01/30/2003 1:43 pm ET
Cardinals Spring Training rundown
Club has few question marks heading into the season
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
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Roger Dean Stadium
97-65, first in NL Central
2002 Hitting LeadersSB: Edgar Renteria, 22
(min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Albert Pujols, .314
OBP: Jim Edmonds, .420
SLG: Tie, Pujols and Edmonds, .561
Runs: Pujols, 118
RBIs: Pujols, 127
Hits: Pujols, 185
2B: Pujols, 40
3B: Fernando Viña, 5
HR: Pujols, 34
2002 Pitching Leaders
(min. 30 IP)
IP: Matt Morris, 210 1/3
W: Morris, 17
L: Morris, 9
Win %: Woody Williams, 9-4, .692
S: Jason Isringhausen, 32
ERA: Mike Crudale, 1.88
K: Morris, 171
K/9: Isringhausen, 9.37
WHIP: Isringhausen, 0.98
Projected Starting Lineup
2B Fernando Viña
RF Eli Marrero
CF Jim Edmonds
LF Albert Pujols
3B Scott Rolen
1B Tino Martinez
SS Edgar Renteria
C Mike Matheny
1. Matt Morris
2. Woody Williams
3. Brett Tomko
4. Jason Simontacchi
5. Garrett Stephenson, Cal Eldred or Dustin Hermanson
LH setup man: Steve Kline, Jeff Fassero
RH setup man: Al Levine
Closer: Jason Isringhausen
Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be
1. How ready and healthy is Jason Isringhausen?
All the reports are that Izzy is progressing swimmingly, but the team won't know a thing until he starts facing live hitters in late February. The closer's surgery was believed to be relatively minor. However, he will be handled gingerly in the early going. It's possible that he will not pitch on back-to-back days until a month or more into the regular season.
2. What is J.D. Drew's status?
Drew is also reportedly coming along rapidly, but he will be a dicier proposition early in the season. There's an outside chance that Drew could start the season on the disabled list, but more likely is that he will be a part-time player early in the season. He will probably be limited to pinch-hitting duties for much of April, followed by some starts in May and a return to full-time work in June. Six weeks of spring work will be telling.
3. Who will step forward to take the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation?
This, is the question. Three spots are secure, with Matt Morris, Woody Williams and the newly acquired Brett Tomko needing only not to implode. But the last two jobs are up for grabs between Jason Simontacchi, Garrett Stephenson and new signees Cal Eldred and Dustin Hermanson. The team knows what Simontacchi has done, but they want to see him do it again. Still, as last year's second-leading winner, he should have an inside track. Stephenson hasn't been fully healthy since 2000, so that's a real question. GM Walt Jocketty seems downright giddy about Eldred's prospects -- he's the sleeper to watch. And Hermanson seems likely to end up in the bullpen.
4. How will the revamped bullpen shake out?
The Cardinals are trying a different strategy from last year's successful high-dollar attack. Gone are Dave Veres and Mike Timlin, as well Mike Matthews, Luther Hackman and midseason acquisition Rick White. Instead, they're trying a bullpen-on-the-cheap, with the multimillion-dollar exception of Jason Isringhausen. Al Levine is a nice risk, a good pitcher coming off a subpar year. Likewise, Joey Hamilton's overall numbers weren't so good, but the Cardinals are excited by what they saw of him when he pitched in relief. And there's always the question of Rick Ankiel, who will be given a chance to win a spot. It will be difficult to evaluate all the candidates -- including the two starters who don't win starting jobs.
5. Is the bench strong enough?
Probably not, but it doesn't look like this will change much. There is a dearth of left-handed pop, at least after the season's first month. Drew will provide a menacing bench presence in March and April. Eduardo Perez is back for power from the right side, and Miguel Cairo and Kerry Robinson can put the ball in play. But one more masher off the bench would make this a more threatening team. Maybe someone will emerge, but it doesn't look likely.
New Faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
RHP Chris Carpenter -- Once expected to become the Blue Jays' No. 1 starter, the right-hander is now a reclamation project. But at just 27 years old, and only two years removed from a 215-inning, 4.09 ERA season. He's a reclamation project with a high ceiling. Carpenter probably won't be available until midseason, but he should contribute in the second half of 2003 and throughout 2004.
RHP Cal Eldred -- The Cardinals are bubbling with optimism about Eldred, who hasn't made as many as 25 starts in a season since 1997. His last 100-inning campaign was 2000. But GM Walt Jocketty believes that Eldred's injured elbow is fully healed, and the 35-year-old right-hander will get a chance to crack the St. Louis rotation. He's a bit of a long shot, but he could be one of the surprises of 2003.
C Joe Girardi -- Adding Girardi to the roster will make it almost like having two Mike Mathenys. Like Matheny, Girardi is considered a quality defensive catcher and is someone pitchers like to work with. Like Matheny, Girardi is not considered a major threat with the bat. And like Matheny, Girardi
is acclaimed as one of the truly good clubhouse guys in baseball. His class and grace on the day the Cardinals lost Darryl Kile were not lost on anyone in the St. Louis organization.
RHP Joey Hamilton -- Hamilton counts as another calculated risk on the Cardinals pitching staff. His numbers weren't anything special in 2002, and it's been five years since his peak with the Padres. But the team's scouts liked what they saw of Hamilton in relief in '02, and they feel he can be a significant contributor out of the bullpen. He could get some starts in a pinch, but as it stands now, he is ticketed for relief work.
RHP Dustin Hermanson -- Welcome back. It seems like just last year that St. Louis dealt Hermanson to Boston. Oh, right. It was just last year that the Red Sox gave up Luis Garcia (since shipped to Cleveland for Chuck Finley), Rick Asadoorian and Dustin Brisson to get Hermanson. Unfortunately, '02 was a lost year for the right-hander. Hermanson will get a shot at the rotation, but considering how few innings he pitched last year, it may be a stretch to ask him to do more than relieve in '03.
RHP Al Levine -- It was an off year for Levine in 2002, but for the previous three years he had been one of the American League's best relievers, durable and effective. The Cardinals are banking on a return to form, as he becomes almost by default their No. 1 right-handed setup man. He is especially adept at stranding inherited runners. Levine is expected to become the primary replacement for Dave Veres in the bullpen.
RHP Brett Tomko -- The good news was that the Cardinals got a talented right-hander in trade, one who topped 200 innings in 2002. The even better award is that they didn't have to give up Fernando Viña, or any other position player, to get him. The team is banking on pitching coach Dave Duncan and a first-rate infield defense to take Tomko from an effective innings-eater to a frontline starter. It could happen.
C Steve Torrealba -- Signed before Girardi was in the fold, Torrealba got a Major League deal. However, it seems he's on his way to being the starting catcher for the Memphis Redbirds.
RHP Andy Benes -- In May, it seemed that Benes was already long gone. Then he turned in a remarkable second half that helped carry the Redbirds to a division title. Now he really is gone, deciding to retire while he was on top. He will be missed, but then again it was a long shot to think he could duplicate his '02 performance for another season.
C Mike DiFelice -- The defense-oriented DiFelice was a nice fit for what the Carindals needed, but he ended up costing more than the team wanted to pay. His playing time dwindled drastically in the second half, then he was allowed to walk as a free agent.
LHP Chuck Finley -- To put Finley in this category may be a little premature. The left-hander could still join St. Louis, though it can't happen before May 1. He is sorting out issues related to his divorce and custody of his children. Depending on how that develops, he may not be on a baseball field when pitchers and catchers report.
RHP Luther Hackman -- Hackman filled a variety of roles in '02, and performed admirably in a few starts when the rotation was decimated by injuries. But given the opportunity to pick up a high-ceiling, 200-inning starter in Tomko, the team could not pass. Hackman was dealt to San Diego.
