The Early Line on Cards' Positional Battles

Looking ahead to areas of possible contention in trying to set the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals' roster.

The St. Louis Cardinals' 2009 roster is far from complete. Even so, it is possible to forecast certain areas that are bound to be "hot" come spring.

First, we will start with several assumptions. The 40-man roster is currently at 36 players. Though it is quite possible that trades will occur in the near future, they are not forecast in this article because they are impossible to predict.

In a related vein, there is often a non-roster invitee or two that fill a need and make the team out of camp, usually due to an injury elsewhere. Such an example was minor league journeyman Rico Washington, who made his big-league debut while Brendan Ryan opened the 2008 season on the disabled list.

Another interesting type of non-roster invitee are those promising youngsters in the upper levels of the minor league system, players such as third baseman David Freese and outfielder Colby Rasmus. Due to service time concerns, specifically losing the player a year earlier as a free agent later, these players' chances are low to make the Cardinals immediately out of spring camp.

Therefore, these cases are also outside the scope of this article.

Let's look at necessary additions to the club for 2009 and the roster impact of each.

Additions

Looking at the makeup of the current team, they have needs for six players: two left-handed relievers, two starting middle infielders - a second baseman and a shortstop – an experienced closer and likely another starting pitcher or swingman.

Left-handed relievers

If two veteran lefties are brought in as free agents as expected, it would reinforce the likelihood that incumbent and arbitration-eligible Randy Flores (pictured) will be non-tendered next month, i.e. cut loose. Therefore, the Cardinals would need to use only one additional roster spot for two new left-handers.

Though this would likely not happen until spring training is well underway, recently-claimed lefty Charlie Manning could be at risk of losing his 40-man spot if he isn't impressive come March.

Middle infield

The Cardinals need two starters up the middle, though if 2008 second baseman Adam Kennedy is granted his wish to be traded, one roster spot would be opened up.

Closer

Neither Chris Perez nor Jason Motte are deemed ready to close games at the major league level, making an older pitcher with closing experience a desired commodity. This could be Jason Isringhausen or an outsider comparable to the addition of Troy Percival two years ago. One roster spot would be required.

Starting pitcher

Players that are placed on the 60-day disabled list do not count against the 40-man roster limit – however, there is no 60-day DL during the off-season. So putting someone like Jaime Garcia (pictured), who is likely out for the entire 2009 campaign, on the DL during this time of year is not an option.

In other words, the addition of a starter to provide insurance against Chris Carpenter will require an additional 40-man roster spot at least until spring training is almost over.

Total: Net four roster spots will be required for a total of 40.

Rule 5

Though it is far from a certainty, the Cardinals may decide to select a player in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft in two weeks. If so, because this player would have to be carried on the 25-man active roster for the entire 2009 season, I would assume the Rule 5 pick would be penciled into one of the open needs mentioned above.

Therefore, I am assuming an incremental roster spot for a Rule 5 selection would not be required.

Just in case

If for some unforeseen reason, a 40-man spot is required, there are several players that might be removed. They include pitchers Blake Hawksworth and Mark Worrell, infielder Jarrett Hoffpauir and perhaps outfielder Nick Stavinoha.

The 40-man roster

In this environment, the entirely full projected 40-man roster might look very much like the following heading into spring training. (The six projected additions are in bold.)

Starters (8) Relievers (14) Catchers (2)
Boggs Flores or replacement (L) LaRue
Carpenter Villone replacement (L) Molina
Garcia (L) Experienced closer
Hawksworth New spot starter / long man
Lohse Franklin
Pineiro Johnson (L)
Wainwright Kinney
Wellemeyer Manning (L)
McClellan
Motte
Perez
Scherer
Thompson
(L) left-handed Worrell

Infielders (9) Outfielders (7)
Barden Ankiel
Glaus Barton
Greene Duncan
Hoffpauir Ludwick
Izturis replacement Mather
Kennedy or replacement Schumaker
Miles Stavinoha
Pujols
Ryan

Getting to 25

Cutting this list down to 25 is where the challenge will be. Again, an assumption is that no injuries occur. While not likely, it would be a cop-out here in terms of forecasting them as a resolution for March positional battles.

First, we will eliminate from contention those eight players from the 40-man that, from this vantage point at this time, do not have a realistic chance of making the 2009 major league club.

Eliminated (8)
Starters (3) Relievers (2) Catchers (0) Infielders (2) Outfielders (1)
Boggs Scherer  Greene Stavinoha
Garcia (L) Worrell Hoffpauir
Hawksworth

That leaves 32 players competing for 25 jobs.

In contention (32)
Starters (5) Relievers (12) Catchers (2)
Carpenter Flores or replacement (L) LaRue
Lohse Villone replacement (L) Molina
Pineiro Experienced closer
Wainwright New spot starter / long man
Wellemeyer Franklin
Johnson (L)
Kinney
Manning (L)
McClellan
Motte
Perez
Thompson

Infielders (7) Outfielders (6)
Barden Ankiel
Glaus Barton
Izturis replacement Duncan
Kennedy or replacement Ludwick
Miles Mather
Pujols Schumaker
Ryan

Another assumption rooted in past experience is that a Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan club will open the season with 12 pitchers and 13 position players. An expected breakdown is five starting pitchers, seven relievers (including two lefties), two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders.

Now, let's break down the expected positional battles. (Number of 25-man roster spots in parentheses.)

