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01/22/10 6:46 PM EST

Inbox: Who's on third at outset of 2010?

Beat reporter Matthew Leach answers fans' questions

Welcome to the latest Cardinals Inbox. As always, if you have a question, use the link below to submit it -- and please be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown. If you send a regular e-mail, rather than using the form, be certain to use the word "mailbag" in the subject header -- otherwise your mail may be directed to the spam folder or possibly be ignored in an unbecoming manner.

Also, please understand that literally hundreds of emails arrive every week, so they can't all be used in the Inbox or receive personal responses.

With some live U2 playing on the stereo and the weekend beckoning, here are the questions. This week's Inbox will be a lightning-round version, something I haven't done in a while. More questions, shorter answers.

Who is going to play third base?
-- Dustan D., Galesburg, Ill.

Right now David Freese is the favorite. However, according to manager Tony La Russa, the club would still like to sign someone to provide competition for Freese. Among the third basemen still on the market are Joe Crede, Felipe Lopez, Russell Branyan and Chad Tracy.

Why not sign Ben Sheets?
-- Aldy G., Staten Island, N.Y.

Money. Sheets, according to what I have heard, is seeking money commensurate with what pitchers like Brad Penny and Rich Harden have received this winter -- more than $7 million. The Cardinals aren't going to commit that to one player right now, when they only have about that much to spend total and several holes still to fill.

What is the latest on Rick Ankiel?
-- Anthony G., no hometown given

Ankiel agreed to a one-year deal with the Royals with a mutual option for 2011.

Nobody has signed Joel Pineiro yet and the Cards are looking for a starter. Why don't they re-sign him?
-- Zach M., Atlanta

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Obviously Zach sent this before Pineiro agreed to a deal with the Angels, but it's still a fair question. And it's one with a pretty simple answer. Pineiro signed a two-year deal, and early in the process the reports were that he was looking for three years. With Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright signed through 2011 plus options, and Kyle Lohse signed through 2012, the Cardinals do not want to commit multiple years to another starter. So they signed Brad Penny to a one-year deal and continue to look at other options for another starter on a one-year term.

I am so ready for the season to start. I was wondering if you could give me the dates of when pitchers/catchers report, and when the full squad reports?
-- Joshua D., Fort Wayne, Ind.

Pitchers and catchers will report to Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 17 and begin workouts on Thursday, Feb. 18. The full-squad report day is Feb. 22, with full-squad workouts starting on Feb. 23.

How do Albert Pujols' stats compare to Stan Musial's after Musial's first nine full seasons?
-- Gary V., Sun Lakes, Ariz.

It's very close, actually.

Pujols through nine years: 1,399 games, 6,082 at-bats, .334 average, .427 on-base percentage, .628 slugging percentage, 366 home runs, 1,112 RBIs, 1,071 runs, 1,717 hits and 387 doubles.

Musial through nine-plus years: 1,370 games, 5,266 at-bats, .347 average, .431 on-base percentage, .584 slugging percentage, 206 home runs, 923 RBIs, 1,044 runs, 373 doubles.

What's really striking is that their OPS+ is identical. OPS+ is a measure of a player's OPS relative to the league average, adjusting for his home ballpark. For both players it's 172, or 72 percent better than average.

With the lineup mostly set, I have questions about the batting order. What are the chances of the pitcher batting eighth this year with Brendan Ryan batting ninth? I would love to see Ryan Ludwick batting second and Colby Rasmus batting fifth to split up the lefties, is that a possibility?
-- Jesse O., Decatur, Ill.

As to your first question: the chances are virtually nil. La Russa pretty much never bats the pitcher eighth when it looks like the lineup is pretty stout. Ludwick in the two spot is a possibility, though, for the reason you mention -- splitting up the left-handers. Another distinct possibility is Ryan hitting second, Ludwick fifth and Rasmus sixth.

I know Matt Holliday has great numbers over his career hitting in St. Louis. But I am curious for obvious reasons what his numbers are at good ol' Wrigley. So how well does Mr. Holliday mash when he's at the north Chicago park?
-- Jake G., Des Moines

You're not going to like this much, Jake. The sample size is very, very small, but the numbers aren't good. In 13 games at Wrigley, 48 at-bats, Holliday has hit .229 with a .339 on-base percentage and a .313 slugging percentage. He has one homer at Wrigley. Still, one good series makes those numbers look totally different, so don't despair.

Why Freese over Allen Craig? Freese did show promise, but had setbacks as well. Craig has a tremendous upside and has been patient in honing his skills. It should be open to those two in Spring Training. We also should give Pete Kozma a shot at making the roster -- another Derek Jeter. What are your thoughts?
-- Carl W., Springfield, Mo.

Freese has held the advantage thus far largely because of defense. The club moved Craig to the outfield for just that reason last year. However, Craig has been working at third base this winter and may well compete in Spring Training.

As for Kozma, let's not get ahead of ourselves. He hit .216 with a .288 OBP and .312 slugging pct. at Double-A last year. He needs to master Springfield before it's time to bring him to St. Louis.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.