Fantasy Preview: St. Louis Cardinals
Another season without an ace, this time Chris Carpenter, yet the Cardinals still managed to make the playoffs last year. An ace-like performance from Kyle Lohse eased the loss of Carpenter while Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran joined forces with Yadier Molina's MVP-worthy season to cover the offseason departure of Albert Pujols and the injury-stunted season of 2011 star Lance Berkman. Unfortunately, they couldn't turn this wild card into another World Series title. In fact, had it not been for the addition of the second wild card, the Cards wouldn't have been close to the playoffs in the first place.
The bad news for the National League is that last year's runner up is already strong and is sitting on one of baseball's best farm systems positioning it for yet another run at the title. The bad news for the Cardinals is they hit the trifecta, losing for the third consecutive year an ace before the season starts with Carpenter repeating. There is serious concern that he has thrown his last pitch. Fortunately, their No. 1 strength is depth. They just didn't want to tap into it this early.
Signed RP Randy Choate.
This is what happens when you are the NL-runner up carrying a load of stud prospects, your big signing ends being a LOOGY. The Cardinals gave the 36-year-old lefty a three-year deal, no doubt hoping he can continue to dispense of lefties without incident. Southpaws managed a meager .461 OPS against him a year ago as he led baseball with 80 appearances. He led the American League in appearances in 2010 with 85. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Alvarez should start watching Choate video now. They will be seeing him in their nightmares the next three years.
Last year was Schumaker's first OPS north of .700 against right-handers in three years and that is supposed to be his strong side of the platoon split. There was no room for him in the outfield, nor can his bat really sustain being an outfielder, and Daniel Descalso can approximate his value at a third the cost as they await the arrival of Kolten Wong. The 24-year-old Lemmerman is organizational depth up the middle.
Signed UT Ty Wigginton.
Yes Cardinals fans, your MLB nucleus combined with the farm system is so good that this is the second-highest impact move of your team's offseason.This signing happened two days after the Schumaker deal, so maybe they set it up for the two to work in concert as it essentially six in one, half-dozen in the other. Wigginton coming off the bench brings a power element that Schumaker certainly doesn't have, so it is easy to see why general manager John Mozeliak would view jettisoning Schumaker in favor of Wigginton as a net positive.
Signed IF Ronny Cedeno.
Cedeno brings the aspects of Schumaker's game that Wigginton can't provide, though that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. They need someone who can legitimately handle shortstop if/when Rafael Furcal is hurt.
The middle infielders bookending the non-pitcher portion of the lineup are the only dull spots offensively, and a healthy Furcal still carries the potential to be a substantially above average asset. In fact, only his power holds him back as his batting average and on-base percentage were better than the NL average at shortstop. The two through seven spots can hold their own with any team in the league, leaving no rest for pitchers. And all but Jay carry the serious threat to leave the yard at any moment.
Lynn was a revelation shifting from the bullpen to the rotation and dominating for most of the year, save half of June and a bumpy August during which he seemed to hit a wall and briefly went back to the bullpen. There is still some uncertainty within the staff mostly focused on the shoulder of Garcia, but even with adding Miller to replace Carpenter the reinforcements remain plentiful as half of their top prospects are starters and all but one has at least reached Double-A.
Motte had a brilliant season as a first-time closer as he mauled batters with his 98 mph four-seamer and 92.5 mph cutter both of which only looked faster juxtaposed with his 85 mph changeup. The 42-save effort, which led the National League, earned him a two-year, $12 million deal, giving the Cardinals one of the game's best stoppers through 2014.
What can Allen Craig do with a full season?
More important, can he make it a full season? Craig missed April recovering from surgery on his right kneecap, but had an incredible start to his season in May before a strained left hamstring cut him down for two weeks in mid-May. He returned on June 1 and played the rest of the way, setting career highs all over the place, but most importantly in games played and plate appearances. He finally topped 500 plate appearances and fans saw what a stud he can be with a major sample of playing time. What can he do in 2013 without a starting a month behind due to knee surgery? He had a .309/.357/.532 line the last two years and while the organization would love to see that over 162, they would almost certainly settle for 140-145 which could no doubt yield a 30-homer, 100-RBI season, too. He might even be able to nab 100-plus runs scored if he can avoid the disabled list. The Cardinals' No. 2 spot has been among the NL's top three in runs scored every year since 2008, netting more than 100 all but once (98 in 2011) and twice leading the league.
Can the cardinals find room for Matt Carpenter?
He was instructed to hone his second-base skills in the offseason with that being the team's only obvious hole and his bat being one worth taking a defensive hit for, especially against righties. The second-base aspect will be something to monitor during spring training, but even if he doesn't find regular reps there he is on a team that is filled with some great, but fragile stars in Beltran, Craig, Freese and Furcal. He wouldn't be Furcal's replacement, but Descalso could be, which would open up second.
Could Trevor Rosenthal or Shelby Miller force Lance Lynn out of the fifth spot?
There is some speculation that Lynn could be Alexi Ogando'd out of his spot in favor of one of the young blue-chip prospects. General manager John Mozeliak put Lynn as the front-runner thus far, but also made it clear that it was still something that needed to be fought for as he indirectly advised Lynn not to rest on the laurels of his 2012 breakout. It's a great position for the Cardinals to be in, but it could add some stress for fantasy managers working their way through the back end of that rotation.
Trevor Rosenthal - He has been all over this preview, but with good reason. Even if he doesn't get a shot in the rotation until the summer, he could be a Kris Medlen type who bides his time in the bullpen only to explode as a starter down the stretch. That doesn't mean he will have that otherworldly 12-start run that Medlen had, but he will make up for it by being a much more useful bullpen asset than Medlen was as he should have no problem striking out 25 percent of the batters he faces with an upside nearing 30 percent.
Oscar Tavares, OF - One of the purest hitters you can find on the diamond, especially when you consider that he is a 20-year old who hasn't hit Triple-A yet. On the right day, he has an 80-grade hit tool and even on his worst days it is seemingly no worse than 70-75. His 67 extra-base hits give a glimpse into his plus power, as well. Of course it doesn't stop there as he also brings above average defense and solid-average speed to the table. Total it all up and you have a bona fide top five prospect in all of baseball who would easily push for the top spot in a year that didn't have a hitter who matches Tavares skill for skill while playing outstanding shortstop (Jurickson Profar) and a seemingly-surefire ace (Dylan Bundy).
Shelby Miller, SP - He lost his way a bit in his Triple-A debut struggling into July with a 6.17 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 77 innings. He was striking out 25 percent of the batters he faced, but also walking 12 percent and allowing a full two homers per nine innings. After a mechanical adjustment over the All-Star break, he once again showed why he is regarded as an elite prospect posting a 2.88 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 59 innings while fanning 33 percent of his foes and walking a mere three percent. Home runs were still a bit of an issue at 1.1 per nine innings, but a far cry from that disastrous 2.0 in the first half. As mentioned throughout this piece, Miller will be in contention for a spot in Spring Training and should he fail to take one, he will almost assuredly be the first up once reinforcements are needed.
Carlos Martinez, SP - The 21-year old flamethrower gives the Cards yet another elite-level arm to dream on for the future. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, Martinez has been known to pop 100 mph from time-to-time as well. Did I mention he is six-feet and 165 pounds? That type of velocity draws the obvious parallels to another slight righty with his surname, but putting any measure of Pedro expectations would be entirely unfair. He pairs that heater with a nasty curveball that flashes as plus, but still needs some refinement. He spent two-thirds of his season in Double-A, but that was still on 71 innings so he may return before hopefully hitting Triple-A sometime in the summer.
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