St. Louis Cardinals off Season Report
- Updated: December 9, 2008
Season Wrap Up
The Cardinals won as many games in 2008 as they did when they won the World Series just two seasons earlier, but they found themselves outside of the playoff picture when the season ended. With an 86-76 record, the Cards once again had a very solid season with Tony La Russa at the helm. Having the MVP in Albert Pujols certainly didn’t hurt, but the lack of pitching didn’t help either. Offense was not the team’s problem in ’08 as they posted the second best OPS in the league at .783 and scored the fourth most runs in the league with 779. Pitching is where the team experienced some trouble as they really didn’t have any big names to turn to when they really needed a win. While the pitching wasn’t putrid, it was just bad enough to keep them from making the post season as their 4.19 team ERA (which ranked seventh in the NL) and their 725 runs allowed (ranking tenth in the league). Second year general manager John Mozeliak will try to remedy this problem in the off season.
Holes to Fill
As spoken about above, the Cardinals need to address the issue of pitching if they want to be playing deep into October next season. With five pitchers from last season currently in free agency, the Cards will have to fill those holes as well as the ones that were already created during the season. Former ace Chris Carpenter will have to come back to form next season after having surgery on his elbow for the Cards to have a valid number one starter. Even though the rotation is not the only place that help is needed, it would be a good start. The Cards basically started the off season by giving Kyle Lohse a four-year extension worth $41 million. Lohse should provide some stability to their pitching staff, but he by no means fixes the problem. In addition to the rotation, the Cards will also need to look to some holes in the bullpen. With the offense the team has, they cannot afford to give away leads late in games as they did last season and expect to be able to win the game. At least they have a few decent right handers in the pen, which means they can concentrate on wooing a few left handers to create better match-ups during late game situations. Other than pitching, their everyday line-up is pretty steady from top to bottom. They may need to add a role player or two, but if players like Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus continue to produce, the team’s offense should stay strong.
Going into the off season, the Cardinals had nine players who filed for free agency including pitchers Ron Villone, Russ Springer, Mark Mulder, Jason Isringhausen and Braden Looper, infielders Felipe Lopez and Cesar Izturis, outfielder Jaun Encarnacion and catcher Jason LaRue. The team already came to terms with LaRue on a one year contract more than a month ago. There are considerable questions about what other players the Cards are going to bring back. Lopez seems to be a lock to be handed a contract that will probably coerce him to end up back in St. Louis, which is good for an aging team. Looper is probably gone as Mozeliak is probably not going to be willing to hand him the value or length in a contract that it is believed Looper and his agent are seeking. There are many questions surrounding Isringhausen as he is coming off of surgery, and while the team does need help in the pen, he may be too much of a risk to take when they could delegate their funds some other place.
With a solid lineup already in tact, the baseball world probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals compete strongly for the playoffs again. While the Cubs certainly seem like the best team in the division, there’s no reason to believe that the Cards can’t vie for the second spot, which could very well be the wild card winner. Even though they finished ten games above five hundred last season, they still placed fourth in their division. Their payroll (which was ranked 11th in the majors at $99.6 million in 2008) could see some growth this off season, but probably not much with the prices in the open market not being as large as they have been in the past. It is unclear whether the Cards are pursuing any trades this off season. They do not have any major contracts that would be movable for people to fill up cap space at the end of next season just yet, but they could consider moving one of their outfielders if the right deal is made. St. Louis’ farm system does have a good number of players who are just about ready to reach the big leagues at various positions. They have about four players who could be ready to play in the outfield in the Bigs at the end of spring training (which is the reason Ankiel or even Ryan Ludwick could be expendable at the right price). Their farm system also boasts a good number of pitchers who seem primed for big league success, meaning the Cards may be able to fill some of their pitching holes internally if they are just willing to wait long enough. With La Russa at the helm once again in 2009, even the average baseball fans know that his innovation alone adds some extra strength to their team, and a second season without a playoff appearance may be deemed very disappointing to those in St. Louis.
Off Season Moves So Far
The St. Louis Cardinals have traded for former Padres SS Khalil Greene for two minor league players, one is pitcher Mark Worrell and a player to be named later. That’s not much for a major league SS with pop in his bat. I’m surprised that the Padres couldn’t get more for him than that.
Bill Jordan is a contributor to BaseballReflections.com and can be reached by e-mail at BillJordaniv@yahoo.com.