Starting pitcher (5) and swing starter / long reliever (1)

Battle: Brad Thompson vs. new starter

Despite pending and ongoing medical exams, the status of Chris Carpenter (pictured) will not be truly known until he has pitched regularly and consistently in real game action. That can't occur until at least March. Given our assumptions for this article, Carp is on the team unless his health prohibits it.

In the meantime, the Cardinals would be wise to invest in a fall-back player in case Carpenter can't answer the bell. It should not be their most immediate priority, nor would it be prudent to wait until mid-March as they did in 2008 before adding Kyle Lohse.

Ideally, this pitcher would have options remaining such that he could be sent down the Memphis if not needed initially, but yet would still be good enough be an effective starter at the major league level when needed.

With the injury to Garcia, the Cardinals have no left-handed starters, something that could be remedied with the right addition. Getting all of that together may be a difficult commodity to find, however.

If Carpenter is ready, a more likely option from the roster perspective would be to have the sixth starter play a swing starter / long reliever role. This is currently Brad Thompson's job.

There is a bit of a concern, however. While Thompson has not exhausted his three minor league options, due to the elapsed time he has spent as a major leaguer, he must either make the major league club out of spring training or be exposed to revocable waivers.

If claimed, the Cardinals could always pull Thompson back without risk of losing him, but he would be stuck on the 25-man active roster, potentially limiting roster flexibility.

Left-handed relievers (2)

Battle (sort of): Two newcomers vs. Tyler Johnson and Charlie Manning

Without all the competitors yet on the roster, there is not much to say other than if two veteran outsiders are brought in, they will be the clear cut favorites to make the team.

If so, the Cardinals will have the same situation with Tyler Johnson as Thompson. Newcomer Manning has options remaining and could serve as injury insurance in Triple-A.

Right-handed relievers (4)

Here is the real problem area. It is reasonable to assume right up front that these three players will make the team: Ryan Franklin, Kyle McClellan and the experienced closer. That leaves only one roster spot for three high-profile relievers, all of whom have options remaining.

Battle: Chris Perez (pictured) vs. Josh Kinney vs. Jason Motte

This analysis makes it clear why there has been no rush by the Cardinals to re-sign veteran Russ Springer. After all, where would he fit?

If he doesn't sign somewhere else first, Springer, the Cardinals' most consistently effective reliever the last two years, could be re-signed if the Cards can't locate that experienced, but relatively inexpensive closer instead.

There is always a chance that McClellan could be returned to starting. In that case, he could either go to Memphis and join their rotation or compete with Thompson and the new starter for that spot starter / long reliever role.

Not assuming that McClellan's role will change means there is just one roster spot remaining when the music stops. In his September return from two elbow surgeries, Kinney was impressive. Yet, because he has options remaining, Kinney could be a candidate to start with Memphis if nothing else gives.

Perez remains the club's closer of the future and it would seem he would progress the best working alongside the experienced closer brought in to mentor him. Still, Perez could be sent down if his slider remains inconsistent.

As impressive as he was in September, fireballer Jason Motte seems most likely to be asked to begin 2009 in Memphis until an opening occurs. He also needs work on his off-speed pitch.

Catchers (2)

No discussion required. Jason LaRue is backing up Yadier Molina.

Infielders (6)

Battle: Brendan Ryan (pictured) vs. Brian Barden

With the four starters around the infield, there is room for two reserves. Aaron Miles would seem to be the prohibitive favorite for one spot, leaving Brendan Ryan to compete with Brian Barden for the other.

Out of options, Ryan could be sent down once and kept in the organization by being outrighted, but that is really a one-time only choice. While the Olympian Barden has improved his stock considerably since being outrighted himself early last season, he has to be considered a longshot to make the team.

Outfielders (5)

Battle: Joe Mather (pictured) vs. Brian Barton

Again, assuming health and no trades, fill in four spots in ink with the names Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick and Skip Schumaker. All except Ludwick are left-handed hitters, giving the number five outfielder advantage to a right-handed hitter.

Check. Both Mather and Barton are righties.

Based on his 2008 rookie success, better defense and power potential, Mather may be the favorite. A Rule 5 pick one year ago, Barton has limited Triple-A experience and did not play regularly last season. Barton would seem slated to get some more time in Memphis, at least to start the season.

The projected 25-man roster

This time, the four key projected position battles are in bold. They are right-handed reliever, spot starter / long reliever, sixth infielder and fifth outfielder. (I did not include the lefty relievers since as I mentioned above, the two veterans TBD should be the prohibitive favorites to make the team, just as with the addition of an experienced closer.)

Projected (25)
Starters (5) Relievers (7) Catchers (2)
Carpenter Flores or replacement (L) LaRue
Lohse Villone replacement (L) Molina
Pineiro Experienced closer
Wainwright Thompson / new spot starter
Wellemeyer Franklin
McClellan
Perez / Kinney / Motte

Infielders (6) Outfielders (5)
Glaus Ankiel
Izturis replacement Duncan
Kennedy or replacement Ludwick
Miles Mather / Barton
Pujols Schumaker
Ryan / Barden

In conclusion

While many of the decisions that will make up the 2009 Cardinals are still ahead of us, it is important to remember that these roster moves are interrelated. Surely between now and early April, a number of these projections will be altered by events impossible to predict today. Yet, with the players in place, this article presented a most likely set of scenarios as of now.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2008 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Up Next


Tweets