Like it or not, a youth movement has been thrust upon the St. Louis Cardinals.
Injuries to ace pitcher Chris Carpenter and starting shortstop Rafael Furcal have left the club to rely on talented but young and inexperienced players, with little chance of making a deal at this point for veteran replacements.
I'm all for developing players and introducing them into the mix in a sensible way. But it stinks that the Cardinals invested so much money in veterans to prevent an orderly transition. It's much better for the brand to mix new guys in gradually. And it's much better for the development of young players to learn from veterans on the job instead of trying to figure out how to go from a minor league farm hand to a winning major league player on their own.
The Redbirds have had pretty terrible luck the last couple of years when it comes to the second year of contracts for veteran players.
Furcal was unable to finish the first year of the two-year contract he signed with St. Louis after Albert Pujols left to take a bigger payday in Anaheim. He decided to rest the partially torn ligament in his right elbow. Unfortunately, that didn't work and it seems that he might have no choice but to get the surgery he has tried to avoid. If that happens, he's surely done for the season.
Chris Carpenter didn't even make it as far as Furcal. He couldn't answer the bell in the first year of his two-year deal with shoulder problems caused by nerve damage similar to the ones that troubled him in 2007. While he seemingly did the Cardinals a favor by accepting a two-year guaranteed for an average of $10.5 million a season as opposed to holding out for his $15 million 2012 option, the deal has turned into a disaster. Carpenter reported right before spring training that his shoulder never really got better and the expectation that he'd be sound in the second year of his deal was a pipe dream.
That's $20 million of payroll for a $115 million team. But the damages could get worse as the Redbirds wait to see what Carlos Beltran has left in the tank.
Playing up to All-Star standards in the first half of 2012, Beltran was a shadow of himself in the latter part of the season, unable to hit for average or power as his troublesome knees flared up. Beltran acknowledges that he needs to play a scaled back schedule in 2013. But, hopefully, he'll play a solid 120 games before giving way to Oscar Taveras in right field.
The Cardinals got lucky with a huge bounce back season from Lance Berkman in 2011 and vintage performances from guys like Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes. But gambling on players in their mid to late 30s has finally come back to bite the team.
At this point, the Redbirds need veterans Matt Holliday, David Freese and Yadier Molina to stay healthy and keep the pressure of the kids. Otherwise things could spiral out of control quickly.
The Cardinals have enough young talent that they might be able to overcome their health setbacks and make another playoff run. But it's unfair to the younger players that they're being forced into the action by desperation instead of gradually being worked in as they prove they can handle the pressure.