Departures won't hinder Cardinals
World Series triumph without Wainwright proof of club's resolve
JUPITER, Fla. -- As it turns out, the St. Louis Cardinals have not been disbanded after all, and don't you just love Spring Training surprises?
General manager John Mozeliak paused on his drive to the ballpark on Monday morning to note something odd in the eastern sky.
"The sun was coming up," Mozeliak said.
He'd had doubts after being peppered with a certain line of questions during Sunday's fist day of Spring Training.
"I felt like everyone was asking, 'How are you guys going to go on?'" Mozeliak said.
The truth is, they'll go on, but thanks for asking. In fact, the Cardinals still appear to be one of baseball's best teams even though manager Tony La Russa and first baseman Albert Pujols are no longer around.
In the end, good organizations endure, and the Cardinals are still one of baseball's best, beginning at the top of the masthead with owner Bill DeWitt Jr.
Besides, change is inevitable. Just three Cardinals -- Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter and Skip Schumaker -- played in the World Series in both 2006 and '11. Someday soon, the Cardinals will be built around David Freese and Allen Craig, Shelby Miller and Jon Jay.
For now, there's a nice blend of youth and experience. There's just the small matter of playing the games, of seeing how the injuries and slumps and luck unfold over the next nine months.
"We'll see what happens," Chris Carpenter said. "You've still got to play 'em."
It was about this time last spring that Adam Wainwright was lost for the 2011 season with a right elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery. Some reporters -- and you know who you are -- wrote the Cardinals off then and there.
"We allowed ourselves a 24-hour pity party," Mozeliak said.
The Cardinals eventually won their 11th World Series, but only after a season too bizarre to be explained. One day, it was their bullpen imploding. Another day, it was a shaky defense.
They came from 10 games behind the Braves on Aug. 27 to clinch the National League's Wild Card berth on the final day of the regular season. After that came one of the great World Series ever played.
"I don't think it has sunk in yet," Mozeliak said.
There's no reason they can't win again, because they've got Carpenter and Wainwright atop a terrific rotation and Jason Motte at the back of a deep and talented bullpen.
Carlos Beltran was signed to replace Pujols in the lineup, and if young players like Freese and Jay continue to get better, if Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman stay healthy, the Cardinals could be as good as anyone.
"We look around and still have a good pitching staff, a great lineup and a good bullpen," Jake Westbrook said. "We're a lot of the same guys who came together last year and had good chemistry. It's up to us to get rolling again."
But it's impossible to know how the intangible stuff will play out. La Russa and Pujols were the franchise's cornerstones, in the middle of almost everything that went down.
How much were Berkman, Freese, et al, helped by Pujols? Good lineups feed off one another, and the Cardinals no longer have baseball's best offensive player in the middle of theirs.
Likewise, new manager Mike Matheny became one of baseball's most respected men during a 13-year playing career. All he's being asked to do is replace one of the great managers -- and large personalities -- in the history of the game.
The interesting part is how the group dynamics will be impacted. So much attention has been devoted to what the Cardinals don't have that it has been easy to overlook what they do have.
Every professional athlete has a certain amount of pride and ego. To have so much of the focus on La Russa and Pujols has made the 2012 season a challenge for every member of the organization.
"I see a lot of chips on shoulders that I didn't think I'd see, and that's a beautiful thing," Matheny said. "I think you can see it in the way they go about their business -- how many guys showed up extra early to be here. You don't have any feeling that anybody's complacent.
"These guys realize two things. One is they had a lot to do with the success of this organization. Two, you look around here -- it's a pretty talented group of people. To start discounting what they're going to be able to, I think that's what the chip is all about."
As Mozeliak put it: "I get a sense that this group wants to prove it was more than just one person."
There's less of a global view from a clubhouse as players worry first about preparing themselves and doing their part.
"Tony and Albert were great, but you have to move on," Molina said. "You've got 24 guys who are the same, the same type of player. We've got a good club. This is the business. You have guys moving on. This is part of the game. We still have a job to do, and that's win the World Series."
Mozeliak added, "They were both winning people, and successful people. That's not easy to say you're going to replicate or bring magic back in. There's new opportunities for other people. These people have a long history with the Cardinals, have a long history in this organization and understand what's expected here. Time will tell on this one."
Matheny seems completely at ease with the new job. Once he finished talking to reporters, he toured the facility chatting up players, supervising drills and doing some version of the stuff he did later in his career.
"It was just baseball," Matheny said, "and I love it."
There's so far to go that it's impossible to draw conclusions about anything other than the Cardinals are good enough to win again. That's the only part that matters anyway.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.