Just as St. Louis Cardinals fans thought we were going to get our twin aces back, they’re gone just like that. Last year it was Adam Wainwright needing Tommy John surgery. This time, it’s Chris Carpenter who has been shut down indefinitely with no current timetable for a return.
A couple weeks ago Carpenter was diagnosed with a bulging cervical disc. That’s in the neck and it can cause stiffness, pain, and numbness in your arms. For a pitcher, that’s problematic. As soon as I heard, I expected it would easily set him back at least a month in his preparations for the season. Since then he has been being treated by the team and had a limited throwing schedule. It appears that today the team decided he wasn’t making enough progress and shut him down. He has now returned to St. Louis for further tests, including potential nerve damage.
What’s scary for Cardinals’ fans is that Carpenter dealt with nerve issues before, during the 2007 and 2008 seasons where he made a total of 5 starts between the two years. Is this a major issue that will take the entire season to rectify or will he be back in April or May? We hope to find that out over the next week or two.
What will this mean for the Cardinals going forward?
Right field. It’s a position that many expected to be handed to Allen Craig after his outstanding 2011 season coming off the bench and providing crucial hits for the Cardinals in the World Series. Not so fast though. With Craig potentially spending time on the disabled list to start the season, the Cardinals went big and signed Carlos Beltran to a two year contract.
Last year Lance Berkman primarily played the position. He played it quite well too, posting what was the best season of his career by OPS+. He made the All Star team and finished 7th in National League MVP voting (Personally, I felt he should have won the award). He surprised as many feared he couldn’t handle the outfield anymore. However his influence, in my opinion, had a great deal to do with the Cardinals putting the run together that they did.
Allen Craig broke out as the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder last season too, putting up MVP quality numbers over his 200 at bats. Good enough that if you extrapolate his WAR out to a 600 at bat season, he led the league. Not too shabby. However, a June collision with an outfield wall in Houston put a big gap in his season and led to offseason surgery which could delay the start to his 2012 season. It was enough of a question that the Cardinals seized the opportunity to make a big move to show fans that they weren’t just going to stand pat after parting ways with Albert Pujols.
If you’d told Cardinals’ fans in March of last year that Colby Rasmus would be traded and Jon Jay would be our everyday center fielder, you would have been laughed out of the room. Even more so after Rasmus posted a line of .301/.392/.476. Finally, our stud five-tool center fielder was going to be something. However, things went south from there, as Rasmus posted a line of .221/.306/.396 from May 1 until his trade on July 27. He got even worse in Toronto, but admitted that he basically gave up on the season and was waiting for a fresh start in 2012.
Enter Jon Jay. In the 2010 season, he was stated as the reason for being able to trade away Ryan Ludwick, contrary to many fans’ wishes. Over his time in St. Louis, Ludwick had been one of the most productive #4 hitters in the major leagues. However, young Jay was hitting .383 when the team chose to trade Ludwick. It put the spotlight on Jay and it wasn’t in a good way as he struggled down the stretch, hitting just .244, but still finishing the season above .300.
In the 2011 season, Jay was penciled in as the fourth outfielder for the Cardinals. His ability to play all three outfield positions was going to be useful for Tony LaRussa. After a slow start, by mid-May Jay was again hitting over .300 and finished May with a line of .349/.408/.514. He was starting to push Colby Rasmus for playing time and slowly fans were starting to support that idea. Rasmus, despite his hot start, was struggling and Jay was outplaying him offensively and defensively.
One of three 2011 Opening Day starters expected to take the field in the same position in this year’s Opening Day game, Matt Holliday already has his name penciled onto the lineup card. The team’s new #3 hitter after the departure of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday will have some big shoes to fill in the eyes of the fans.
They are shoes he is already filling, in my opinion. Myself and others have complained about the lack of visible leadership on the team. Holliday seems to have done just that this offseason, becoming more involved with other players on the team and even inviting a few of the Cardinals’ recent draft picks out to St. Louis on his own dime to work out with them during the winter. He does it under the radar, but it is there.
Last year was a freak year for Holliday. From injuring his back lifting weights to a moth flying into his ear, odd things were the name of the game. He played just 124 games, the fewest since his rookie season, as a result. It’s also the first time since his rookie season that he hit below .300, with his line of .296/.388/.525. He added 22 home runs and 75 RBI. Despite the abbreviated season, Holliday’s performance helped him post a career high in OPS+ at 153, better than the 150 he put up in 2007, when he finished second in the MVP voting.
This afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals officially announced that their catcher, Yadier Molina, has finalized a 5-year extension with the team. The deal, which is worth $75 million from 2013-2017, includes a $15 million option for 2018 for a maximum value near $88 million according to sources. He is already under contract for 2012 on a $7 million option from his previous contract signed before the 2008 season.
Many fans questioned the team’s loyalty to the stars of their last two World Series’ runs after they failed to match the Angels’ $240 million, 10 year offer for Albert Pujols in the offseason. Since Pujols left, the team has spent money to bring in Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran and began their talks for an extension with Molina. It’s fair to say that if Pujols had stayed, none of this would have happened.
At 29, Molina enjoyed his most successful major league season to date in 2011, leading the team in batting average at .305. He also posted career highes in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. He was an All Star and picked up his fourth consecutive Gold Glove at catcher. He also enjoys the reputation of being the best defensive catcher in baseball with excellent pitching staff handling skills. His bat is just a bonus, though inconsistent.
David Freese had a spectacular postseason. He then had an amazing offseason that included a stop by Jay Leno’s show and presenting at the CMA Awards with Erin Andrews. The question will now be, can he put it all together, have the season everyone thinks he can have, and then take his place as one of the league’s premiere third basemen?
Of course, that’s what we asked last spring and unfortunately it only half happened. After starting the season hitting around .320, but missed 51 games after being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his left hand. It was the only derailment in 2011 for Freese who had ankle injuries force him from the lineup in both 2009 and 2010.
Thankfully for Freese and the Cardinals, Freese didn’t sustain any ankle injuries in 2011. Something that has allowed him to come into this season saying that his ankles feel better than ever. Hopefully that’s something that can continue.
In the end, Freese finished the season with a .297/.350/.441 line with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in the 97 games he did play. For the 28-year-old third baseman, that was just the beginning of the story of his 2011. As has been covered and will be covered for years to come, Freese lit up the NLCS with a line of .545/.600/1.091 and added 3 home runs and 9 RBI on his way to scoring the NLCS MVP award. He wasn’t going to stop there though.