As the Cardinals made their offseason plans for 2012, one of the surprising elements of their thinking was that third baseman David Freese, who had surgery on both ankles last year, would be ready for the start of the season. So far, they haven't signed any other left-side infielders.
For his part, Freese doesn't seem concerned. The St. Louis high school and college product, who hasn't played a full season since 2008 because of injury, said the Cardinals will be seeing a different player in Jupiter, Fla., next month.
"I think they'll be excited with
what they see," said Freese while working out in
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak called Freese's rehabilitation "encouraging" but noted that the goal was to have him "ready for Opening Day, not Day 1 of spring training."
The 27-year-old Freese said, "It is absolutely the most important year of my baseball career. I had a taste in '09 and was in the middle of it last year, so now it's time to go. Getting through this season unscathed is top priority. Honestly, I'm not worried about my numbers. I'm worried about games played. If your games played are there, then your numbers will be, too."
Freese hit .296 with 36 runs batted in over 70 games last season before ankle soreness interrupted his rookie season. He was about set to return, but during a minor league game at Class AA Springfield in early August while he was on a medical rehabilitation assignment, Freese suffered a tendon injury in his right ankle while rounding first base. He was done for the season.
The Cardinals still are likely this spring to entertain adding an infielder who can play both shortstop and third base, just to protect themselves. But if Freese is healthy, the job is his.
"He's our third baseman, and he was our third baseman at less than 100 percent," manager Tony La Russa said. "That should say something about what we think of his talent when he's right."
--2B Skip Schumaker, who had an off year both at bat and in the field last season, has altered his offseason program as he enters his third season as a full-time infielder and not as an outfielder. That includes taking groundballs from Dec. 1 on.
--The Cardinals have won more Gold Gloves than any other club, but the 2010 team was not strong defensively and since that season began, two of the Cardinals' better defenders, SS Brendan Ryan and RF Ryan Ludwick, have been traded away. The offense, at shortstop anyway, has been upgraded with the addition of Ryan Theriot, but manager Tony La Russa concedes there needs to be a balance. "You could find a way to have a team that's all defense making all the plays," said La Russa, "and you can put together a lineup that is just out there to generate runs. If you want to win a championship, you better find players who know how to do both."
--OF Lance Berkman will be one of the Cardinals' new defenders, taking over right field when he hasn't played the outfield since 2007. But GM John Mozeliak said he wasn't worried that the overall defense will be weaker. "I'm of the belief that the defense question is being overstated," Mozeliak said. "Overall, the idea that we've lessened our club that much defensively -- I guess I understand from the comment that we traded Brendan (Ryan). But I don't see the big change. I think this is going to be a good defensive club, if not better."
--The training staff has been revised for 2011. Assistant athletic trainer Greg Hauck will take over the top spot, with longtime head athletic trainer Barry Weinberg assuming the assistant's role.
--Manager Tony La Russa, who will be managing the Cardinals for a record 16th straight season, will be roasted at the St. Louis Baseball Writers' dinner on Jan. 16. La Russa, who has a one-year contract with an option for a second, has 2,638 victories -- 125 shy of second-place John McGraw on the all-time list.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Winning seasons the Cardinals have had out of the last 11.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I see no reason why I can't be back to where I was." -- 3B David Freese, who had two ankle surgeries last year.
The Cardinals entered the offseason with one of the best core groups in baseball: 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday, RHPs Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and Gold Glove C Yadier Molina. They have tried to upgrade the supporting cast, particularly by signing outfielder Lance Berkman.
It is probable that none of them will be brought back.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Kyle McClellan.
McClellan is one of the best middle relievers in the game but doesn't have much in the way of stats covering saves and wins.
--3B David Freese (right ankle surgery in August 2010, left ankle surgery in September 2010) should be ready for spring training.
--LHP Jaime Garcia (left arm fatigue), RHP Adam Wainwright (right forearm strain) and C Yadier Molina (right knee inflammation) all were shut down at the end of the season. All are expected to be ready for spring training.