Regardless of what happens over the next nine games there is a lot to be taken away from this last month of Cardinal baseball.
This is not a team filled with mercenaries. Sure there are a few guys under 1 year deals who may be gone and a few others acquired last in the year that are free agents. But out of that group only Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal should be invited back. Barring Albert Pujols leaving (and yes I know he’s a big piece) the Cardinals are not having to fill in a lot of pieces.
John Mozeliak is at his September best again with the signing of Chris Carpenter to a two-year extension. Using my fuzzy math this saves the Cardinals roughly $6 million next year. Money that can be…and hopefully will be well spent. And by giving him that second year the Birds protect themselves from going after a 1-year deal elsewhere on the free agent market. With Carp, you know what you get.
All indications are that Berkman wants to come back and that the Cardinals want the 1B/RF back. Bringing Berkman back serves two functions. It gives the Cardinals a veteran switch-hitter who is still capable of hitting 30 HR’s and driving in 100. What is really does is serve to give the team a fallback option should Pujols take his services elsewhere for the 2012 season.
Based on everything I have read and heard from Joe Strauss and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch this should be finalized before if not shortly following the end of the season. The Cardinals also appear to be moving to lock up Furcal for 2012. The situation with Furcal is trickier than Berkman’s. One, Furcal has not been here that long so how he feels about St. Louis to start 2012 is unknown. Complicating it as well is Furcal’s health. A proven defensive wizard at short-stop and he seems to have found some of his power again in his short time here he does have a history of injury.
Quick note: Both Berkman and Furcal have been willing to discuss their upcoming free agency and contracts with the club and it has not been a distraction. Since the discussion have opened up the team has closed to within 2.5 games of the Wild Card. Just saying.
If Furcal is not the answer, there are in-house options in Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso. One thing is for certain. After the teams horrendous year defensively at short one has to think the Cards don’t go the Theriot route again. His double-play partner Skip Schumaker is the other wild card out there. What does the team do with him? As I wrote in a previous post they can do a lot. For that reason I have to imagine they would like to bring him back.
That being said the Cardinals are heading into the offseason with most of their 2012 roster already present and in place. Their bullpen is set if they decide to go with Motte as Closer and Wainwright coming back fills out the rest of the rotation as Carp, Garcia, Lohse and Westbrook are all under contract for 2012.
Beyond pitching most of the position players or potential replacements are in place as well. Allen Craig has shown with at bats comes results. He is an option in both RF and 1B if need be for 2012. Getting him 500 AB’s should by a priority for LaRussa next year. Oh yeah, after this run he’s coming back, Pujols or no Pujols. Jon Jay will be, and should be, your starting CF next year. After a brief slump upon taking over full time Jay has shown he can deliver on an everyday basis. David Freese has 20 HR 85 RBI potential at 3B, assuming health which is a reach for him. But the Cardinals have new super-sub Daniel Descalso to fill in around the infield if need be. And of course your Gold Glove Catcher will be back behind the plate managing the game.
What is most impressive to me is the proactive approach the team is taking in addressing their needs. Pujols’ contract situation is not going to play itself out quickly. And the Cardinals cannot afford to wait to and see what he decides before acting on the rest their needs. Remember the bad situation the Cardinals put themselves in with Edgar Renteria’s free agency following the 2004 season.
The next eight games are going to be very exciting and hopefully a glimpse of what is to come next year