The World Champion Cardinals have had a busy couple of months since they paraded down the streets of St. Louis to celebrate their improbable World Series title.
But with 46 days left before pitchers and catchers report to their Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla., the Cardinals and general manager John Mozeliak still have plenty of work left to do.
After future hall of fame manager Tony La Russa retired and arguably the best player in baseball Albert Pujols left to sign with the Anaheim Angels, the Cardinals moved swiftly to retool a roster capable of defending their crown.
Former catcher Mike Matheny was hired as manager and both Skip Schumaker and Rafael Furcal were re-signed to two-year contracts. But the Cardinals didn’t stop there, signing free agent All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran to a two-year, $26 million deal in an attempt to replace some of the power lost by Pujols’ departure.
The Cardinals also signed left-handed reliever J.C. Romero to a one-year contract and tendered contracts to relievers Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan.
In addition to Pujols, Nick Punto, Gerald Laird, Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes have departed for new teams while Ryan Theriot and Edwin Jackson remain free agents but aren’t expected back.
The Cardinals’ course of action the next month and a half should be interesting, considering they appear to have an overload of relievers and a need for another utility infielder.
With Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse slated to open the season in the starting rotation, the Cardinals have either six or seven spots available for the bullpen – depending on they decide to fill out their 25 man roster.
It’s likely the Cardinals will continue course from the past several years under La Russa and Duncan and go with seven relievers, giving them a 12-man pitching staff and a 5-man bench.
Left-handers Marc Rzepczynski and Romero will take up two of the spots, as will closer Jason Motte. The performances of Fernando Salas and Lance Lynn in 2011 would seem to give them the edge for roster spots as well.
That would leave the Cardinals with three relievers – Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs and Eduardo Sanchez – for two spots. The most likely scenario would be for the Cardinals to trade either Boggs or McClellan. Some teams might see Boggs as a closer candidate while others might see McClellan as a starter.
Sanchez, Boggs and McClellan all have options and could be sent to Triple-A Memphis to start the year but that would seem unlikely given their big league experience.
In addition to working out the situation in the bullpen, the Cardinals appear to have a need for a utility infielder similar to the role held by Punto.
Lance Berkman is slated to start at first base, Dan Descalso at second, Rafael Furcal at short and David Freese at third. Tyler Greene likely will see time at second base and shortstop while Skip Schumaker could get innings at second base as well.
In the outfield, Carlos Beltran, Jon Jay and Matt Holliday are scheduled to open the season as the starters while Allen Craig recovers from off-season knee surgery. He hopes to be back by Opening Day but the Cardinals are planning for him to miss up to a month.
With 12 pitchers, the eight starting position players and Greene and Schumaker, the Cardinals appear to have three spots open on their 25-man roster if Craig starts the season on the disabled list.
Rule 5 draft pick Eric Komatsu and September call-up Adron Chambers could fight for a spot as a backup outfielder while Bryan Anderson and Tony Cruz will compete for the backup catchers spot.
But that leaves one spot open for a backup infielder with Pete Kozma and Matt Carpenter the top in-house candidates. It appears more likely, however, that the Cardinals will look outside the organization to fill the spot.
Potential free agent candidates that could play second, short and third base include Bill Hall while several other infielders could be made available via trade.