Cardinals Major League Notebook: 02/14/10

The St. Louis Cardinals' 2010 hopes hinge on another strong season from their big four – Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday on offense and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright on the mound.



   The Cardinals enter spring training with arguably the National League's best 3-4 combination in the lineup and the best 1-2 starting punch on the mound.


   Left fielder Matt Holliday, who batted .353 and knocked in 55 runs in 63 games after coming from Oakland last year, was re-signed to a seven-year, $120 million deal, and he will be locked into the No. 4 position in the batting order behind three-time Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols. The first baseman merely has had nine consecutive seasons with at least a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBIs.


   On the mound, Cy Young Award runners-up Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who combined for 36 wins in 2009, give the Cardinals a dimension that certainly no other team in their division has.


   With those four players in place, it would almost be illogical for anyone to pick against the Cardinals to repeat their NL Central crown, but there are potential thorns.


   For one, the Cardinals are likely to have an inexperienced bench, meaning that if a Pujols or Holliday or catcher Yadier Molina gets injured, there isn't much backup.


   Right-hander Brad Penny, who excelled with San Francisco late last season after struggling with Boston, was the only free agent of consequence signed in the offseason. That is, unless, you consider new hitting coach Mark McGwire, who will return to the game after eight seasons out of it.


   The appearance of McGwire, who hit a then-record 70 homers for the Cardinals in 1998, was going to cause a stir anyway, but the steroids issue (he has confessed his use) is likely to follow him around this spring.


   This will be manager Tony La Russa's 15th season as Cardinals manager. In his first 14 seasons, the Cardinals have won seven division titles and earned one wild-card playoff berth, but this might be La Russa's last season with the team. He is on a one-year contract and occasionally has wondered lately if he has been around too long.


   WHERE: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. The Cardinals have been there since 1998, but there have been changes all around. With the Orioles moving to Sarasota, Fla., and the Dodgers previously going to Arizona, the Cardinals have only the Marlins (who share a complex with the Cardinals in Jupiter) and the Mets as opponents any closer than two hours away.


   TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: INF/OF Joe Mather, if his troublesome left hand has healed, could provide depth at several positions. Mather displayed power, speed and defensive ability in 2008 before getting hurt. After briefly holding the Cardinals' third base job last spring, Mather had a lost 2009 season at Class AAA Memphis and Class AA Springfield.


   TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: RHP Ryan Franklin had a splendid 2009 season as the Cardinals' closer and made his first All-Star team, but he weakened down the stretch, causing some offseason doubt in his ability to replicate his 38-save season.


   AUTHORITY FIGURES: Tony La Russa returns for his 15th season as Cardinals manager, having won 1,232 games in St. Louis and 2,552 games overall, which is third on the all-time list. The 65-year-old La Russa, for the first time with the Cardinals, has only a one-year contract, fueling speculation that this might be his last season on the field. The coaching staff returns intact with the notable exception of former Cardinals star Mark McGwire replacing Hal McRae as the hitting coach.





   --2B Skip Schumaker, the only Cardinal remaining who was eligible for arbitration, agreed to a two-year deal that will pay him $2 million this year and $2.7 million next season. "We're trying to accomplish a few things with this deal," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We want to reward him for all he accomplished last year moving positions (from outfield to second base) and give him the security he desires, and at the same time give ourselves some cost certainty for the next few seasons." Schumaker, 30, earned $430,000 in 2009 while batting .303 and scoring 85 runs as the Cardinals' primary leadoff hitter.


   --Marty Mason has grown a bit after double-knee replacement that has allowed him to stand some two inches taller. Mason will be starting his 11th season as the Cardinals' bullpen coach.


   --Pitching coach Dave Duncan said that RHPs Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth and LHPs Jaime Garcia and Rich Hill all would receive innings in camp as the club seeks to fill out its rotation.


   Duncan suggested that he would be careful with Garcia, as the 23-year-old worked only 37 2/3 innings in the minors last year after undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2008.


   --The club told RHP P.J. Walters to remain with family as long as he needs. Walters' first child was delivered 13 weeks prematurely earlier this month. Walters was 0-0 with a 9.56 ERA in four appearances for the Cardinals last season.


   --INF Tyler Greene, who hit .222 with two homers in 108 at-bats with the Cardinals last season and had 15 homers and 31 steals at Class AAA Memphis, is hoping to make the club as a utility player or even as the third baseman. "During spring training, I want to compete for a starting spot," said the 26-year-old, who was the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2005.


   BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Errors made by novice 2B Skip Schumaker in 133 games at the position.


   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd like to stay the course and get to spring training before we really prioritize our needs." -- GM John Mozeliak.





  After winning their first division title in three seasons, the Cardinals really had only one real offseason mission -- to re-sign LF Matt Holliday. This they did at a cost of $120 million for seven years. Their only other player-personnel move of consequence was to sign RHP Brad Penny to replace departed RHP Joel Pineiro in the rotation. They also made one prominent coaching change, hiring former slugger Mark McGwire to replace Hal McRae as the hitting coach.


