2010 Season Forecast: St. Louis Cardinals

Last Five Years:

2009:  91 – 71 (1st NL Central)
2008:  86 – 76
2007:  78 – 84
2006:  83 – 78
2005: 100 – 62

Runs Scored: 730
Runs Allowed: 640

Season Recap:

With two aces and the world’s greatest offensive force, the Cardinals held their own throughout the 2009 season.  And just when it looked like someone might catch them, the Cards added Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz to bury the rest of the division.

The Cardinals got off to a hot start, winning 17 of the first 24 games.  However, like the Cubs, a couple of ill-timed losing streaks returned the team back to the pack and in fact St. Louis trailed Milwaukee for parts of June.  In fact, all three teams played indifferently for much of the summer until the front office got involved.

Adding Holliday to the offense and giving a few starts to someone other than Todd Wellemeyer helped get a winning stretch going.  From July 27th through the end of the year, the Cardinals played great – going 38 – 23 before losing in the playoffs.

Injuries claimed Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel at times, and LaRussa had to work around a defense that wasn’t functional at many positions.  Skip Schumaker was an outfielder impersonating a second baseman – badly.  He was replaced by Julio Lugo near the end of the season, and the ball wasn’t hit close enough to him either – not that Lugo had been a regular second baseman recently.  Chris Duncan is a poor outfielder – replaced by Matt Holliday who actually played even worse.  Ryan Ludwick played at a below average pace in right and the ball wasn’t hit to his occasional replacements (Ankiel, Nick Stavinoha) either.

Despite this, the pitchers allowed the third fewest runs in the NL – which shows you how good Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were.  And they were simply amazing.  Put this staff in front of the middle 80’s team that featured Ozzie and Willie McGee and company, and they might have allowed only 500 runs all year.

Starting Pitching:

Adam Wainwright pitched 233 innings, fanned 212, and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He saved his team some 43 runs over using a league average starter.  Chris Carpenter was even better.  Returning from elbow surgery, Carpenter nearly tossed 200 innings in just 28 starts, winning 17 and finishing with an ERA of just 2.24.  He saved his squad 48 runs.  The third starter, Joel Pineiro won 15 himself, hardly walking anyone and keeping batted balls on the ground all season.

With 51 wins in the top three spots, the Cardinals countered with Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse at the bottom of the rotation; two who were below average pitchers.  Wellemeyer was so bad, he cancelled out half an ace with his 5.89 ERA.

Three starters are back, starting with the aces and adding Kyle Lohse.  Pineiro is gone, replaced by Brad Penny – and my take on it that Penny should be close to as good as Pineiro was.  They have comparable strikeout rates, and if Penny keeps the ball over the plate, should fare well here.  Wellemeyer is also history, but it’s hard to tell who might get that fifth slot.  It could be Mitchell Boggs, who got nine starts and while his ERA was tolerable (4.19), he sure got lucky.  Boggs allowed 71 hits in 58 innings and walked 33 more.  Some time back, I suggested that you could figure how lucky a pitcher was by comparing his actual runs allowed data against his “reverse runs created” data.  Essentially, I was treating his pitching stats like I would an offensive player.  Given the combination of hits and walks that Boggs allowed, he would expect to have allowed 40 runs, not 28, and his ERA would have been about 6.05.

I digress.  The fifth starter could also be non-roster invitee Rich Hill, who is just the type of pitcher that seems to get his career healed by the coaching of Dave Duncan.  Look for Hill to make the roster and possibly make the rotation.

The bullpen returns virtually intact – Ryan Franklin was about the best closer in the National League, but he’s NOT a power guy and I don’t believe that he’s going to be as successful in 2010.  Trever Miller had a great season, but he only pitched 43.2 innings in his 70 games, which means that LaRussa spotted him well.  He and Dennys Reyes will be the designated lefties, while Kyle McClellan, Brad Thompson, and Jason Motte pick up the other innings.  Rookie Jess Todd might be a nice set up man for part of the season.

My view of this is that the pitching can’t possibly be this good next year.  Not that Wainwright and Carpenter won’t be good – they could be 25 runs better than the average pitchers, which is very good, but that would be 40 runs off from last year’s production.  Ryan Franklin could be good, but lose five runs from a peak season last year.  Not having to pitch Todd Wellemeyer will help some, however I’d be nervous about the current options.  I see the pitching being off by about 50 runs.

Catching:

Yadier Molina remains the best defensive catcher in baseball and seems to be adding some offensive tools.  His backup is Jason LaRue – who will get to catch four times a month.

