2008 St. Louis Cardinals Health Check Up

A year-to-year assessment of the St. Louis Cardinals' injury situation by position.

As the winter progressed, some St. Louis Cardinals fans seem to have forgotten the huge toll that injuries took on the 2007 club. A reference back to this article from November, "How did the 2007 Cardinals Injuries Stack Up?", helps put this into factual context. Among the data points is one that notes the pitching staff spent an aggregate of 1100 days on the disabled list last season.

Of the primary eight position players, only Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan did not make an official stop on the DL at some point during 2007. If Duncan had experienced his sports hernia in any month other than September, it would have been seven of eight. Even Pujols was dogged by maladies all season long.

While there are several new players in starting roles in 2008, it seems like a good time to assess the injury situation by position as the Cardinals report to Spring Training camp this week, comparing this year's health situation with last.


Yadier Molina missed most of the month of June with a fractured wrist and as the season went on had to deal with increasing levels of knee pain. He finally threw in the towel in late September and underwent surgery. Early reports have him in camp lighter and in better shape, determined to win a Gold Glove Award.

His back-up in 2008 is new. Jason LaRue, a long-time starter in the majors, has replaced Gary Bennett and may be able to earn Manager Tony La Russa's confidence enough to allow Molina more rest this coming season.

Health assessment: Slightly improved

First base

As noted above, Pujols dealt with calf, hamstring and elbow problems last season. We were reminded of the seriousness of the latter over the winter when Pujols experienced discomfort while working out. Yet the slugger toughed it out through the entire 2007 campaign and is going to try to do it again in 2008. The difference is that he has threatened to step aside if the elbow problems persist this season. While Pujols played in 158 games last season, one has to wonder if he was near 100% for more than a handful. Simply put, the loss of Pujols would be fatal to the chances of the 2008 Cardinals.

While the departed Jim Edmonds could back Pujols up, so can holdovers Chris Duncan and Scott Spiezio. If non-roster invitee Josh Phelps makes the club, he would likely become the top reserve behind Albert.

Health assessment: Slight decline

Second base

Adam Kennedy's 2007 was already a disaster at the plate before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Durable reserve Aaron Miles actually appeared in more games at second than did Kennedy. Both are back for 2008. Given Kennedy's history, it seems unlikely this season could be anywhere near as bad as last.

Health assessment: Improved


David Eckstein departed as a free agent after having missed 45 games last season, much of it related to lower back problems. His likely replacement is Cesar Izturis. Izturis has a recent history of elbow injuries, suffering some discomfort late last season that was viewed to be minor. However, it is worth noting that he had two stints on the DL in 2006, one with elbow problems and the other due to a hamstring strain.

Miles or 2007 rookie Brendan Ryan will serve as the reserve. The latter had a checkered injury history as a minor leaguer. Though Izturis is five years younger than Eckstein, we will call this position a wash.

Health assessment: No change

Third base

With traded Scott Rolen, the question was not if he will suit up as much as it was which Rolen would appear. The slugger who challenged for the Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 hadn't been seen much since, with three shoulder surgeries in the interim.

He has been replaced by Troy Glaus, also coming off surgery. Glaus has a history of foot problems and it is hoped that moving to the natural turf of Busch Stadium will ease some of the wear and tear. Glaus played in 115 games last season; Rolen 112.

Health assessment: No change

Left field

Chris Duncan missed most of the final month of the season with a sports hernia, but that is said to be completely behind him. There is no reason not to expect Duncan to be able to exceed 127 games played in 2008. Here's hoping no more than a very few will be at first base, however.

Health assessment: Slightly improved


Jim Edmonds may have been the greatest Cardinals centerfielder ever. Yet, his all-out style of play had to contribute to his many injuries that kept him off the field for 45 games last season. His likely replacement, Rick Ankiel, has been generally healthy since missing the entire 2006 season following knee surgery. If 21-year-old Colby Rasmus makes the club, it would be as the starter in center. His (short) injury history is clear.

Health assessment: Improved

Right field

While still officially on the Cardinals roster in the final season of his three-year contract signed prior to 2006, incumbent Juan Encarnacion's career may have ended when he was struck in the face by a foul ball last season. Encarnacion had begun the 2007 season the same way he ended it, on the DL, as he was recovering from wrist surgery. Though Ryan Ludwick's career has been marked by injury, if he earns the starting nod in right, he should easily surpass Encarnacion's 78 games played last season.

Health assessment: Improved

2007 Games Played Missed
Catcher Molina 111 51
First base Pujols 158 4
Second base Kennedy 87 75
Shortstop Eckstein 117 45
Third base Rolen 112 50
Left field Duncan 127 35
Centerfield Edmonds 117 45
Right field Encarnacion 78 84

Starting pitchers

In a dramatic transition, not a single one of the 2006 Opening Day starting rotation contributed in 2007. Chris Carpenter pitched in the opener and went down with an elbow that needed Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. Mark Mulder made three ineffective starts before another shoulder surgery was prescribed. Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis left as free agents and Sidney Ponson was jettisoned.

Barring no setbacks, Carpenter may return around mid-season and Mulder could be pitching in games as soon as May. What to expect in terms of effectiveness can be debated.

Converted reliever Braden Looper experienced a huge increase in innings from 2006 to 2007, which is a red flag. He also spent time last season on the DL with shoulder pain. Newcomer Matt Clement hasn't pitched consistently in several seasons and is a year removed from his own shoulder surgery.

One of the three fifth starter combatants has recent health questions. Todd Wellemeyer missed almost three months in 2007 due to elbow problems. Overall, it is difficult to be optimistic about the health of the rotation, yet it wouldn't seem to stack up any worse in 2008 than in 2007, with upside potential if Carpenter and Mulder can make it back.

Health assessment: No change

2007 Starts In relief
Carpenter 1 0
Mulder 3 0
Clement* 0 0
Wainwright 32 0
Looper 30 0
Pineiro 11 31*
Reyes 20 2
Wellemeyer 11 21x
Thompson 17 27
* for Boston
x 12 with KC, 9 with StL


2006 post-season star Josh Kinney missed the entire 2007 season with Tommy John surgery. A setback in rehab puts his return a month or so into the 2008 season, but his return should be a big positive. Closer Jason Isringhausen feels good after a second hip surgery prior to his solid 2007 season. Lefty Tyler Johnson missed a month-and-a-half with triceps tendinitis last summer, but generally speaking, the bullpen seems stocked and ready to go.

Health assessment: Slightly improved

Health summary YTY change
Catcher Slightly improved
First base Slight decline
Second base Improved
Shortstop No change
Third base No change
Left field Slightly improved
Centerfield Improved
Right field Improved
Starting pitchers No change
Relievers Slightly improved

In summary, it is only logical that with a winter of rest, any team should be improved in health. Yet, because the 2007 Cardinals had so many injuries, this area should bear considerable attention through spring camp and into the regular season.

Though it seems obvious, if the 2008 edition of the Cardinals can remain healthy and the returning players contribute anywhere near past levels, the team should compete in the National League Central Division. On the other hand, another injury-wracked season like 2007 could easily yield a similar result – a sub-.500 record.

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

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