RHP Dave Veres -- Veres had one brutal stretch shortly after the All-Star break, but overall he was a central part of an excellent bullpen. However, he and the team could not come to an agreement on financial terms, so he was not offered arbitration. He made the short trip up I-55 and will pitch for the Cubs in '03.
RHP Rick White -- If not for Jason Simontacchi, White would likely be the surprise of the year for St. Louis. Signed to a minor-league deal after the Rockies released him, White was invaluable down the stretch. Once again, though, team and player couldn't see eye-to-eye on money, so White will be part of a revamped White Sox bullpen.
RHP Jamey Wright -- That was a fairly stiff price to pay for 15 innings of a 4.80 ERA. The Cards gave up Mike Matthews and prospect Chris Morris in order to get Wright, then couldn't sign him. He has made his way to the great Northwest, hoping that Seattle's SAFECO Field and pitching coach Bryan Price can turn him into the frontline starter that some think he can be.
Returning from Injury
LHP Rick Ankiel -- The superbly talented Ankiel remains one of baseball's enigmas. He missed all of 2002 with elbow problems, but he has been working out in Jupiter since fall. He began throwing off a mound in December. He should compete for a bullpen slot, but no one knows exactly what will happen with the 23-year-old lefty.
RF J.D. Drew -- Drew battled patellar tendinitis in his right knee throughout the second half, and it clearly affected his play. He had surgery on the knee, and it revealed a significant amount of damage. He says he feels great, but he will be brought along slowly. Look for a big second half, but a very limited first half.
RHP Jason Isringhausen -- Izzy had a shoulder operation much like the one the late Darryl Kile underwent after the 2001 season. Kile was about three weeks behind in Spring Training, so that may be a fair guess for Isringhausen. Relieving is a different animal, of course, so Isringhausen may not be as limited early in the year as Kile was. He will still be handled gently.
C Mike Matheny -- Matheny underwent relatively minor shoulder surgery in the offseason, but should be fully recovered in time for the year to start.
3B Scott Rolen -- Rolen's unpleasant and painful shoulder injury in the Division Series did not require surgery, a good sign in itself. He is expected to be fully healed by the beginning of Spring Training and should feel no after-effects of the injury.
New Kids on the Block: Prospects to watch
RHP Jimmy Journell -- The top prospect in the system will likely start the season in Triple-A, but with a big spring he could crack the big club. Journell throws hard and has a bright future. However, he was hindered by injuries in 2002, setting his timetable back a bit. He has almost no chance to make the rotation this year, but he might find himself in a bullpen role if all goes right.
On the Rebound
1B Tino Martinez -- Martinez's introduction to the National League was rocky to say the least. He got off to a very tough start and never got into the kind of groove that he and Cardinals fans expected. This will be a telling season for the 35-year-old with the four World Series rings.
RHP Garrett Stephenson -- Stephenson ran a bizarre gauntlet of injuries in 2002, then when he finally got healthy he had to pitch out of the bullpen. It wasn't a terrible year for the quotable right-hander, but 45 innings were not exactly what he was hoping for. Stephenson fully expects to have a big season and return to being a quality Major League starter.
2B Fernando Viña -- Viña himself would probably take exception to being included in this category, but his offensive numbers dipped noticeably in 2002. His batting average, on-base and slugging all fell quite a bit, though he did earn his second straight Gold Glove. A return to 2000-2001 form for the Cardinals' leadoff hitter would make for an even more potent offense.
The Bottom Line
Once again, the Cardinals go into spring with more settled positions than question marks. The bullpen is a bit muddled, but there are enough arms that a quality unit should emerge. One of the primary jobs for manager Tony La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan and general manager Walt Jocketty will be to get plenty of looks at all the candidates. The same goes for the starting rotation, where four pitchers are vying for two spots. As for the offense, there are almost no unsettled spots, except perhaps the back of the bench.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at
Matthew_H_Leach@yahoo.com. This story was not subject to the approval of
Major League Baseball or its clubs.