As the Cardinals get ready to play their last home spring training game today, it seems that the roster is pretty much set, barring a last minute trade or injury. Here's how it shakes out:
Starting rotation: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garica, Jake Westbrook and Shelby Miller.
The big news of camp came Wednesday when the Cardinals signed ace Wainwright to a five-year contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2018 season. But, as far as 2013 is concerned, the most important factors revealed during the spring were that Jaime Garcia has seemed to recover from the shoulder troubles that plagued him in the second half of 2012. And Shelby Miller won out in a close battle for the last spot in the rotation.
I thought Miller was a shoe-in for the spot when the Cardinals called him up last fall and started his major league clock. But it seemed early in camp that Kelly, who had more major-league experience as a starter, had the inside track. The injury of closer Jason Motte may have done as much to settle the issue as the on the field competition. Kelly did a really nice job out of the bullpen last season when pressed into service. Miller's future is almost certain to come as a starter.
The surprise of camp is the rise of Michael Wacha. He went from college to Class AA Springfield last year. He was in many ways the best hurler in camp Cardinal this spring. He'll start the year at Class AAA Memphis with a chance to be int he majors sometime as soon as this year if all goes well. So far he hasn't stumbled as the challenge bar continues to be raised in front of him.
The rotation has tons of talent. But Garcia will be suspect until he proves he can stay healthy over the long haul and that he can pitch on the road. Lance Lynn has to prove he's not a one-hit wonder after an 18-win season in 2012. I wonder, if the Cardinals knew last summer what sort of contract he would end up with, if they would have tried to keep Kyle Lohse over Westbrook.
Bullpen: Kelly, Marc Rzepczynski, Randy Choate, Fernando Salas, Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte (disabled list).
The Redbirds tried to improve on the lefty handed component of their bullpen with the addition of Choate. But he's been awful this spring 1.88 baserunners allowed per inning of work. He's allowed seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings of work as a lefty specialist. Hopefully, he'll get things straightened out by the times games start to count.
The Cardinals have said that Mitchell Boggs will be the closer while Motte is out with a strained elbow. But I am curious to see if Rosenthal will get a few cracks at closing out games. There is much debate on if the young fire baller should be a starter or a reliever. The club seems to have indicated its preference by sticking Rosenthal in the 'pen after one spring training start.
Starting eight: C- Yadier Molina, 1B- Allen Craig, 2B- Daniel Descalso, 3B- Matt Carpenter, SS- Pete Kozma, LF- Matt Holliday, CF- Jon Jay, RF- Carlos Beltran. David Freese, 3B, on the disabled list.
David Freese's back injury threw the line-up into a tizzy. Carpenter likely would have been the primary second baseman if Freese would have been healthy to start the season. Descalso is needed to be available as the backup at short because of the release of Ronny Cedeno. Freese is eligible to come off the DL in a week. But back injuries sometimes linger. So we'll see how things shake out.
Bench: Tony Cruz, backup catcher; Shane Robinson, reserve outfielder; Ty Wiggingon, infield and outfield corners, second base; Matt Adams, first base and Ryan Jackson, second, third and shortstop.
Wiggington is looking like a monster bust. He's got a two-year contract that keeps him on the roster despite a batting average hovering around the .100 mark. The Cedeno release seems to have been premature with the move to bring Jackson back to the major league camp thanks to the injury of Freese. I'm not sure how I feel about Matt Adams being on the MLB roster with limited opportunities to play. But that seems to be the move the Cardinals intend to make.
While the starting lineup is promising the bench, despite the addition of the power hitting adams, is thin. I'm not sure Wigginton or Jackson offer anything as pinch hitter candidates. And there is very little flexibility when Adams can only play one position and the club would suffer offensively when Wigginton and Jackson play. The Cardinals are aging in the middle of the lineup. But this bench doesn't offer a lot of breaks for corner outfielders Holliday and Beltran -- unless Craig moves to one of those spots from first base. But, armed with a long term contract, I think the Birds need to pick a spot for Craig and leave him there. Is he going to be a centerpiece or a utility player?