Infield:

Albert Pujols is the best offensive player in the game, and the best defensive player at his position.  His quickness means that he plays farther off the bag than most people – which gives him a serious range advantage over just about anybody.

After a year of Skip Schumaker, who stays to provide depth, the Cardinals will be using Felipe Lopez at second base.  This is an immediate 20 run upgrade defensively, and if Lopez continues to hit, a match to the production Schumaker provided (80 runs created, and 5.7 runs per 27 outs – which is solid).

Brendan Ryan was a stopper defensively, but starts the season coming back from wrist surgery.  I’m not sure he’ll be able to replicate last year’s production defensively and it’s hard to come back and hit right away after a hand or wrist injury.  His backup will be Julio Lugo or Tyler Greene.

At third, Mark DeRosa is gone and the Joe Thurston experiment is over.  David Freese will get the job.  Freese is a prospect, albeit a rather old prospect.  You may remember that Freese was acquired from San Diego for Jim Edmonds.  Well, Freese has been solid in the minors – hitting .306 with 26 homers in Memphis in 2008, and then batting .300 with 10 homers in just 200 at bats last season at AAA.  The Ballwin, MO native can hit at this level – he’ll be 27 in April.  I think he’ll hit like Todd Zeile – 18 homers, .270 batting average.  If he can field at all, he’ll be an upgrade over what the Cards got last year.

Pujols season was better than what he had done the previous couple of years, he could lose twenty runs of offense and STILL be the best hitter in the game.  With the wrist injury, Brendan Ryan will be off, but that will be made up by the play of Freese.  The net result, however, is probably 20 runs fewer offensively and probably ten runs off defensively.

Outfield:

This is going to be a very productive offense featuring Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick.  Ludwick, if healthy, holds his own.  A full season of Holliday will be better than half a season of Chris Duncan.  And Colby Rasmus will hit better than what Rick Ankiel did last year.  Defensively, Rasmus should hold steady, Holliday will be a slight improvement over Duncan, and Ankiel won’t be better.

Backups include Skip Schumaker, Nick Stavinoha and maybe a rookie – Joe MatherShane Robinson?  It could be Allen Craig, who had a solid year at Memphis last year (see Prospects).

This team will score produce about 30 runs more than last year and hold steady defensively.

Bench:

Not a bad bunch, but some holes…  Skip Schumaker will get a lot of innings, Julio Lugo returns, as does Tyler Greene, and then you have Nick Stavinoha, and Jason LaRue.  Which of these guys, other than Schumaker, would you want as a pinch hitter?  It’s a bit weak.

Prospects:

AAA Memphis had a couple of guys who might be interesting.  David Freese will get a shot at the third base job after a year and a half of solid play with the Redbirds.  Allen Craig hit .322 with 26 homers, but he’s not really patient at the plate.  He’s a potential fourth outfielder with the Cardinals though, and could be Ryan Ludwick’s equal in right field.  (.280 – 20 homers)

Jess Todd was the closer in Memphis and was solid – 59 Ks, 13 walks, 24 saves to match his 2.20 ERA.  He’ll be on the Cardinals in 2010.  The best starter was likely P.J. Walters, who was tolerable – decent control, a good strikeout record, but a bit hittable.

The best pitchers at Springfield (AA) weren’t dominating, but had good records and avoided the long ball.  Trey Hearne and Lance Lynn combined for 23 wins and only 7 losses and have interchangeable stats.  Lynn was a 1A draft pick in 2008, so he’s moving up quickly and the Cardinals have high hopes for him.  Infielder Daniel Descalso hit well (.323, .396 OBP) at Springfield but hasn’t been consistent at that level in the minors.

Former first round picks, like Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Carpenter are gone.  Peter Kozma was a top pick in 2007 and struggled to hit .216 in AA – he’s going to run out of chances soon.  Another, 2007 pick David Kopp struggled to a 6.43 ERA at Springfield – he might get one more shot before being cast away.  Much of the 2006 draft is still around and getting close – Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, and Allen Craig are in Memphis but haven’t made it in (or to) the bigs yet.

There are a couple of players in the minors, but as a whole, the Cardinal organization is a little thin right now.

Outlook:

Having gone through the process, I think the Cardinals will be in the mix but might not easily repeat.  I think they’ll score about 740 runs, but allow more than last year – as many as 690 runs.  If that’s the combination, it works out to 87 wins.  With Milwaukee likely getting better and the Cubs in the mix, the NL Central could easily have the most exciting September in baseball.  The Cards MIGHT win the division, and they MIGHT get the wild card.  Or, they MIGHT fall a game or two short.  It’s too close to call.

