After re-signing RHP Kyle Lohse the day after the 2008 season ended, re-upping backup C Jason LaRue and trading for SS Khalil Greene, the Cardinals did little this offseason other than changing a trio of left-handed relievers, of which only one, Trever Miller is a sure thing in the bullpen.
The Cardinals have taken a lot of heat from a disgruntled fan base for not increasing the team's payroll to deal this winter, especially considering the team's general manager John Mozeliak promised to be "aggressive" and "creative" this offseason. Add to the fire, the recent late release of second baseman Adam Kennedy and the unexpected, shoulder surgery of third baseman Troy Glaus in January and the Cardinals' front office projections that attendance this season could drop off could become a reality if the team doesn't get off to a good start.
The Cardinals certainly have their share of issues and concerns to address before the regular season begins, including; if RHP Chris Carpenter will be healthy enough to rejoin the rotation, if RHPs Chris Perez and Jason Motte are ready to step into the closer's role, health/injury issues of outfielders Chris Duncan, Joe Mather, Rick Ankiel and third baseman Troy Glaus, who is expected to be out until at least May.
It's time to turn off the "Hot Stove" league and here is the Cardinals projected roster going into spring training with the games just around the corner;
If Carpenter is healthy, the Cardinals may have the only rotation in the National League Central Division that could give the early favorites, the Chicago Cubs a run for their money this season. Carpenter really wouldn't be a fifth starter for anybody, but he is listed there because of his elbow and shoulder issues of the past two years. If he is able to pitch, he will rejoin the rotation at the top and. If he isn't, the Cardinals must decide whether or not to convert RHP Kyle McClellan to a starter, or go with swingman RHP Brad Thompson or young RHP Mitchell Boggs. The least likely option on the table is the Cardinals would search for a starter outside the organization or make a trade before the season starts.
RHP Chris Perez or RHP Jason Motte (closer, I give the early edge to Motte actually)
RHP Ryan Franklin
RHP Kyle McClellan (prepared to start if necessary)
RHP Josh Kinney
LHP Trever Miller
LHP Royce Ring
LHP Charlie Manning
This adds up to eight relievers, and the Cardinals won't carry that many, except for emergencies. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa likes to carry three lefties in the bullpen but there are some question marks about how effective the current trio will be this spring, which could lead to just two left-handers making the club. The hard-throwing Jason Motte might start the season at Class AAA Memphis if Chris Perez, starts the season as the team's closer.
Third baseman Troy Glaus will be out until at least May maybe longer, so Freese, who batted .306 with 26 homers and 91 RBIs in his first season in Class AAA, will likely open the season at third.
The Cardinals have almost talked themselves in a corner, about top prospect CF Colby Rasmus being ready to play at the major league level. Rasmus, who hit only .251 in an injury-plagued season at Class AAA Memphis, nevertheless has the most overall skills among the outfielders and is expected that he could push for a starting role. The problem is, Rasmus was told he could earn a starting role last season, many, including Colby himself thought he played well enough to make the club last spring. If Rasmus starts the season in the minors, it will be another huge disappointment for the promising five-tool outfielder.
TOP ROOKIES: CF Colby Rasmus started slowly and then got hurt in his first year at Class AAA and finished with only 36 RBIs and a .251 average. But he is the only "five-tool" player on the club, and he has the look of a future star. RHP Jason Motte, who throws nearly 100 mph, may wind up being the closer if he can master an off-speed pitch. Minor league shortstop Tyler Greene was added to the Cardinals 40 man roster this winter, he'll get a chance to compete for a job on off the bench or even at second base.
WHO KNOWS? There are a lot of unanswered questions about this team that will make this spring training potentially one of the most memorable ones in recent history.
1. Is Chris Carpenter healthy and be able to step back into the rotation.
2. Who is going to start at second base, Thurston, Schumaker, Ryan, or Greene?
3. How long will Troy Glaus be out?
4. Will Colby Rasmus make is much anticipated major league debut on opening day?
5. Who is going to take over as the team's closer, Perez, Motte, or closer-by-committee?
6. Has the holes been plugged in the bullpen?
7. Can Brett Wallace prove he's ready to play at the major league level this spring?
8. Will the Cardinals make a trade before the season starts?
9. Is Chris Duncan healthy and has his power stroke returned?
Orlando Hudson is still available? (I'm just saying)
Ray Mileur can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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