That comeback might not occur until June, with rookie David Freese, recalled from minor league camp with a few weeks to go in the spring, the likely replacement.
Freese carries a good glove, and he hit well at Class AAA Memphis last season (26 homers, 91 RBIs, .306 average). What fans should watch is his mobility after he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in an auto accident in January.
Whatever happens at second and third, the Cardinals should have improved offense at shortstop with Khalil Greene, who hit only .213 last year at San Diego, showing signs of being more the hitter he was two years ago, when he drove in 97 runs.
Keeping Chris Carpenter healthy is critical to the team's hopes. Carpenter, out virtually two seasons with elbow and shoulder ailments, didn't allow an earned run in his first 19 spring innings. Carpenter fleshes out an all-right-handed rotation that also includes Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro.
The bullpen still is a question mark, although rookie Jason Motte, almost unhittable in the spring, seems to have a leg up for the closer's role. Chris Perez, who closed at the end of last season, missed two weeks late in camp with a shoulder ailment. Veteran Ryan Franklin is a fall-back if Motte should have trouble.
The lineup, which features 2008 NL Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols, will lose Glaus' punch early but should have some smack back with the return to health of left fielder Chris Duncan, who missed half of last season. Duncan had a disk problem in his neck that required surgery.
The bench may include rookie Colby Rasmus. The talented outfielder, the club's top draft pick in 2005, could pinch-run, play defense or start against some right-handers. But, depending on how the third base situation is resolved, Rasmus might be left in Memphis for a while at the start of the season.
THE CARDINALS WILL CONTEND IF ...: RHP Chris Carpenter can make 30 to 35 starts. 2B Skip Schumaker doesn't embarrass himself at his new position. Either RHP Jason Motte or RHP Chris Perez emerges as a hard-throwing closer. If 1B Albert Pujols or C Yadier Molina would miss considerable time due to injury, then the dream is over.
PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: SS Khalil Greene, who fanned 100 times in 389 at-bats last year, whiffed just three times in his first 60 at-bats this spring and hit .417. Greene said he had stopped moving his head while batting.
ON THE DECLINE: 3B Troy Glaus, who drove in 99 runs in 2008, won't get anywhere close to that this season, as he probably will miss six to eight weeks recovering from right shoulder surgery in the offseason. Glaus would be a candidate to be traded later in the season if the Cardinals are out of the race because the club is deep in third basemen in its system.