Position players will join pitchers and catchers for the St. Louis Cardinals' first-full squad workout today in Jupiter, Fla.
With that, spring training will kick into high gear, which provides the perfect time to examine the Cardinals' issues. Since it is 2013, it seems appropriate to have 13 topics.
Who will be the fifth starter?
Right-handers Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal will engage in competition for the spot that could extend deep into spring training. Kelly has the most experience, Miller has long been a top prospect and Rosenthal's power arm excites everyone in the organization. Rosenthal could have the inside track, given that Kelly is versatile enough to work out of the bullpen and many believe Miller could benefit from another season at Class AAA Memphis.
Will Chris Carpenter be missed?
Of course. But remember, the Cardinals overcame his loss last season when they were less prepared to absorb such a hit. Miller, Kelly and Rosenthal would not have been realistic options one year ago. People who doubt they are ready this year should only recall their feelings last spring when it was announced that Lance Lynn would replace Carpenter in the rotation. Carpenter's leadership is what will be missed the most. He gave the Cardinals a certain edginess and provided valuable insights to younger pitchers.
Can Lynn be solid again?
If his offseason conditioning program is any indication, yes. The clean-shaven Lynn has shed 40 pounds after the Cardinals expressed concern about his conditioning level. That might not translate into another 18-win season or earn him another selection to the National League All-Star team, but it is a clear indication Lynn understands there is room for improvement. Lynn doesn't have to be great, but he can be expected to be an above-average starter.
Should the Cardinals re-sign Kyle Lohse?
At this point, that doesn't seem to make sense, given the depth of starting pitching. But in baseball, things change daily. If Jaime Garcia has another flareup in his left shoulder, Lohse might be on General Manager John Mozeliak's speed dial. Lohse was sensational for the Cardinals last year, finishing 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA. A long-term contract in St. Louis isn't in the offing, but if Garcia goes down, Lohse could be had for one year if no other suitors step forward.
What about Garcia?
The Cardinals insist he is fine and that he is ready for a normal spring training. But shoulder issues don't just go away. Garcia's determination to avoid surgery on his torn rotator cuff is admirable and understandable, but the Cardinals almost certainly have discussed contingency plans, even beyond Lohse, in the event that Garcia experiences another setback.
Who will play second base?
It's hard to bet against Daniel Descalso, one of manager Mike Matheny's favorite players. Descalso has a solid glove, outstanding range and is a consummate team player. However, the Cardinals don't seem inclined to reward Descalso with regular at-bats unless he makes offensive improvement. He batted .227 last season, almost a 40-point drop from his rookie season. Matt Carpenter, who never has played second base, will receive an opportunity to supplant Descalso, but that seems like a long shot despite Carpenter's superior offensive skills. Skip Schumaker also was a better hitter than Descalso, but he barely played during the stretch run last season and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December.
Why can't Kolten Wong be the regular second baseman?
Wong is the Cardinals' second baseman of the future, but he likely will be in Memphis this season. Wong, the Cardinals' No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, is only 22 and hasn't played above Class AA Springfield. But it was an impressive season for the left-handed hitter, who batted .287 with nine home runs and 52 RBIs in 126 games. Wong's time is coming, and 2013 will be a key year in his development. If he can handle Triple-A pitching, Wong will get a shot, possibly as early as September.
Will Rafael Furcal's elbow hold up?
Furcal didn't play after Aug. 30 of last season when he heard his elbow pop while making a throw from shortstop. The injury was diagnosed as a sprained ligament, and Furcal opted against surgery. As with Garcia, the Cardinals are crossing their fingers Furcal will be OK and can be a threat at the top of the batting order. But Pete Kozma will be on alert and the Cardinals also signed longtime infielder Ronny Cedeno, a .247 career hitter, about three weeks ago. Both are more suited for reserve roles.
Can the Cardinals expect another big season from Carlos Beltran?
Beltran's knees are a daily concern and that won't change this season. Beltran swatted 32 homers and had 97 RBIs in 151 games last year while playing his typically smooth defense in right field. But the switch-hitter turns 36 in April, so the Cardinals will monitor him closely, and Matheny is expected to give him more days off. If Beltran is sidelined for an extended period, the Cardinals could summon their No. 1 prospect, Oscar Taveras. But ideally, they want Taveras to spend most of his time this season at Memphis.
How is the bullpen?
It should be better than ever. The Cardinals will have seventh-inning specialist Edward Mujica for the entire season, along with Mitchell Boggs and closer Jason Motte. Kelly could be the long man in the pen, and Marc Rzepczynksi will have a left-handed complement in newcomer Randy Choate, who was signed to a two-year contract as a free agent in December.
How about the defense?
With Beltran in right, Descalso at second, Jon Jay in center and Yadier Molina at catcher, the Cardinals should again be able to catch the ball better than most of their NL counterparts. Jay emerged as a legitimate Gold Glove contender last season. Molina has tremendous camaraderie with the pitching staff and instills fear in opposing baserunners. First baseman Allen Craig and third baseman David Freese made improvements on defense last season, and Furcal remains adequate at shortstop. Left fielder Matt Holliday is the only below-average defender.
Will Matheny be better in the dugout in his second year?
Probably, but he was pretty good in his inaugural season and the Cardinals officially recognized that Thursday when they rewarded him with a one-year extension. Matheny has a level head, good communication skills and knows how to handle the bullpen. And his working relationship with Mozeliak is strong.
And finally, are the Cardinals a playoff team?
That certainly appears to be the case. Even if the Cardinals can't dislodge Cincinnati as the NL Central champion, they are a strong contender to secure one of the wild-card spots. They are solid in almost every area and have fewer holes than most teams. That translates into October baseball in St. Louis.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.