Projected Cardinals 2009 Opening Day Roster

Brian Walton offers up his projections for the St. Louis Cardinals' 2009 opening day roster and why.

Here on the day the first spring training game is to be held, I am offering up my annual opening day 25-man roster projections for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Throughout this work, I am not assuming any trades, injuries or other factors that could make the roster decisions easier, but aren't possible to forecast. One area that I do take into account is the options status of the players, as it is important to understand who cannot be sent down to the minors without risking having to be passed through waivers. In other words, despite what some may believe, not always do the best 25 players make the team.

Based on very consistent past history, I am going with a roster composition of 12 pitchers, five starters and seven relievers, two of which are left-handed. 13 position players include eight starters and five reserves, one catcher, two infielders and two outfielders.

Ideally that bench would have at least two left-handed hitters or even better a switch-hitter or two. However with the departure of Aaron Miles, there are no switch-hitters in camp from which to choose.

Pitchers (12)
Starters (5)
Relievers (7) RHP (5)
LHP (2)
Position Players (13)
Infielders (5)
Outfielders (3)
Bench (5) RH (3)
LH/Switch (2)
 
Catcher (1)
Infield (2+)
Outfield (2+)

Despite all the off-season churn, there really are only a handful of position battles of note on the team this spring.

Closer in training: Chris Perez vs. Jason Motte.

My take is that if all the starters are healthy, an assumption I am making, then Kyle McClellan will probably be returned to the pen. If so, then there is room for either Perez or Motte, but not both. I am going with the guy who has been groomed for the role and has more experience, Perez.

Where there are worries about Perez' choice of a secondary pitch, my bigger concern is his left ankle. During the winter, he had a shot for pain due to bone spurs. I can see the possibility of this becoming a problem later on. On the other hand, Motte (pictured) probably needs more seasoning, but can throw the ball through a brick wall.

Second left-hander: Charlie Manning vs. Royce Ring vs. Ian Ostlund (NRI)

All are relative unknowns. Ring gets my vote for one big reason. He has no options remaining and has already been outrighted once. So either he makes the team or he could easily be gone from the organization.

Manning has more flexibility with both choices available to the Cardinals and Ostlund likely won't have enough time to leapfrog the others. I have both of them beginning the season in Memphis.

Starting second baseman/middle infield reserves: Skip Schumaker vs. Joe Thurston (NRI) vs. Brendan Ryan vs. Brian Barden vs. Jarrett Hoffpauir

At this point, in good conscience, I cannot conclude Skip Schumaker's mid-career transition to second base will be successful. In my forecast, he makes the club as an outfielder. Demonstrating confidence in Skip, Tony La Russa has gone out of his way to both declare he will make the team and be his leadoff hitter. That, I accept.

Despite all the first week optimism flowing from camp, the defensive conversion Schumaker is attempting is very difficult. A former MLB infielder himself, Cards bench coach Joe Pettini gave the Post-Dispatch his first impression: "That would be a tough assignment."

Top infield instructor Jose Oquendo said the following before acknowledging that because of the kind of athlete Skip is that he will have "a chance". "It's going to be a challenge for him. With most guys I might say it can't work," Oquendo said.

Hoping Schumaker makes the jump is different than projecting it will happen. Obviously, it would really help the roster, but until I see success in games, to me it remains just an intriguing idea.

While far from a sexy pick, my money is on Brendan Ryan (pictured) to slip in and take the starting role – if he can stay healthy. He has enough bat and enough glove and if he can better utilize his speed, he may actually make the "second leadoff hitter" spot a productive one.

Thurston, the former top prospect of the Dodgers, offers something none of the others have – he bats from the left side. If he can handle the position defensively and doesn't hit like Cesar Iztruis, I think he could slip in and claim a reserve spot. If not starting, he offers, along with whoever is sitting between Skip Schumaker and Chris Duncan, a much-desired second left-handed bat off the bench.

I see Barden making the team as the primary shortstop reserve and someone capable of playing just about anywhere on the infield when called upon.

In terms of options, only Thurston is done. If added to the 40-man, he would have to stick in St. Louis to avoid having to pass through waivers if sent down later on. In that latter scenario, Thurston could instead elect free agency.

Starting third baseman/corner infield reserve: David Freese (NRI) vs. Joe Mather vs. Brett Wallace (NRI)

This is really no contest unless Mather surprises with the glove. Freese should be able to claim the interim third base job for his own unless he spits the hook. Mather is on my opening roster as the fifth outfielder and the other right-handed flychaser along with Ryan Ludwick.

Chris Duncan should again be the primary reserve behind Albert Pujols with Mather also capable if needed. Likely either Barden or Ryan if he is not starting at second should prove to be the next third baseman called if Mather can't hold his own, though neither have the pop of Freese or Mather. Wallace has a lot of potential, especially with the bat, but probably isn't ready with the glove.

