The Cardinals broke the bank to bring back Matt Holliday on a seven-year, $120 million deal. Whether this was a good move or not long term will only be determined once Albert Pujols re-signs in St. Louis (or not). For 2010 at least, the signing provides the Cardinals with a formidable 3-4 punch in the middle of the order.
The other big off-season move was the decision to let Joel Pineiro walk as a free agent. The right-hander won 15 games with a 3.49 ERA in 214 innings and his contributions will certainly be missed. Brad Penny, who resurrected himself in his stint in San Francisco, was brought in to take Pineiro's spot in the rotation.
2009 Regular Season Record: 91-71
Re-signing Matt Holliday was the key event of the Cardinals' offseason.
Rank: First in the NL Central - Swept in NLDS by Dodgers
Home Park: Busch Stadium
2B Felipe Lopez (Free Agent from Milwaukee)
SP Brad Penny (Free Agent from San Francisco)
SP Rich Hill (Free Agent from Baltimore)
Leaving St. Louis:
SP Joel Pineiro (Free agent, signed with Angels)
SP Todd Wellemeyer (Free agent, signed with Giants)
RP Brad Thompson (Free agent, signed with Royals)
CF Rick Ankiel (Free agent, signed with Royals)
2B Joe Thurston (Free agent, signed with Braves)
3B Mark DeRosa (Free agent, signed with Giants)
3B Troy Glaus (Free agent, signed with Braves)
SS Khalil Greene (Free agent, signed with Rangers, released)
C Rusty LaRue (One-year-contract)
LF Matt Holliday (Seven-year-contract)
RF Ryan Ludwick (One-year-contract, avoided arbitration)
2B Skip Schumaker (Two-year-contract, avoided arbitration)
Strengths: Top of the rotation, heart of the order
St. Louis had two Cy Young award candidates last season in Wainwright and Carpenter and they again give the Cardinals what might be the best 1-2 punch in the National League (if only the Phillies had kept Lee...). However, both come with red flags. Carpenter threw 197.2 innings after standing on the mound for a combined 21.1 innings the two years before and you never know if he might go down again. Likewise, Wainwright increased his innings by more than 100 and it remains to be seen how his arm will hold up. However, if both make 55 starts among them, the Cards should be fine.
The Cardinals offense should be improved compared to last year, if only for having Holliday around the whole season. Pujols, Holliday and Ludwick should put some good numbers on the scoreboard, but the rest of the team would need to do a better job getting on base for the Cardinals to be an elite offensive team.
Weaknesses: Bullpen, Back end of the rotation
The Cards bring back most of their bullpen, which was fourth in the NL with a 3.67 ERA. So this should be good news at first sight. But, in fact, the Cardinals relievers were incredibly lucky. Closer Ryan Franklin serves as a prime example. He struck out 44 batters in 61 innings, which is only so-so, especially for a closer. He only walked 24, again ok. However, all season long, he stranded 85.7% of his base-runners and allowed just 2 home runs. Two! All that led to a 1.92 ERA and 38 saves in 43 tries. Another run like this is of course highly unlikely -- an ERA in the high threes is much more likely. Unfortunately, Franklin's colleagues in the pen all had similar seasons and should see similar regressions in 2010.
The back end of the rotation currently consists of Brad Penny, who pitched awful in Boston and very well in San Francisco, Kyle Lohse, who had a 4.74 ERA in only 117.2 innings, Rich Hill, who tries to come back from torn labrum in his left shoulder, or rookie Jaime Garcia, who pitched less than 40 innings in the minors last year. This could very well work out fine, but it can also become a disaster if either Carpenter or Wainwright go down and those guys above have to raise up a slot.
Magician Pitching coach Dave Duncan should have an interesting season.
2B Skip Schumaker
CF Colby Rasmus
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Ryan Ludwick
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese
SS Brendan Ryan
One Some Questions which Needs Answering:
The biggest issues in St. Louis are off-field. Will GM John Mozeliak sign superstar Albert Pujols to a new contract that will keep the first baseman in St. Louis until 2020? Or is he content to exercise the club option for 2011 and try to figure out a new deal later? Pujols has been quoted to be "sick and tired of everyone talking and writing about [his] contract," so it should be a good idea to solve this distraction before the season starts. Beyond that, will Tony LaRussa, currently on a one-year contract, return for a 16th season and probably beyond? How will Mark McGwire fare in his return to baseball as the Cards hitting coach?
On the field, the biggest question for the Cards is health. Chris Carpenter has a history of serious injuries and Albert Pujols has played injured for long stretches (not that anyone would have noticed). If both stay on the field for most of the season, the Cardinals should be fine.
Assuming that the big four (Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright) stay healthy, the Cardinals should run away with the NL Central. All of the teams in the division have issues, but only the Cardinals have more star power at the top and in Dave Duncan a pitching coach who coax out some good innings out of everyone with a fastball and a pulse. Eighty-nine wins should clinch another trip to the play-offs.