This is one of those things that might be forgotten about before Flag Day. But right now, I’m pretty happy to see that a good portion of the roster of the St. Louis Cardinals reported a week before pitcher and catchers were even due.
Does that mean that the team is going to be a winner? Not necessarily. But it means that the team is made up of players who either are serious about their craft, love the game or, hopefully, both.
When people show up when they absolutely must typically is an indication that they see the event in question as an obligation more than an opportunity. It bugs me when guys show up late for spring training and, instead of starting the baseball year on the right foot, they start it with an excuse. I’d rather have a bunch of guys who can’t get enough of the game and who couldn’t wait to get back to the ballpark after a long winter off. When you love to do something, naturally it’s going to be easier to put your all into it.
The next characteristic I hope this club shows is that it’s populated with a bunch of players who can’t stand losing. But that’s a trait to look for on another day.
The Cardinals have uncharacteristically had terrible defense over the past few years. It definitely can’t hurt to put in some extra time. Especially when the team has a new first baseman in Paul Goldschmidt and former first baseman Matt Carpenter has moved across the diamond to accommodate him. Yeah, Carpenter has played third base in the past. But it’s much different job than first and, with the new face across the diamond, it’s important to get the timing down and become accustomed with each other. How much will the extra time help? It’s hard to say. But it certainly can’t make things worse. I’m glad to see enthusiasm and maximum effort. A little internal communication never hurts, either.
It’s also good to see Goldschmidt in camp earlier because the Redbirds front office is counting on him to form a bond with the team as a factor is his decision in whether he will sign a contract extension at some point in 2019. It’s not only important that he makes some friends on the team. More significantly, I would think, he needs to be convinced that the team is committed to a culture of winning. That’s an iffy proposition right now because there are so many variables in play. Will Michael Wacha, Marcell Ozuna and Jedd Gyorko be around in 2020 if Goldschmidt decides to stay? Those are probably pretty important questions for a guy who spend the first half of his career trying to get to the World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Competition is going to be especially important this spring. While most major league rosters truly have only one or two spots up for grabs when camp begins, the Cardinals have a lot more questions this year than what is typical.
First, assuming that Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright are going to be four of the five starters, that leaves the last place the rotation up for grabs between a group of youngsters. While Jack Flaherty is probably the favorite, he can’t afford to take anything for granted with Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, John Gant and Daniel Poncedeleon all eager to take it away from him. In the bullpen, Jordan Hicks is probably a pretty safe bet for a spot as are Andrew Miller and John Brebbia. But that leaves four spots for the five guys who didn’t get a slot in the rotation to fight with Brett Cecil, Mike Mayers and others over. In short, some guys who probably are good enough to pitch in the big leagues are going to end up on the farm with the Class AAA Memphis Redbirds and some of them may very well end up out on the street.
The same sort of pressure is being applied on the offensive side. Dexter Fowler wants his starting job back in right field after a season he’d like to forget and Tyler O’Neill would likely prefer to depose Fowler than to ride the Memphis shuttle. Meanwhile, Jose Martinez went from the trading block back into the St. Louis mix and probably has his best shot to crack the lineup coming in right field for as long as Goldschmidt and Ozuna are healthy.
While the Cardinals haven’t added some of the big names I was hoping to see this winter, there are still a lot of changes to the roster that could happen before the team heads north in a month and a half.