2009 St. Louis Cardinals: 1998 Revisited
BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
| Key Transactions |
| Acquired || Pos. |
| Khalil Greene|| SS |
| Joe Thurston|| 2B|
| Trevor Miller|| RP |
| Dennys Reyes|| RP |
| || |
| Departed || Pos. |
| Aaron Miles|| SS |
| Adam Kennedy|| 2B |
| Cesar Izturis|| SS|
| Felipe Lopez|| 2B
| Mark Mulder|| SP
| Braden Looper|| SP |
| Jason Isringhausen|| RP |
| Russ Springer|| RP |
| Tyler Johnson|| RP |
| Ron Villone|| RP
| Randy Flores|| SP |
April 3, 2009
The 1998 season was a special one in St. Louis despite the Cardinals having
finished in third place with 83 victories. It was the year Mark McGwire
not only set a new single-season home run record, but obliterated it, as he
cranked out nine more homers than Roger Maris did in 1961, while using 81 fewer at-bats
to do so.
The 2009 season promises to be similar. The incomparable Albert Pujols
has a fully healthy right elbow for the first time since 2002. Even though
Pujols has never led the majors in home runs or RBI and has only led in batting
average once, he is the best chance our generation has seen to win the National
League Triple-Crown. Unfortunatley, the talent surrounding him may not be
enough for the Cardinals to make the postseason, just like McGwire's 1998 squad.
Last year, with an elbow still giving him a tremendous amount of pain, Pujols
set career highs in walks, OBP, OPS, and OPS+. Since 2003, he has never
finished lower than 4th in the NL in RBI and only finished lower than 4th in
home runs once. His career .334 batting average is the highest among
active players and second only to Tony Gwynn among players who debuted after
World War II. He has protection in the lineup this year with Ryan Ludwick
now thought of as a legitimate threat rather than a first-half fluke. Even
though he has been terrific seemingly forever, Pujols is
still just 29 years old. Even if he does miss out on winning the National
League's first Triple Crown since 1937, you can expect this to be his best
offensive season ever.
Perhaps the enormity of Pujols' offensive numbers will finally land him
another Gold Glove Award at first base. His only win was in 2006,
but he's one player who hits well and actually deserves a Gold Glove every year.
It's very odd that he's the one superstar who doesn't get the automatic award.
Over the past three seasons, Pujols has saved twice as many runs defensively as
Casey Kotchman, the next best in baseball over that span. No other player
at any position is so head-and-shoulders better that the rest of the field,
although Adam Everett might have been, were he an everyday player.
McGwire and Pujols
The rest of the infield around Pujols is pretty much unidentifiable without an
program. Career outfielder Skip Schumaker moves into second base.
Seriously. When the Braves moved Kelly Johnson from the outfield to second
base, he at least had 364 games under his belt as a minor league shortstop.
Not so with Skippy, here, who hasn't played a single professional game in the
infield. If you're going to play someone out of position
at second base, you may as well make sure that he's a great hitter. Schumaker could make a solid offensive second baseman, but no one will ever
accuse him of being great.
The odd part is that The Cardinals are paying $4 million for one of the best
defensive second basemen in the game this year. Too bad he's not on the
team. The Redbirds randomly released Adam Kennedy this spring, after he
saved 17 runs for the Cardinals last year in limited playing time. He's
not the greatest hitter in the world and an offense/defense platoon with
Schumaker is something I could understand. But to just release a talented
player when you owe him money regardless and have no feasible replacement is incomprehensible.
Want an example of a great hitter fielding out of position? How about
Troy Glaus starting eight errorless games at shortstop for Toronto in 2006?
Rookie David Freese will man third base until Troy Glaus returns from an
injury around June. Freese was never a top-10 prospect in the Padres
organization, but after coming to the Cardinals in the Jim Edmonds trade, Freese
popped 26 homers for the Cards' Triple-A affiliate. He figures to at least
be serviceable until Glaus, one of the game's most underrated players, is
Khalil Greene is now healthy himself and poised to compete for the Comeback Player
of the Year Award. The 29-year old shortstop has a career .484
slugging average away from Petco Park and killed the ball this spring.
His defense has been in decline since 2006, however, so Greene shouldn't expect to be
anything more than average in the field this year. That is a significant dropoff from what Cesar Izturis gave the
Redbirds last season (14 runs saved).
