Why the St. Louis Cardinals’ Depth Matters

The St. Louis Cardinals’ opening day disabled list has averaged three players in recent seasons. Will 2015 be any different?

With a fairly-set major league roster and backed by one of the more consistent farm systems in terms of providing big league-ready players, the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals report to spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida with few obvious holes.

Though there are minimal concerns about the roster, some worry about the club having too much depth, instead. Specific concerns have been expressed about such subjects as playing time for Randal Grichuk, the timing of when Marco Gonzales will get a rotation shot and how the bullpen can accommodate so many left-handed candidates.

Personally, I have seen enough injuries over time to keep me from being concerned about the Cardinals (or any other club, for that matter) having too much depth.

To help put the matter into historical context, I looked at the last eight springs – since the 2006 World Championship. (Yes, it has been that long!) I identified the players that opened each regular season on the Cardinals disabled lists, 15- and 60-day.

Some, though not all, of these injuries actually occurred during spring camp. In other cases, they were known coming into the season. Of course, these lists were expanded substantially as in-season injuries occurred and shrunk as others were healthy enough to be activated.

2014 (3) 2013 (4) 2012 (3) 2011 (2) 2010 (0) 2009 (2) 2008 (7) 2007 (3)
J Garcia C Carpenter C Carpenter Wainwright none J Garcia Carpenter Mulder
Motte Motte Schumaker Punto   Glaus Mulder Kinney 
Ellis Furcal Craig       Clement Encarn.
  Freese         Pineiro  
            T Johnson  
            Kinney   
            Encarnacion  
            Ryan  

Let’s look at each spring individually from an injury perspective.

2014

2014 Injury Timing Duration
J Garcia Nerve Pre-camp May 18
Motte Elbow Pre-camp May 20
Ellis Knee Spring April 15

In what essentially became a lost season for three Cardinals, Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte and Mark Ellis, they all opened the season on the 15-day disabled list, rather than the 60-day.

Par for the course, Garcia reported to last spring’s camp with health concerns, though hopes were higher in 2014 following his shoulder surgery the prior summer. The left-hander was activated in mid-May, but was done before June was out. Another surgery followed.

Former closer Jason Motte had yet to throw off a mound as camp opened due to his May 2013 Tommy John surgery. Though he made it back in late May, Motte’s velocity and effectiveness were down.

Newcomer Mark Ellis missed a considerable number of spring games due to a knee injury. In one of the final spring games, the second baseman reinjured it and became the third Cardinal to open the season on the DL, creating a roster spot for Pete Kozma in the process.

Ellis was activated on April 15, but after a rough season, he rejoined the other two on the DL in August. While Ellis and Motte were activated in September, neither made the Cardinals post-season roster.

Top prospect Oscar Taveras underwent ankle surgery in August 2013 and was only cleared to run as camp got underway. He then suffered a hamstring injury and was shuffled off to minor league camp. Moved to the outfield, Allen Craig insisted he had no lingering effects from the Lisfranc injury that hobbled him all fall of 2013. His later results would suggest otherwise.

2013

2013 Injury Timing Duration
C Carpenter Nerve Pre-camp Season
Motte Elbow Spring Season
Furcal Elbow Pre-camp Season
Freese Back Spring April 8

The 2013 team came into camp with uncertainties about Rafael Furcal, Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter.

Starting shortstop Furcal could not throw, and it turned out that he was done as a Cardinal. He soon left for season-ending surgery. Garcia pitched well and made it nine starts into the regular season before going under the knife. Carpenter tried valiantly, but finally had to give in to the affects of his thoracic outlet syndrome.

David Freese opened the season on the disabled list due to a back injury. While the starting third baseman returned a week into the season, he struggled for the first two months at the plate and seemed sluggish at times defensively as well.

2012

2012 Injury Timing Duration
C Carpenter Back Spring Sept 21
Schumaker Oblique Spring April 20
Craig Knee Pre-camp May 1

New manager Mike Matheny had to deal with serious health concerns on his roster almost immediately.

Chris Carpenter suffered what was originally diagnosed as a bulging cervical disk after having experienced weakness in his neck, shoulder and upper arm. After mid-summer surgery, he eventually made his season debut in late-September.

Starting second baseman Skip Schumaker opened the season on the disabled list due to an oblique injury incurred during camp. Starting first baseman Allen Craig suffered a spring setback in his recovery from off-season knee surgery and also could not answer the opening bell.

2011

2011 Injury Timing Duration
Wainwright Elbow Spring Season
Punto Hernia Spring April 19

Early in camp, the right elbow of Adam Wainwright gave out, leading to him missing the entire season. Infielder Nick Punto required spring surgery for a sports hernia.

2010

The club had no major injuries before or during spring training camp.

2009

2009 Injury Timing Duration
J Garcia Elbow Pre-camp Season
Glaus Shoulder Pre-camp Sept 1

Jaime Garcia sat out the entire 2009 season from major league action after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2008.

Third baseman Troy Glaus underwent surgery on his right shoulder in January and was originally expected back in June or July. He also dealt with lower back soreness and a twisted ankle during two different rehab stints and did not join St. Louis until rosters expanded in September.

2008

2008 Injury Timing Duration  
Carpenter Elbow Pre-camp July 30  
Mulder Shoulder Pre-camp May 7  
Clement Shoulder Pre-camp July 8 (Memphis)
Pineiro Shoulder Spring April 13  
T Johnson Shoulder Spring Season  
Kinney  Elbow Spring Sept 2  
Encarnacion Eye Pre-camp Season  
Ryan Oblique Spring April 23  

Four members of the projected rotation began the season on the DL. Joel Pineiro was back quickly, but Matt Clement never made a regular-season appearance with St. Louis. Carpenter and Mark Mulder pitched a total of 17 innings that season.

Key bullpen members Tyler Johnson and Josh Kinney suffered spring injuries that ruined their year. For Kinney, it was two in a row. Starting shortstop Brendan Ryan missed three weeks to open the season. Outfielder Juan Encarnacion was unable to come back from an eye injury suffered late in the 2007 campaign.

2007

2007 Injury Timing Duration
Mulder Shoulder Pre-camp Sept 5
Kinney  Elbow Spring Season
Encarnacion Wrist Spring May 13

Recently re-signed Mulder hoped to be ready by mid-summer, but only returned for the final month. Kinney blew out his elbow in camp and missed the entire season. Encarnacion opened the year on the DL with a wrist injury suffered during camp.

Summary

On the average, the Cardinals opened each of the last eight seasons with three players on the disabled list. That number holds true even if the best and worst years are thrown out.

During five of the most recent eight spring training camps, including three consecutive from 2011-2013, a Cardinal suffered what effectively became a season-ending injury. In one other year, a pre-existing condition was exposed as being season-ending during camp.

That leaves 2010 alone as the only spring unmarred by serious injury in the last eight. The history books remind us that good health alone is not enough. After all, the 2010 Cardinals club was the last to miss the post-season.

Though on paper the 2015 club reports to camp with all players ready to go, reality says there will be bumps and bruises along the way, perhaps some of the very serious type. Wainwright, Garcia, Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay are among those returning from surgeries along with lingering concerns about Michael Wacha.

Having ready reserves to step in could make the difference between the club making and missing its major objectives for the 2015 season.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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