Think Twice Before Adding Pedro to Fantasy Roster; More Met Injuries…

Well – we got some good news and bad news…  Good News?  Pedro Martinez fanned nine of the first twelve batters he faced, finishing with eleven, in a start against AA Trenton.  Bad News?  He allowed a homer to one kid, and three runs on five hits in six innings.  So, it sounds like Pedro might be able to help in short spurts – two or three innings, maybe.  But, don’t think Pedro is ready to be a major league starter – much less PEDRO – when he gets to Philadelphia.  Will I root and cheer for him?  You bet.  Am I adding him to my fantasy roster?  I’d rather have Jess Todd or Brian Matusz.  [ESPN]

When you think of teams fighting injuries, you think M-E-T-S…  Mets!  Last night, Jonathan Niese, a promising young pitcher, was covering first on a double play grounder when he did the full splits taking the throw.  Trying his first warm up pitch in the next inning, Niese fell over – the results of completely tearing his upper hamstring from the bone of his right leg.  Later, Gary Sheffield aggrevated his hamstring running the bases (Sheff says it’s cramping and needs more electrolytes) – and the bad news for Jose Reyes is that he may not play this year owing to scar tissue and inflammation where his hamstring connects near the knee.  [ESPN/MLB]

The Yankees have opened up a slight lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, and now they open up a series at home against those same Sawks…  For Boston, they won’t have Jason Bay in left field for the first couple of games.   After missing a couple of games, Bay played last night and irritated a sore hammy running out a grounder.  He’s day-to-day for now – we’ll see how rest helps.  [ESPN]

Seattle’s Erik Bedard will undergo an MRI on his ailing shoulder – the same shoulder that has had the ace lefty shelved since late June.  [ESPN]

Washington’s Austin Kearns may undergo surgery on his right thumb – as it is, he’s on the DL.  Having hit .195, it’s any wonder why he’s not in AA rather than the major league roster…  Taking his roster spot is TWELVE YEAR minor leaguer, Jorge Padilla.  [SI]

Well, let’s give you the lowdown on Padilla…  He was in the Phillies chain but never strung together a really good hot streak – by the time he got to AAA, Padilla was rather ordinary – .256, with speed (32 sbs), but little power.  After injuries shelved him, Padilla moved around – AA for the Mets, AA/AAA for Kansas City, and now AA and AAA for Washington where he’s been hitting everything, drawing a few walks, and occasionally knocking the ball out of the park.  Like the story about Cubs infielder, Bobby Scales, it’s great to see Padilla (who turns 30 next week) get a shot after more than 1100 minor league games.   (And, he can probably outhit Kearns by 60 points or so – and is still mobile if not a burner.)

A couple of veteran pitchers inked minor league deals…  Paul Byrd signed with Boston (why hasn’t ANYBODY signed this guy until now?); Brett Tomko’s career has life – he’s got a deal with Oakland.  The mill has it that he’s there to eat up innings so the young A’s starting rotation doesn’t burn out in September.  Wow – that’s a sign you’ve given up on the season.  Wasn’t Randy Lerch available?

Few writers are as good as KC Star alum Joe Posnanski…  Pos writes about how small market teams have fallen on hard times in 2009.  Give it a look-see.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  Joe Martinez pitched for the Giants last night – the same guy who was nailed by a liner up the middle off the bat of Mike Cameron and suffered three skull fractures earlier in the year.  Glad to see he’s back – hope he sticks around.  Aaron Miles was brought off the DL by the Cubs.

Hurry Back!  Giants pitcher Henry Sosa tore a muscle in his shoulder and goes to the 60-day-DL.

Is it Over?  The Cubs released Jason Waddell; Cody Ransom (Yankeees), Ryan Freel (Kansas City) were designated for assignment.  Wow – this has been a tough year for Freel…

Trade Analysis: Indians Send Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to Phillies for Four Prospects

Maybe the Blue Jays were asking too much for Roy Halliday…  Philadelphia, already building a comfortable lead in the NL East and still the reigning World Series Champions, dealt away four prospects for last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee.  Along for the ride is a right-handed hitting outfielder, Ben Francisco.  Cleveland gets four ranked prospects, Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald.