   ARRIVALS: RHP Brad Penny (free agent from Giants), LHP Rich Hill (minor league free agent from Orioles), INF Ruben Gotay (minor league free agent from Diamondbacks).


   DEPARTURES: RHP Brad Thompson (released, signed minor league deal with Royals), INF Joe Thurston (free agent, signed minor league deal with Braves), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent, signed with Braves), INF Mark DeRosa (free agent, signed with Giants), INF Khalil Greene (free agent, signed with Rangers), OF Rick Ankiel (free agent, signed with Royals), RHP Joel Pineiro (free agent, signed with Angels), RHP Todd Wellemeyer (free agent, signed minor league deal with Giants), RHP John Smoltz (free agent, unsigned).


   SPRING FOCUS: Having re-signed LF Matt Holliday, the Cardinals' lineup should be in good shape for another run at the World Series. 3B David Freese, a rookie, is the only real unknown in the equation, and the Cardinals might have to bring in a veteran presence to compete with him. A fifth starter is needed, as well as bench help, specifically from the left side. Much of the focus will be on new hitting coach Mark McGwire as he returns to baseball after eight seasons out of the game and amid commentary about his use of performance-enhancement drugs when he played.



   1. RHP Chris Carpenter

   2. RHP Adam Wainwright

   3. RHP Kyle Lohse

   4. RHP Brad Penny

   5. LHP Rich Hill or LHP Jaime Garcia


   Penny, a free agent acquisition, replaces RHP Joel Pineiro, a 15-game winner who signed with the Angels. RHP Todd Wellemeyer had the most starts from the fifth spot last year, but he wasn't re-signed, so Hill, Garcia and perhaps RHP Kyle McClellan will contend for the fifth spot. No Cardinals lefty started a game last year, as Cy Young Award candidates Carpenter and Wainwright led an often-dominant, all-right-handed rotation.



   RHP Ryan Franklin (closer)

   RHP Jason Motte

   RHP Kyle McClellan

   RHP Blake Hawksworth

   RHP Mitchell Boggs

   LHP Trever Miller

   LHP Dennys Reyes


   Franklin had a stellar, 38-save season in his first full year as the closer, although he was wobbly at the end. The bullpen was one of the strengths of the division-championship club, and it is likely that it will return almost intact this season. McClellan might be moved into the rotation, if the need arises.



   1. 2B Skip Schumaker

   2. CF Colby Rasmus

   3. 1B Albert Pujols

   4. LF Matt Holliday

   5. RF Ryan Ludwick

   6. C Yadier Molina

   7. 3B David Freese

   8. SS Brendan Ryan


   The key lineup question for manager Tony La Russa is the No. 2 spot. Does he go for "damage," as he likes to put it, with CF Colby Rasmus, knowing that Rasmus, one of his best base stealers, isn't apt to run much in front of Pujols? Or does he go at Nos. 1-2 with Schumaker and Ryan, neither of whom hits for much power nor walks much, in front of Pujols and Holliday?



   C Jason LaRue

   INF Julio Lugo

   INF/OF Joe Mather

   INF Tyler Greene or INF Ruben Gotay

   OF Allen Craig


   Other than LaRue and Lugo, the bench figures to be inexperienced. Craig, who batted .322 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs at Class AAA Memphis, is the most intriguing of the lot. The 25-year-old was signed as an infielder but has been moved to the outfield, where he is not an accomplished defender. Still, next to the batter's box, the outfield appears to be his best position. Switch-hitting Gotay, signed as a minor league free agent, is competing with right-handed-hitting Greene, one of the Cardinals' fastest runners who has some power but was overexposed at bat last season in a couple of brief trials. Mather, a valuable extra man in 2008, had a terrible season (.176 at Class AAA Memphis and .209 at Class AA Springfield) in 2009 as he had continued trouble with a left hand on which he had surgery in 2008.


   TOP ROOKIES: David Freese, who came on strong late last season after recovering from a left ankle injury suffered in a January auto accident, will be given the first shot to win the third base job that belonged mostly to Mark DeRosa in the second half of last season. Freese was 7-for-12 in a late recall from Class AAA Memphis.


   LHP Jaime Garcia, a 23-year-old from Mexico, pitched effectively in the last month of the minor league season after recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He is considered a candidate for the one remaining starting berth, although pitching coach Dave Duncan is hesitant about Garcia being able to pitch that many innings yet. Garcia never has worked more than 150 innings in a season.


   RHP Pete Parise had an outstanding Caribbean Series while pitching for Puerto Rico and he has an outside shot at a big-league relief job. Parise had eight saves, most of them late in the season, as he helped pitch Memphis to the Pacific Coast League championship last year.




   --1B Albert Pujols (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) has resumed hitting, and he should be fine for the start of spring training.


   --SS Brendan Ryan (right wrist surgery in February 2010) should be healthy for the start of the regular season.


   --LHP Rich Hill (left shoulder surgery in August 2009) is expected to be ready for spring training.

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