Balancing the Bullpen & the Bench – Part Two

Concluding a two-part look back at recent Cardinals' opening day rosters to determine what they might tell us about 2006.

Looking forward

Let's apply our knowledge of the past from Part One of this article to consider what the Cardinals' 2006 roster might become. Starting on the left side of the table below, you'll see the most "Typical" Cardinals' opening day roster, looking back from 2005 to 2000.

On January 4, I published a story Projecting the Cards' 2006 Opening Day Roster. In it, I gave an early view of what the 25-man roster could look like when camp breaks. That is summarized in the next column, "Original projected 2006 roster".

 

Roster mix

Previous seasons have told us that the Cardinals will most likely break camp with a seven-man pen. While a Jeff Nelson could beat out Rule 5 draftee Juan Mateo, for example, there is little suspense here. This seven-man pen was assumed in the "Original roster" and carried over to "Projected Roster A".

 

However, a compromise may be required due to problems elsewhere (refer to "Projected Roster B" in a moment).

 

Infield reserves

Again, based on the past, there seems to be no doubt the Cards will carry at least two infield reserves. The only question is which ones.

 

On the "Original roster", I gave Deivi Cruz the slightest nod over Aaron Miles for a reserve infielder position based on his veteran status.

 

However, looking at this again, I now realize there is a dearth of lefties on the bench. In other words, the addition of another bat capable of hitting from the left side is far more crucial than Cruz' experience. Hence, Miles is in and Cruz is out in "Projected Roster A".

 

Non-roster invitee Dave Berg has more versatility with the glove, having played a lot more third base than the other contenders, but like Cruz, hits from the right side. So, for purposes of this analysis, Berg is interchangeable with Cruz, except that he also has 19 career games at first base.

 

Another possibility would be to project NRI left-handed hitter Brian Daubach onto the roster. However, the only infielder he would seem to be able to supplant is Miles, since Daubach can only play first (and corner outfield). Replacing a switch-hitter with a left-handed hitter doesn't help our left-handed shortage any.

 

Therefore, in "Projected Roster A", Jim Edmonds, with 44 career games at first base, is forecasted as the back-up at that position.

 

Outfield reserves

Hector Luna's versatility cements his spot on this team, in my view. He is one of the three back-up outfielders (the minimum needed based on the past) and one of the two reserve infielders, including being the only back-up third baseman in this scenario.

 

Lefty John Rodriguez' lefthandedness seems to lock in his roster spot, as does the pop in his bat. That is, Rodriguez is firm unless long shot Rick Ankiel somehow either beats him out or Rodriguez is injured in camp. Low odds.

 

Left-handed hitters and pitchers

However, "Roster A" may have a fatal flaw. Even with Miles in for Cruz, it is dangerously on the low end of the left-handed tolerability scale.

 

First off, only two starting hitters and two bullpen members are lefties. The team has come north in recent years with only two starting position players hitting from the left side and only two left-handed bullpen members, but not in the same season.

 

While the two aren't completely connected, they are worth serious consideration. Certainly, it makes one want to ensure there is adequate hitting from the left side ready to come off the bench. Therein lies the problem.

 

As constructed, "Roster A" would provide La Russa with his fewest left-handed options in recent years between the starting line-up and bench at just four lefty bats.

 

To fix this with the current group of players, it seems that something would have to give. This could drive La Russa against recent custom by having to go with an additional left-handed hitter (a sixth bench player) instead of a seventh reliever for the first time since 2000. This additional hitter could come from the current roster, via trade or off the waiver wire during March.

 

"Projected Roster B" was created to illustrate this possibility, with Daubach added and Rule 5 pick-up Juan Mateo removed.

 

Projected Roster "B" has its warts, too

The Cardinals have plenty of middle infield-proven players, but few who can cover the corners. Therefore, bringing in another left-handed hitter or switch-hitter who can play both corner infield spots would seem to make the 2006 Cardinals roster decisions a lot easier and more consistent with their roster constructions from past springs. If that player could also cover corner outfield spots, it would be all the better.

 

In other words, to make this whole article a lot simpler, unfortunately as of yet, there is no John Mabry replacement on the current roster.

 

However, again, even the magical emergence of a Mabry clone alone wouldn't be enough to make Roster "B" work perfectly. The Cardinals would also have to break camp with only six relievers, something they've not done since 2000.

 

While the latter option seems the most palatable, going with fewer pitchers at a time of the year when pitching arms are still not at full strength presents its own set of risks.

 

Conclusion

 

All things considered, it may come down to this. Which poison will La Russa choose? Will he go with fewer relievers (Roster "B") or fewer left-handed hitters (Roster "A") than he is accustomed-to?

 

As this Cardinals team is currently constructed, Tony may have to pick one or the other. Resolving this dilemma potentially increases the likelihood of another roster addition before camp breaks and if so, would put an additional squeeze on an already-crowded bullpen competition.

"Typical" roster Original projected 2006 roster  Projected 2006 roster "A"  Projected 2006 roster "B" 
Starters (5) Starters (5) Starters (5) Starters (5)
Carpenter Carpenter Carpenter
Marquis Marquis Marquis
Mulder (L) Mulder (L) Mulder (L)
Suppan Suppan Suppan
Ponson Ponson Ponson
Bullpen (7) Bullpen (7) Bullpen (7) Bullpen (6)
Righties (5) Flores (L) Flores (L) Flores (L)
Lefties (2) Isringhausen Isringhausen Isringhausen
Looper Looper Looper
Mateo Mateo Reyes, An.
Reyes, An. Reyes, An. Rincon (L)
Rincon (L) Rincon (L) Thompson
Thompson Thompson
IF/OF Starters (8) Infielders (5) Infielders (5) Infielders (5)
Righties (5) Eckstein Eckstein Eckstein
Lefties/Switch-hitters (3) Molina Molina Molina
Pujols Pujols Pujols
Rolen Rolen Rolen
Spivey Spivey Spivey
Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3)
Bigbie (L) Bigbie (L) Bigbie (L)
Edmonds (L) Edmonds (L) Edmonds (L)
Encarnacion Encarnacion Encarnacion
Bench (5) Bench (5) Bench (5) Bench (6)
Righties (2) Bennett C Bennett C Bennett C
Lefties/Switch-hitters (3) Cruz IF Miles (S) MIF  Daubach (L) CIF, COF
Luna IF, OF Luna IF, OF Miles (S) MIF 
Rodriguez (L) COF Rodriguez (L) COF Luna IF, OF
Taguchi OF Taguchi OF Rodriguez (L) COF
Taguchi OF

Legend:

(S) - Switch-hitter
(L) - Left-handed pitcher or hitter
(none) - Right-handed position player hitter
OF - Plays all outfield positions
COF - Plays both corner outfield positions
MIF - Plays second base and/or shortstop
CIF - Plays first and/or third base
IF - Plays MIF and CIF
C - Catcher
Italics - Changes between the cases

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2006 www.thestlcardinals.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.


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