Philadelphia Gets:  A starter who as every bit as good as Roy Halliday, but with a lower price tag.  Lee’s salary is about $6 million per year less than Halliday, and he can stay through 2010 because of a club option…  Don’t look at Lee’s record – the Indians haven’t done diddly when Lee is on the hill.  Check out his control and ERA, which are both solid.  Hamels, Lee, Happ, and Moyer (who has been better), with a dose of Joe Blanton makes for a killer rotation down the stretch, and you have two aces at the top for the playoffs.  The Phillies have to be the favorite to make the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies also get a decent outfielder in Francisco – someone who can play left or right field (he looks more comfortable in left, though), hits with power and still retains a little speed.  He’s certainly an upgrade over John Mayberry, Jr. – who may never be as good as Francisco.  And – none of the prospects that Toronto asked for – Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, or outfielder Dominic Brown – were part of the deal.  Happ has been a god send, and Drabek is frequently cited as the best pitching prospect the Phillies have.

Cleveland Gets:  It’s not that Cleveland got NOTHING.  They just didn’t get anyone who might immediately help, the way J.A. Happ could obviously step into the rotation and pitch today (or whatever day he was scheduled to pitch).

Jason Knapp was selected #2 in 2008 out of high school.  He has a tender shoulder right now, which isn’t a positive and may actually hold up the completion of the deal.  As a pitcher, though, Knapp has SERIOUS tools.  He throws high 90s, fanned 111 in 95 innings at Lakewood in the SAL.  When he arrives in 2011, Knapp could be a #2 starter.  Granted, this is early, but this is the kind of prospect you want to see in a trade.  Upside and at least a little proven ability.

Carlos Carrasco is a bit further along – learning a new pitch in AAA.  The good news is he has good control and decent strikeout numbers.  He’s just 22 and yet has had some success in the minors.  Right now, I think he translates out to a #4 starter at best, but he could surprise you.  He may get to make a few starts in September (or sooner) for Cleveland, and prove to be a positive.  The best news is that he has improved his control at each level and that bodes well for him the more he pitches.

Jason Donald is a shortstop who, until this year, had been a decent hitter – mixing a little power with nice patience and a touch of speed.  He suffered a knee injury this year, though, and in AAA has struggled to hit .240.  In time, he might serve as a potential replacement for Jhonny Peralta should he move to third (where Andy Marte has failed to make an impact).  I see Donald as a Rich Aurilia type and could be helpful for a couple of years if he can make one more step up.  Donald might move to second, with Asdrubel Cabrera manning short next year, too.  Either way, it should be a solid infield.

Lou Marson is a catcher with skills – Scott Bradley with more walks.  I thought he might become the Phillies catcher for the next decade.  He’s a good contact hitter, has some patience – and has shown improvement at every level.  And, he’s just 23.  Adding Marson means that Victor Martinez is still (more?) expendable – though you’d like to see someone who can play first base emerge (or, in the case of Travis Hafner, get healthy).

In summary, I like the trade for both teams.  Obviously, Philadelphia could be a solid winner not just for 2009, but 2010, and retains three blue chippers.  If you are a Cleveland fan, though, you have to feel a bit cheated out of what should have been a tiny dynasty over the last three years.  Two aces are gone and a third (Fausto Carmona) fell by the wayside.  The Indians SHOULD have been in the playoffs every year since 2007.  Someone is to blame for that, and I don’t know who.  On the other hand, in the last three days, the Indians have picked up five guys (Jess Todd, in the Mark DeRosa deal) who could be on the major league roster in three years, and four might be on the roster next year.

Interested in Erik Bedard? You’ll Have to Wait…

If Seattle had plans to trade Erik Bedard, those plans were dashed when the lefty hit the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his last start, Bedard fired 81 pitches in just three innings.  I’ve written about this before – 100 pitches isn’t the problem, a heavy pitch count in an inning or two is much worse.  Returning to the rotation will be Jason Vargas.  [ESPN]

Brett Gardner broke his thumb breaking up a double play, and the Yankees outfielder will miss the next month of the season.  His thumb is in a cast, but fortunately doesn’t need surgery.  [ESPN]

Jim Leyland remains optimistic that Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya might return this season.  Zumaya hopes cortisone shots will help avoid season ending surgery (an eventuality, really) and Bonderman has been throwing lately without discomfort.  [SI]

Kansas City isn’t giving up on Tony Pena.  It’s just giving up on the idea that he can play shortstop.  Now, the strong armed Pena will be given a shot to pitch.  I like the idea…  [FoxSports]

Texas starter Kevin Millwood left his start against Kansas City after two innings with a pain in his butt.  The strained left glute muscle wouldn’t allow him to extend his front leg when throwing…  Now Texas is waiting to see if this means Millwood might miss a start.  [MLB]

A lot of action on the transaction wire…

Hurry Back!  Cincinnati pitcher Jared Burton heads to the DL with shoulder fatigue.  Brewer pitcher Seth McClung heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey heads to the DL with a left oblique strain.

