran to help in late innings.
1. SS Rafael Furcal
2. RF Carlos Beltran
3. LF Matt Holliday
4. 1B Lance Berkman
5. 3B David Freese
6. CF Jon Jay
7. C Yadier Molina
8. 2B Daniel Descalso
Newcomer Beltran could hit second, third or fifth, although new manager Mike Matheny seems inclined to have Holliday bat third. When OF-1B Allen Craig (knee surgery) returns in early May, if not before, Beltran could move to center field against left-handed pitching.
RHP Shelby Miller may be on the
fast track to the majors. The 21-year-old Miller, who throws in the mid-90s, was
a combined 11-6 at Class A Quad Cities and Class AA Springfield last year. He is
fewer than three years removed from being the club's top pick in the 2009 draft.
Also to be watched is 24-year-old Erik Komatsu, a Rule 5 pick from