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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: St. Louis Cardinals
By Wild on Sports Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview: 
The best team in the NL, and it wasn’t a surprise. The Cardinals lead the league in runs scored, and reliable veteran mainstays like Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright headline the assault. But amazingly, the Cardinals win the pennant amidst a season that is in many ways a year about turnover to a new crop of talented redbirds. Rookies Shelby Miller, Matt Adams and Trevor Rosenthal make significant contributions, and Matt Carpenter transforms into a star at second base in his first year of everyday play. There is more to come from an organization that is a model for developing talent.

Winter Grade: B+
Coming: Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos
Going: Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Edward Mujica, Jake Westbrook (retired)
The Cardinals address their biggest need by spending big on shortstop Peralta, despite his association with the Biogenesis scandal. Losing Carlos Beltran may hurt if outfielder Oscar Taveras is not ready to start the season, but it didn’t make sense for a team in the NL to sign Beltran to a three-year contract. Acquiring defense whiz Bourjos is a nice bit of fine-tuning for a team that, after Peralta, is really just tinkering at the margins and making sure nobody gets in the way of the next round of rookie sensations (Taveras, Kolton Wong, et al).

Wild Card(s): 
Bourjos had a big year in 2011, hitting .271 with gap power (11 triples!), 22 SB and strong defense, but since then had been buried on Los Angeles’ depth chart, ineffective and/or injured. With the Cardinals, he has a chance to re-establish himself as an everyday player and he’s still just 27 years old this year. Could better coaching turn Bourjos into a more potent stolen base threat? He has upside along the lines of an Angel Pagan-type performer.

Key Contract Years: Nobody

Rookies: 
Oscar Taveras may be a future batting champion and he is going to be a full-time outfielder in St. Louis by late May this year. He’ll hit for power too, but some patience may be required as he shakes off rust from last year, when he only played in 46 games for AAA-Memphis. Kolten Wong is set to provide solid but unspectacular production at second base, having hit .303/.369/.466 with 20 SB alongside Taveras at Memphis last year. On the pitching side, Carlos Martinez might beat out Joe Kelly for the final spot in rotation, and the flame-throwing righty put up an impressive 2.51 ERA in AAA last year. He has tremendous upside and could duplicate Shelby Miller’s stellar rookie campaign.

Key Questions: 
Can Jamie Garcia be effective despite admitting that he’s pitching through pain right now?
How does St. Louis juggle roles for Martinez, Joe Kelly and Garcia in the back of the rotation?
Is the bullpen too thin after letting John Axford and Ed Mujica leave as free agents?
Will there be full playing time for both Allen Craig and Matt Adams once Taveras comes up for good?
Does one of them become trade bait, and for what?

Farm System Overview: GREEN (above average) 
Most of the top-tier talent is about to reach the majors; Taveras, Wong and Martinez are St. Louis’ top prospects. Right now the system does not boast quite the depth it has in past years, much of which has to do with successful player promotions. However, there is depth in athletic outfielders (Steve Piscotty, James Ramsey) and last year St. Louis drafted two promising left-handers in the first round, Marco Gonzales and Rob Kaminsky.

2014 Prognosis: Strong Contenders
Don’t bet against the Cardinals after quiet winters in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Beltran may be gone but St. Louis may reach dynastic status with their ability to churn out multiple impact rookies year after year. Right now it doesn’t look like there are any holes in the lineup or rotation; elite production can be expected from Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Wainwright. This is another pennant-winning formula.

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