Who Are the 2012 Cardinals?
The big surprises are old news by now. Pujols, LaRussa, and Duncan are all gone. Three irreplaceable hall of famers have departed, and despite a 2011 World Series Championship, they leave Cardinals nation with a cause for concern. How do you replace the 2nd winningest manager of all time, the pitching doctor of the last 3 decades, and the best baseball player of an era? Despite the departures, the answer is simple. You look for guidance from the past while looking to the future. So without further adieu, let us present the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals.
One would argue that the Cardinals strength lies in starting pitching. Returning in 2012 is every 2011 starting pitcher minus Edwin Jackson. The addition of a healthy Adam Wainwright, who was a top 2 Cy Young candidate in 2009 and 2010, at worst improves the Cardinals’ starting 5 slightly, and at best, elevates them into elite playoff status.
Bullpen problems that plagued the 2011 Cardinals also appear to be a fortunate investment in the immediate future. Yes, many saves were lost in 2011 in the search for a viable closer to stop the bleeding. But in the trenches, pitchers like Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, and Jason Motte, found both their niche and their fire. And not only did those pitchers, as well as the rest of the St. Louis bullpen, prove themselves on the big stage, but they proved themselves to be pressure pitchers. So while 2011 was an auditioned bullpen, 2012 is a proven bullpen with guts.
Although there are some questions on defense in 2012, there are still improvements over the 2011 Cardinals. We can never forget Theriot’s bases loaded pinch hit triple to win a crucial game that would take the Cardinals to the playoffs, but we can also never forget Furcal’s basket catch in game 2 against Milwaukee to save the series that would ultimately lead to a Cardinals NLDS victory. While gold glover Pujols departs, short stop Furcal and a young and improving David Freese shore up the left side while a trio of 2nd basemen compete to improve the right side. Between Schumacker, Greene, and Descalso, manager Mike Matheney will surely choose the right man from the squad to strengthen the club both defensively and offensively. As always, manning the backstop is the best defensive catcher in baseball, Yadier Molina.
And finally, there’s the offense. Yes it’s true, Albert Pujols is gone. But there was a time in St. Louis when Mark McGwire was the tour d’offense. As fate would have it, his knee gave out and waiting in the wings was a rookie named Albert Pujols. So when Bobby Bonilla was injured for a few days to open the season, a young nobody named Albert Pujols broke the opening day roster and made history by rivaling the greatest players in the game with 10 straight seasons of .300 AVG, 30 HR, and 100 RBIs. Despite 11 great years and two World Series rings, economics could not keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis. And although he will be missed, his departure created some financial opportunities.
After re-signing Carpenter and Berkman during the regular season, the Cardinals organization was able to sign Rafael Furcal very quickly to a 2 year, 14 M deal, and Carlos Beltran to a 2 year, 23 M deal. The re-signing of Yadier Molina for 5 years gives the Cardinals both consistent offense and defense. Add to that a healthy David Freese and Allen Craig along with veteran Matt Holliday and the Cardinals still pack quite the punch. Consistent production from Jon Jay should offer an upgrade in center over the erratic Colby Rasmus, and competition for the second base spot should provide a good opportunity for Tyler Greene or David Descalso to step up and shine.
So although the 2012 Cardinals may not look like the same team that won the 2011 World Series, there’s every reason to believe 2012 can be a great year for St. Louis.