What Gives?  Wladimir Balentien was designated for assignment by Seattle.  The power/speed prospect hasn’t panned out – in 400 major league at bats, he’s hit .209…  Houston did the same with Chad Paronto, who hasn’t stuck with six organizations.  At 33, he’s running out of shots.

Player to be Named Later:  Jess Todd was sent from Memphis to Cleveland to complete the Mark DeRosa trade.  Todd is a reliever with some talent – he was the closer for Memphis, has great strikeout numbers, good control, and a fighting shot to help the Indians as soon as 2010.

When is Winning 300 Second Fiddle? When it’s Family…

Yorvit Torrealba can rest more easily knowing that his son, who along with at least one uncle, is safe and home.  Apparently, his not quite teenaged son was walking to school when he and his uncle were kidnapped.  Government intervention and paying a portion of the ransom helped free them.  A couple of days ago, the Rockies announced that Torrealba was on the restricted list, but listed no details – which, as you can imagine, the team could not do.  Amazing story, and thankfully one with a happy ending.

Speaking of happy endings, Randy Johnson held Washington in check for six innings and earned his 300th career win.  It’ll be a few years before we see this again, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Wow, the Mets are truly snake bit.  You have a bunch of guys injured and sick, and now we hear that Jose Reyes may have a hamstring tear and struggling reliever J.J. Putz is getting his elbow checked out. Putz says he’s felt pain each of the last two days, causing some alarm amongst the Mets brass.  Reyes, originally thought to have a calf injury, is now believed to have torn his hamstring near the knee, which affected his calf.  Either way, the Mets can’t catch a break.  They were even swept by a heart-broken Pirates team.

Since taking on blogging full time, I hadn’t really spent any time on the White Sox.  Of course, being a Cub fan makes this especially difficult, but I’m a journalist, too.  I can be objective.  The Sox have called up last year’s #1 draft pick, third baseman Gordon Beckham.   I know what you are thinking – wasn’t he drafted as a shortstop?  He was, but the Sox have needs and right now they need to know if Beckham can play third.  A couple of years ago, the White Sox had OPTIONS at third base, but one of those (Joe Crede) is in Minnesota, and the other (Josh Fields) is apparently in the dog house.

Beckham was a stud at the University of Georgia and hasn’t done anything to dissuade the Sox from believing he’s ready.  He briefly played at A ball after signing, roared through AA and just got moved to AAA where, in just a few games, he was hitting over .400.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a long career, and not the story of a player rushed too quickly.  Playing at the level he did in the SEC, and continuing it at three levels (albeit for short times), I’m inclined to believe he’ll be okay.

A couple of other guys get the call this week, and one you might want to watch is St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jess Todd.  Todd was drafted in the second round out of Arkansas in 2007 and raced through the minors displaying control, allowing few hits, and improving his strikeout rate at every level and opportunity.  At first glance, he looks like he might stick – and working with Dave Duncan can’t hurt.  He had mostly been a starter, but this year he became the closer at Memphis and knocked out 11 saves, with 32 Ks, only 7 BBs in 24 innings.  That’s serious stuff.  Baseball America says he’s the fourth best prospect in the system.

Tiger Miguel Cabrera left today’s game with a left hamstring injury.  He tried to play through it, but left soon after he injured his leg running the bases in the second inning.  Boston’s Kevin Youkilis has a calf injury and may miss a game or two.  Youk has been knicked up a lot this year.  Today, he woke up with stiffness, tried to play, and left the game against Detroit about the same time as Cabrera.  The Rays think Evan Longoria’s hamstring will be loose enough to play on Saturday.

Just as Carlos Zambrano returns from his suspension, MLB suspended Yankee pitcher A. J. Burnett for throwing inside to Texas Ranger Nelson Cruz.  Of course, he won’t SAY that he was protecting teammate Mark Teixeira, who had been hit twice by the soon to be released Vincente Padilla, but for a guy who throws inside, throwing a little more inside and a bit higher than normal would have been expected.

Struggling Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is getting an eye exam; meanwhile “The Sports Guy”, Bill Simmons writes in ESPN The Magazine (which I finally received today) that Ortiz got old – even suggesting that Ortiz might be older than he says (just like Ortiz’s buddy Miguel Tejada).