The Cardinals offense was just so-so in 2009, despite the presence of hitting god Albert Pujols. St. Louis was square in the middle of the pack in slugging, wOBA, and OBP. Where they excelled was pitching. The Cards’ pitchers issued the fewest walks in the league and had the third best FIP, allowing St. Louis to run away with the NL Central.
This offseason, St. Louis is faced with the prospect of losing midseason acquisitions Matt Holliday, John Smoltz and Mark DeRosa — no small potatoes. Joel Pineiro, Rick Ankiel, and Troy Glaus are also free agents.
How will the Cardinals repeat as NL Central champs, in light of this large group of likely departing players?
Let’s start with the easy one. DeRosa isn’t coming back. The Cardinals have a perfectly good third baseman in September-call-up David Freese, who’s hit over .300 at every minor league stop he’s made, and also has a reputation as an above-average defender. Freese might not light the world on fire in 2010, but Cardinals GM expects he’ll be a two-win player, and for a guy making the minimum, that ain’t bad.
In left field, Holliday probably won’t be back. I mean, maybe he will. But as the biggest name on the free agent market there will be a lot of pressure on Holliday to go to whichever team offers the most money. Maybe St. Louis will outbid the Yankees and Red Sox, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Other outfield options include Johnny Damon, Coco Crisp and Jason Bay. The Cards might consider Marlon Byrd, who made about $3MM last season and is generally worth around $10MM (though his value would decrease if he shifted to LF). But I’d be wary that he could repeat his hitting success away from the cozy confines of Arlington and hitting guru Rudy Jaramillo. I’d advocate the Cards pursue a left fielder via trade, but I could only speculate about who would be available and what that player might cost.
The other outfield spots will be manned by Ryan Ludwick and Colby Rasmus, who is primed for a breakout season. (He will be on my fantasy team. Oh yes, he will be on my team.)
As for the pitchers, the Redbirds will return the bulk of their starting staff, including Cy Young runners-up Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Kyle Lohse will also return. Mozeliak recently told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the team will try to upgrade its rotation if they fail to land Holliday, though John Lackey isn’t in the team’s plans. I say bring back Smoltz, who won’t command a multi-year deal. After Smoltz moved to the NL last season, he struck out 9.5 per 9. The final spot could go to Pineiro, or another B-level SP like Brett Myers, Carl Pavano or Brad Penny (aka the d-bag group).
Conclusion: The Cards have Pujols, a maturing Rasmus, two Cy-Young candidates, a promising rookie third baseman, a loyal fanbase, a pretty stadium and roughly $20MM to burn this offseason. They’ll be fine, even if Holliday doesn’t return.