As a Cardinal fan the 2010 season can’t be considered anything less than a bitter disappointment. Take into consideration the following; Re-signing Matt Holliday, a superstar rookie season from relative unknown Jaime Garcia, 230+ innings out of both Wainwright and Carpenter, an MVP worthy season from Albert Pujols, the increasing power production of Colby Rasmus and the acquisition of Jake Westbrook was enough to keep the Cardinals comfortably in *second place*. We can almost say it’s “Cubs-eqsue” to come into a season with such high expectations only to disappoint so thoroughly. LaRussa and Duncan are coming back again as is a great bulk of the roster, but finishing 5 games behind Cincinnati should make it obvious to anyone that there are some gaps needing filled.
Since the departure of Scott Rolen after the 2007 season the Cardinals have failed to maintain a consistent presence at the hot corner. Among the players receiving a somewhat significant chunk of starting time at 3rd over the past 3 season are; David Freese, Mark DeRosa, Felipe Lopez, Pedro Feliz, Troy Glaus, Tyler Greene, Khalil Greene, Cesar Izturis, Brian Barden, Aaron Miles and Joe Thurston. All due respect, but that’s quite a list of mediocrity from what was once a powerful position in St.Louis. Complicating things further is the short and rather unimpressive list of free agent third basemen going into this off-season. Adrian Beltre opted out of Boston, but after the year he had will command much more than the $5 million player option that he could have exercised so the Cardinals have basically no shot at him. After Beltre the list gets very old and frail. Eric Chavez(33 and perhaps the most injury prone player in the game), Joe Crede(33 with consistent back problems), Jorge Cantu(39 and ineffective), Geoff Blum(38 and, while a Cardinal killer, is not an everyday player) and 31 year old Chad Tracy who last played 3rd as his primary position in 2007. Barring a trade or an unforeseen free agent pickup it looks as if the job will still be in the hands of David Freese. Freese was limited to 70 games due to injuries and managed to hit .296 in that time, but only fielded at a .950 clip. The Cardinals options at third are slim and I personally have little faith in getting a significant upgrade.
While third base might be the more obvious concern the bullpen should be the real top priority and should be the “easier” problem to address. As much as I hate to say it, Ryan Franklin is in the last year of his contract and will most likely be the teams closer again. Rafael Soriano would be a great fit but will command a significant raise from the $7.25m he made after leading the league with 45 saves and a 1.73era. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some solid arms to surround Franklin with and help strengthen the bridge to get to him. Righties include Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain, strikeout machine Juan Cruz and long reliever-turned-closer Jon Rauch. I’m not sure on the exact status or plans for Trevor Miller, but a few notable lefties include Joe Biemel, Will Ohman and Taylor Tankersly. Adding a couple arms to the cast or Motte, McClellan, Boggs and Franklin should be a priority if not a necessity.
Save the Giants, there aren’t really any teams that can boast about having “enough” pitching. The rotation in St.Louis is full of question marks. Will Chris Carpenter come close to another 200 innings? Was Jaime Garcia’s incredible season a fluke? Can Kyle Lohse gain some semblance of the form that allowed him to rob St.Louis of $11 million a year? Efficient arms are going to be at a premium this winter and the list is already thin to being with. The biggest/best the Cardinals can hope to do would be to re-acquire Jake Westbrook, though he may have pitched so well down the stretch that it will now be difficult to sign him. Westbrook was already making $11 million and finished the year with a 3.48era in the NL. All the more attractive is his ability to eat innings and get ground balls. Westbrook can expect to have several teams vying for his services in 2011. Left-hander Jeff Francis may make a good Dave Duncan reclamation project, but his history is sketchy both statistically and health-wise. Dave Bush is 31 and carries a 4.77 career ERA. Jeremy Bonderman is only 28 but falls apart like a Chinese motorcycle. In short, this is another area that needs attention but can’t expect to get much of it from the FA market.
Cardinal fans were quick to throw the blame at guys like Brendan Ryan, Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker for having down years, but these holes were staring us in the face since the beginning of the season. Not addressing them last year put the Cards in 2nd place and as the NL central continues to be more competitive not addressing them again this off-season could mean worse. If this winter and subsequent season are all about the Pujols contract extension and not about fixing the rest of the leaky boat the Cardinals could be in for darker days than just finishing 5 games behind the Reds.