The club also seems fortunate to have some third base coverage, although it is untested at the big-league level. Starter Troy Glaus is sidelined for at least a month into the season after having right shoulder surgery, opening the door for David Freese, who hit .306 with 91 RBIs last year at Class AAA Memphis, and Brett Wallace, the team's top draft pick in 2008.
Starting pitching could either be a strength or a weakness, depending on how right-hander Chris Carpenter, who hasn't won a game in two seasons, rebounds from the arm problems that plagued him in 2007-08. If Carpenter is fine, the Cardinals won't have to go looking for a starter, with right-handers Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro already in tow.
A bullpen that suffered 31 blown saves and as many losses last season will be under the most scrutiny of any aspect of the club. The sentiment in the organization seems to be that right-handers Chris Perez and Jason Motte both have the stuff to be closers.
The problem is that manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan fear that day has not yet come. They hope for some veteran help, while general manager John Mozeliak is willing to go with Perez and possibly Motte in the late innings.
Even though 2008 Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols had a nerve transposed near his right elbow, there isn't any question in his mind -- or in the mind of many others -- that he will be ready for full-tilt duty by the end of spring training, if not earlier.
One other item that bears watching is how the Cardinals protect themselves at second base, where Adam Kennedy, who had asked to be traded, is back more or less by default because of the free agent defections of Aaron Miles and Felipe Lopez.
Outfielders Skip Schumaker and Joe Mather have been advised to bring infield mitts, too.
The 2006 World Series champions are trying to avoid missing the postseason for a third consecutive year for the first time since 1997-99.
WHERE, WHEN: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. First exhibition game is Feb. 25 against the Marlins.
TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: OF Chris Duncan is coming back from injury and can't be forgotten. If Duncan is healthy -- he had disk surgery in his neck -- he might be able to recapture his power of 2006 and 2007, when he hit 22 and 21 homers as a part-time player.
TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: OF Ryan Ludwick set the bar high last season when he hit .299 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs in his first season as a regular. If he hits .280 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs, is that necessarily a bad season?
AUTHORITY FIGURES: Tony La Russa, in his 14th season with the club, is the Cardinals' top manager in wins at 1,141 and No. 3 in baseball history at 2,461. His Cardinals teams invariably reflect his no-nonsense, grind-it-out style, and he has little use for players who don't have that attitude. At this stage, every year could be his last year with the Cardinals.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--OF Skip Schumaker, who signed as a shortstop in 2001, said he would bring an infielder's glove with him to camp. With a crowded outfield and little infield depth, Schumaker is likely to take some grounders at second base this spring.
--Schumaker, as he has done in other years, spent several days a week this offseason hitting under the watchful eye of former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, a neighbor in Southern California. Manager Tony La Russa has tried for several years to get McGwire to come to camp as an instructor, but McGwire has declined those invitations.
--The Cardinals have shown no inclination to sign any more left-handed relievers, preferring to go with the trio they signed to one-year deals in the offseason -- Trever Miller, Royce Ring and Charlie Manning.
--Although the Cardinals had a National League-leading .281 batting average last season, they would like to improve their hitting with the bases loaded. In those situations, the club batted just .246 with four grand slams. C Yadier Molina batted .455 with the bases loaded, but 3B Troy Glaus, who fell one RBI short of 100, hit only .118 with three runners on.
--The Cardinals' exhibition schedule features home-and-home games with both World Series contestants, the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, in addition to a home-and-home series with the Boston Red Sox. The Cardinals haven't played an exhibition game against the Rays in 11 years.
--RHP Chris Carpenter, who has missed virtually all of the last two seasons with arm problems, was one of the early arrivals in camp at Jupiter, Fla.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Catchers on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, Yadier Molina and Jason LaRue.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "My thinking was Brett Wallace would start at Double-A and then see what happens from there. That's still the plan, but the plan with Brett Wallace is that you cannot set a plan." -- Cardinals farm director Jeff Luhnow on the club's fast-rising top pick in 2008.