Outfielder: Colby Rasmus (NRI) vs. the world

Again this spring, the weight of the world is on the shoulders of the 22-year-old top prospect. Similar to last March, due to a combination of factors not under his control, I predict Rasmus will not make the Cardinals out of camp. This time, I think he will spend April and perhaps May in Memphis before making his MLB debut.

The reasons include my forecast that the Schumaker second base experiment will not be as successful as hoped, therefore not opening up a roster spot immediately. Though everyone may not fully appreciate it, I am convinced that Skip is both playing second base for himself as well as for Colby this spring.

Also, not to be discounted is the fact that the Cardinals can forestall arbitration eligibility for Rasmus by one year in three years down the road simply by delaying his introduction for a couple of months. That could easily mean several million dollars of savings for the club at that time. Think more dry powder.

If Rasmus plays well again this spring but still doesn't make the team, hopefully he can head down to Memphis and take it out on Pacific Coast League pitchers instead of sulking. He will be up soon enough if he takes care of his business.

Projection

The following summarizes my opening day 25-man roster forecast here on February 25, by my level of certainty. All 34 players currently on the 40-man are included, along with the five most prominent NRIs mentioned above.

Odds/Opt Locks (12)
Carpenter 100% The ace. You know the concern.
Wainwright 100% Hoping that finger is ok.
Lohse 100% Better start earning that $41 million. 
Wellemeyer 100% One more year before free agency.
Franklin 100% Offers safe but flawed closer fallback.
Molina 100% Will be be able to catch 140 games?
LaRue 100% Proven reserve.
Pujols 100% El Hombre, easy on that elbow!
Greene, K 100% Only other infield lock besides Albert.
Ankiel (L) 100% Needs health in his walk year
Ludwick 100% Can he do it again?
Schumaker (L) 100% TLR said so. Besides, he is out of options.
Near locks (7)
Pineiro 90% Received vote of confidence despite WBC outburst
Kinney 85%/O Only his health would hold him back.
Miller (L) 95% Low $ contract could be eaten if he craters or is hurt.
McClellan 95%/O I wish they would keep him starting, but I think not.
Thompson 90%/OW Would require clearing waivers to be sent down.
Ryan 80%/O The best and most proven of the infield contenders.
Duncan (L) 85%/O Just needs to prove health.
Over the line (4+2 NRI)
Ring (L) 55%/W No options or outright remaining, so needs to make team.
Perez 60%/O Leading candidate to close isn't a sure thing.
Barden 60%/O Ability to play all over could make him the new Miles.
Thurston (NRI)(L) 55% Only LH hitting infielder in camp other than Wallace.
Freese (NRI) 70% The interim job at third is his to lose. 
Mather 75%/O Nice RH power bat off the bench.
Miss the cut (9+3 NRI)
Boggs 15%/O Should headline Memphis rotation and be ready for call.
Hawksworth 5%/O Number eight or nine starter in camp. 
Motte 45%/O Lacking strong second pitch but time to get one.
Manning (L) 35%/O Could beat out Ring, but he was cut by Washington!
Scherer 5%/O Spring injury may mean 5% odds are generous.
Ostlund (NRI)(L) 10% Too many bodies to pass, but could arrive later.
Greene, T 10%/O Not ready yet. Make better contact in Memphis.
Hoffpauir 5%/O Anyone has a chance at 2B, but lowest odds by far.
Wallace (NRI)(L) 5% Bat may be ready, but glove can use more time.
Barton 20%/O Rodney Dangerfield of outfielders heading to Memphis.
Rasmus (NRI)(L) 45% Good reasons to wait - just a bit.
Stavinoha 15%/O Trying to catch. Trying to catch on.
Disabled list (2)
Glaus 0% Out until when?
Garcia (L) 0% Check back in August.

L = left-handed
NRI = non-roster invitee to camp
O = options remaining
W = must pass through waivers to be sent down

The final table shows my forecasted roster by position. Though we came to the end result differently, there are only two differences between my roster and Ray Mileur's recent projections. He has Manning over Ring and Rasmus over Thurston. Both are quite possible.

Projected roster (23+2 NRI) Miss the cut     (9+3 NRI) Disabled list (2)
Starters (5)
Carpenter Boggs Garcia (L) 
Wainwright  Hawksworth
Lohse 
Wellemeyer
Pinero
Relievers (7)
Franklin Motte
Kinney Manning (L)
McClellan Ostlund (NRI) (L)
Miller (L) Scherer
Perez
Ring (L)
Thompson
Infielders (5)
Molina  Greene, T Glaus
Pujols Hoffpauir
Ryan Wallace (NRI)
Greene, K
Freese (NRI)
Outfielders (3)
Schumaker (L)
Ankiel (L)
Ludwick
Bench (5)
LaRue Barton
Thurston (L) (NRI) Stavinoha
Barden Rasmus (NRI) (L)
Duncan (L) 
Mather





Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.

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