The Cardinals say their roster is pretty much set with the signing of catcher Gerald Laird to be Yadier Molina's understudy. So here is a quick look at what the Birds will take into battle in 2011 along with an off-season (is it too early to call it pre-season) grade:
Starting rotation:The signing of Jake Westbrook was a solid move. He fit in well with the Cardinals after arriving at the trade deadline and will give the Redbirds a chance to win every day he pitches. The Cardinals can't boast the one through four firepower of the Phillies. But having Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright as co-aces and Westbrook along with youngster Jaime Garcia filling out the middle of the rotation isn't bad, either. The big question is Kyle Lohse who has two years and nearly $24 million on his disastrous four-year deal inked after the 2008 season. Lohse makes way too much money to be a fifth starter. He needs to start earning his contract to turn a bust of a deal into the clear cut second best rotation in the NL if not all of baseball.
The Cardinals were done in last season by injuries in the rotation. But, while Brad Penny is gone, not all of the questions have been answered. Wainwright reportedly has had a balky elbow, Westbrook missed almost two seasons with Tommy John surgery, as did Garcia. Carpenter's had just about everything break at one time or another -- and the nerve condition in his pitching arm could flare up at any point. No one knows if Lohse is finally cured of the arm problems that saw him undergo a somewhat radical and untested surgery in 2010. Grade: B+
Bullpen: If you liked the bullpen in 2010, I guess you'll like it in 2011 ... It isn't much different, minus the subtraction of Blake Hawksworth in the Ryan Theriot trade. The Cardinals will look to the youngsters to take another step forward -- will Jason Motte finally harness a second pitch? Will Fernando Salas prove he was no fluke? Can Kyle McClellan pitch through a whole season without wearing down and, most importantly, will Ryan Franklin have more good days than bad days? Grade: B
Infield: This is the Achillies heel. I'm worried to death about the fact that the Birds did nothing to shore up third base with David Freese missing more than half of the last two seasons because of pretty serious ankle and foot problems. Frankly, I'd be stunned if he played more than 100 games without problems. And what if he can't? The Cardinals may be forced to turn to Tyler Greene, a utility player who has been unable to stick with the major league club up to this point. That isn't going to be pretty. Even when Freese was healthy, he showed almost no power, which isn't good coming from a corner infielder. The Cardinals seem to be keeping third base open for 2010 first round draft choice Zack Cox (.262/2/14 in the Arizona Fall League.)
The middle of the infield was terrible both in the field and in the plate in 2010. But the Birds did surprisingly little to address that situation, either. Theriot, who was non-tendered by the Dodgers, was brought in by trade before he could reach free agency. Meanwhile Skip Schumaker, a lousy defender at second base who had one of the most statistically hollow bats in the majors last season, will return with little or no competition for a starting job. At least we have baseball's best player at first base -- well, at least for a little while longer. Grade: C-
Outfield: Everyone expected so much from Matt Holliday last season because of the big contract he signed that, even though he performed as a top 10 hitter in the National League, a lot of people seemed to be disappointed. Hopefully he'll keep it up in 2011 while the people around him hit better. One of those people is Astros turncoat Lance Berkman who the Cardinals will count on to bat fifth and play the outfield on a regular basis for the first time in five years. People think Berkman will be a disaster in the outfield. But I think he'll look fantastic compared to Chris Duncan. He ought to catch what he can get to and cover a reasonable amount of turf. Another important piece is centerfielder Colby Rasmus who needs to take another step forward both with his glove work and in finding some consistency at the plate. Grade: B
Bench: Gone is Felipe Lopez. Gone is Brendan Ryan. Tyler Greene, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and the previously mentioned Gerald Laird will anchor a very young -- and very cheap bench. Hopefully the club will find some middle infield help this spring -- like it has the last two seasons -- to shore things up a bit. Grade: D
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