Khalil Greene |
Must overcome his nightmares of Petco
Must tell Dr. James Andrews, "It's not you; it's me"
Yadier Molina is terrific in the field, possessing the best arm in the
backstop business. At 26 years of age, he could be well on his way towards
becoming the best all-around defensive catcher in the game. Molina
has already made drastic improvements with the stick. Backup Jason LaRue
also possesses strong defensive skills behind the dish, but he will never again
be mistaken for a catcher who can hit.
Replacing Schumaker in the outfield will be top prospect Colby Rasmus
and a full season of Chris Duncan. The best defensive alignment has
Ludwick in left, Rasmus in center, and Rick Ankiel in right. Such an
arrangement lets Duncan do what he is best at: pinch hit. He has six
homers in 67 career pinch-hit at-bats. Duncan must not ever be allowed to face
southpaws (career .602 OPS).
Ludwick and Ankiel are each the real deal offensively, and both have very
good outfield arms as well. As for Rasmus, I don't know whether to believe
his excellent Double-A numbers in 2007 or his poor Triple-A numbers last year.
Supposedly a knee injury held him back last season, but I still doubt that he is
ready for major league pitching. Defensively, he may have been ready in
The Cardinals' starting pitching will get a tremendous boost if Chris
Carpenter is healthy and can pitch anything like he did his first three years
with St. Louis. Unfortunately, healthy seasons are becoming the exception
rather than the rule for him. A fully healthy Adam Wainwright would
be big as well. His injury last year is what the Brewers have to look
forward to with ex-Cardinal Braden Looper, what the rival Cubs can expect from
Ryan Dempster, and what the Oakland A's are already getting from Justin
Duchscherer. Converting relief pitchers into starters has worked pretty
well the past few years, but if you're going to do it, don't let them throw 200
innings right away and don't immediately let them pitch too deep into games.
Todd Wellemeyer appears primed for this kind of breakdown as well.
While he did start in 11 games two years ago, his innings total still jumped by
over 110 innings between 2007 and 2008. He will soon become Todd
Who would have predicted that Kyle Lohse would become such a solid
innings-eater after the ugly numbers he put up as a Twin? His decent
innings are exactly what this injury-prone rotation needs. Joel Piniero's
new name is Elyk Eshol, because his career path has gone opposite of Kyle Lohse's.
In 2003, Eshol appeared to be one of the best young starters in the game.
He's rebounded enough to the point that he's an okay option as a fifth starter;
the trouble comes when injuries to Wellemeyer and either Wainwright or Carpenter
bumps Eshol to the #3 slot. Kyle McCellan is listed sixth on their depth
chart. He would be yet another converted reliever.
The Cards should hope that they do not need him as a starter, not only
because it would denote a surprisingly healthy rotation, and not only because
McCellan isn't very good, but because there's
little depth in the bullpen as it is. Jason Motte's fastball
averages 96.6 MPH according to Baseball Info Solutions, but he might just be the
most untested closer in the history of the game. He has 11 major league
innings under his belt. The 26-year old rookie fanned an absurd 12 batters
per nine innings in the minors, yet that somehow translated to a yawnful
If Motte can't get it done,
the backup plan is Ryan Franklin. That plan is only slightly more sound than
running around in circles, pulling out your hair, and screaming, "Aaah! What do
we do??" Chris Perez, the closer of the future, begins the season on
the DL. At age 23, and with 72 walks in 109.1 minor league innings, it's
hard to expect too much from him this season.
There are two quality lefty specialists on the staff. Dennys Reyes'
career OPS versus left-handed hitters is a lowly .537 while Trevor Miller's is
.709. Neither pitcher handles right-handed batters well enough to be
considered as a closer, however. Other bad options from the right side
include Kelvin Jimenez, who walked more than he fanned last year, Brad Thompson,
whose ERA has risen significantly for three straight years, and Josh Kinney, a
30-year old with 32 major league innings under his belt.
If everything goes right - Carpenter and Wainwright are healthy, Glaus
doesn't miss too much time, Rasmus is ready, Greene puts Petco behind him, Motte
achieves his potential for dominance, and Schumaker isn't an embarrassment at
second base - the Cardinals will be the best team in the National League.
Even with a moderate number of setbacks, the team is good enough to contend in a
wide open National League Central. But if the injuries pile up, the
experiments backfire, and the projects fail, this team lacks the depth to dig
itself out of a big hole.
A reasonable prediction of 83 victories would match what Mark McGwire's 1998
squad achieved. It would also match the regular season total of the 2006
World Champions. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Cardinals
record and what it will take to win the Central this year, one thing remains
clear: Albert Pujols will have an unforgettable season.
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