I'm not aware of any deal in the works, despite what appears to be a very crowded outfield and some pressing needs as highlighted by the organization, including another starter, a left-handed reliever and a closer. I'm not expecting any significant deals being made between now and the time that the pitchers and catchers report to Florida.
What is your take on Chris Carpenter being ready on opening day?
Like I told the fans in Des Moines Iowa yesterday on the Jon Miller show on KXNO, I expect if anyone in Chris Carpenter's condition can be ready, Carpenter will be ready. Last season, I didn't put too much faith in the rehab efforts of Mark Mulder or his chances to return, that isn't the case with Carpenter.
Carpenter has indicated that he feels great and that he feels like it is just another offseason for him as he prepares for spring training and the 2009 season. A word of caution, until we see him pitch off the mound, it is difficult to project when he will be ready to step into the rotation. The fact that he feels better, isn't experiencing any pain or discomfort at this time is not a guarantee that he'll be ready to pitch on opening day. I'm just hoping so.
Can you give us a rundown on injuries and is there any one injury that you have a concern about?
RHP Chris Carpenter, (sore right shoulder, right elbow surgery in November 2008) said in January that he was on schedule for spring training. We won't know for sure until we see him pitch on the mound. 1B Albert Pujols, (nerve transposition surgery on right elbow in October 2008) reported in January that he is fully healthy. My concern about Pujols is that he wants to play in the World Baseball Classic. I'm not a fan of the WBC, I would prefer that he focus on getting ready for the Cardinals regular season. If he is 100%, he should be able to do both, but it is an unnecessary risk for him to play in these exhibition games, as far as I'm concern.
OF Rick Ankiel, (abdominal surgery in September 2008) was recovering at season's end and should be ready on day one of spring training.
OF Joe Mather, (left wrist surgery in September 2008) should be ready for spring training, there remains some question as to where he'll start the 2009 season.
OF Chris Duncan, (neck surgery in August 2008) should be ready for spring training. The Cardinals need to get him as much playing time in Florida as they can, to either showcase him for a trade or to determine that he is ready to be on the club's 25-man roster to start the season.
The injury I'm most concerned about is Chris Carpenter's. I'm hoping he'll be ready on opening day or very soon thereafter.
If the Cardinals still need a starter, is there any chance they would sign Braden Looper?
If at some point soon, the Cardinals determine that Chris Carpenter isn't going to be ready on time, I could see a scenario where they would offer Looper a one-year deal and insert him back into the rotation. The Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates and Orioles are among the other teams that have had some discussions with Looper's agent, Alan Hendricks, so how much longer Looper will be available, I just don't know.
Is Colby Rasmus actually going to make the team out of spring training this year?
A lot can happen between now and the time the Cardinals leave Florida to start the regular season. If the season started today, I would have a hard time putting Colby on the 25-man roster. That said, the Cardinals have almost talked themselves into a corner regarding the top prospect, so they need to find a way to take him with them when they leave the Sunshine State. Somebody in the outfield mix has to go, to make room for Rasmus, with the most likely candidates being Chris Duncan or Skip Schumaker.
Can you grade the moves the Cardinals made during the offseason?
I'm more optimistic than most by some of the moves made by the Cardinals and actually some of the moves not made. For example, I'm glad Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick weren't traded, despite that they create a logjam in the outfield, the team is better with them in the lineup. The Cardinals signed Kyle Lohse to a four-year deal early in the offseason. Today, based on the current free agent market conditions and trends, it may appear that the team overpaid for him, but based on the information they had at the time and a reasonable expectation as to what a pitcher of Lohse's caliber was going to bring this winter, I have to give the Cardinals an "A" for signing Lohse.
The other most significant deal made this winter was bringing Khalil Greene to St. Louis to play shortstop. I'm a big Greene fan and trading a disgruntled minor league reliever Mark Worrell for Greene, is one of the better deals I have seen made in my 11 years covering the Cardinals. Call me crazy sports fans, but I give this deal an "A+"
How many games will it take to win the National League Central Division in 2009?
If I had to pick a number today, I'd say with the level of competition that I expect within the division, with the Cubs, Brewers and Astros in particular, I would think 92 wins could be enough to win the National League Central.
Can you give us something that nobody else is talking about, some insight as to what to look for and what to watch for during the 2009 season, if the Cardinals are going to be competitive.
I'd keep an eye on Troy Claus, Rick Ankiel, Khalil Greene and even Adam Kennedy. They are all going to be free agents at the end of next season so I think it is safe to say, they are going to be busting their tails in anticipation of signing that next contract, especially Ankiel and Greene.
Any concerns about the Cardinals starting rotation?
Naturally I'm still concerned about Chris Carpenter, but you have to like having a starting rotation that already includes; Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse & Todd Wellemeyer. A healthy Carpenter at the front of this group and the Cardinals can go toe-to-toe with anyone. I was very disappointed in Joel Pineiro last season, he may have a problem holding onto his spot in the Cardinals' rotation, if and when Carpenter returns. Look for Kyle McClellan to get a shot to move into the rotation at some point if Carpenter returns and Pineiro falters.
I was very impressed by the Cardinals in 2008, they overcame a lot of adversity and yet still managed to win 86 games, enough games in a lot of seasons, to win the NL Central Division title or a Wild Card berth. Unfortunately it was just good enough to finish in fourth place last season. The fans and pundits have overreacted to that 4th place finish. The 2009 team on paper is better than the 2008 version and this year's team will be competitive from start to finish, 92 wins is certainly possible and could be enough to carry the Cardinals into the postseason.
Ray Mileur can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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