Making a List And Checking it Twice…

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one’s just begun…

–John Lennon

Christmas is here. It is today. So what have the St. Louis Cardinals done?

At the end of the 2010 season, they knew full well what the 2011 team needed in order to succeed. The list was made out just like if a kid was getting ready to mail a letter to Santa: more offense from the middle infield, more stability in the rotation, more pop from right field, a solid backup catcher, better depth, better overall team focus.

How many of those items does the team find under the tree this morning? The rotation certainly seems more stable with a full year of Jake Westbrook and a presumably healthy Kyle Lohse. Gerald Laird should prove to be a capable backup; he is known more for his defense than his offense, but his best offensive numbers came in years when he appeared in less than 100 games (except for last year…of course). On paper, Ryan Theriot should provide more offense than Brendan Ryan, and Lance Berkman should provide more pop than Jon Jay. Both have reputations of being consummate professionals who will bring a renewed focus and maturity to the clubhouse. But the question with Theriot is one of defense and the question with Berkman is one of durability.

So the Cards’ wishes have not been totally fulfilled. Of course, it’s impossible to know how the season will play out. But I think the team may find they have some new wishes come Spring Training based on what we know for certain about the 2011 roster as it is currently constructed.

Depth – Yes, it was the one thing I did not address above. And even if I had, depth (or lack thereof) is so important it would probably still show up here. The Cards suffered mightily in 2010 when 2/5 of the rotation and the starting third baseman went down to injury. The problem compounded further when, in anticipation of David Freese’s return to the lineup, Ryan Ludwick was traded and Freese had a setback. Other than Laird, the Cardinals have not made one move to add to their bench. They have no clear backup plan should a starter need a couple weeks to recover from a minor injury. This is exactly the position the team was in last year. I know the regular season is still a few months away, but how long will they wait?

Defense – The middle infield has taken a hit on defense…everyone knows that. The Cardinals have all but said this sacrifice was acceptable to upgrade the offense. But remember, the Cardinals preach pitch-to-contact. It will be interesting to see how many balls get through the infield that may have been gobbled up last year. Perhaps the extra hits and runs allowed will be balanced out by the assumed bump in offense if everyone is healthy. But how will it affect the pitching staff? Will they now be asked to pitch for strikeouts? Maybe they will assume it on their own. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter have the ability to be power pitchers to a point, but that about the others? And speaking of…

Closer – Ryan Franklin has succeeded as the Cards’ closer for most of the last three seasons. He also thrives under the pitch-to-contact philosophy, and “makes it interesting” from time to time in the 9th inning. Some fans cannot stand having Franklin as the closer, but it never bothered me all that much because his numbers were always acceptable. This year, however, I am officially joining the ranks of the concerned. Franklin is in the last year of his contract and has already hinted at retirement as his next move. He is not a power pitcher, and hitters put the ball in play on him. Will Franklin be on a short leash? Should he be? The Cards do have power pitchers in their bullpen in the form of Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte. But how loyal will Tony LaRussa be to his incumbent?

It seems like the Cardinals will have less margin for error than ever. They have addressed some needs; others remain, and still others may manifest. Either way, I find it hard to accept that the Cardinals are done shopping this offseason.

Merry Christmas, everybody. And, no matter what, Go Cards.

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