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03/22/11 12:00 PM ET

Inbox: Who can make or break Cards' year?

Cardinals beat reporter Matthew Leach answers fans' questions

Welcome to the 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 email, 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 mailbag or receive personal responses.

With the iPod on shuffle, let's get on with the questions.

What do you see as being the potential make-or-break performances this year that will sway the season one way or another. For example, Kyle Lohse starts 35 games and posts a 2.50 ERA while going 20-10, only more plausible.
-- Ryan H., St. Louis

Lohse is definitely a leader in the "make-or-break" category for this team, and I'd include most of the starting rotation in that assessment. If Jaime Garcia doesn't regress, if Jake Westbrook is again the pitcher he was in August in September, if Lohse is the pitcher he was in 2008 ... then the Cardinals will be in position to have a good season.

But to be really good, they're going to have to score runs. And so even more critical, even more "make or break," are the two guys in the middle infield. If Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker are both better than they showed in 2010, as the Cardinals believe they will be, this becomes a much deeper offense. If their 2010 struggles (and, in Theriot's case, 2009 to some extent as well) are the beginnings of their declines, that will be a very tough hole to dig out of for the Cardinals.

I was inclined to note about three other hitters, but I really think it's the middle infield that the most rides on. Colby Rasmus, I just simply expect to have an outstanding year. I don't see him as a big variable, performance-wise. I know some people do, and they may be right. But my personal view is that he's going to be good, and that's about that.

And the guys who hit in the No. 5 and 6 spots in the lineup, while big variables, at least have some backup. Lance Berkman is an enormous question mark, but if things go wrong, the Cardinals can turn to Allen Craig. And it's no secret that I'm a big believer in Craig's bat. Likewise, Matt Carpenter has showed enough that if David Freese is injured or ineffective, there's a very intriguing candidate to step in for him.

But if Theriot or Schumaker stumbles, or both, that will be problematic.

What are the odds the Cardinals take a chance on Oliver Perez?
-- Chris H., Rockford, Ill.

According to a front-office official with whom I spoke today, just about zero chance.

I've heard that there is a possibility that they are trying to get out of Adam Wainwright's contract early. Is this something that could happen?
-- Rachel S., St. Louis

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I'd say that whoever told you that misrepresented the situation a little bit.

The Cardinals hold an option on Wainwright for 2012-13. It's worth $9 million next year and $12 million the following year, and they must exercise it or decline it all at once. There is no buyout -- that is to say that as the contract is currently written, either Wainwright gets the $21 million, or he gets nothing from the Cardinals and can become a free agent.

Once Wainwright finished second in the National League Cy Young Award balloting last year, it appeared to guarantee his option. However, the one exception in the contract is that if he finishes 2011 on the disabled list -- which he will -- the club can choose to decline the option, as explained above, with no buyout.

So it is possible that the club could choose to decline the option. That doesn't mean it's going to happen, or even that it's likely. It's very difficult to envision the club simply allowing Wainwright to walk. More likely, the Cards will either pick up the option even after his year off, or attempt to rework the deal with a different structure.

Do you think Jim Edmonds has a future as a coach of some kind?
-- Max C., Springfield Ill.

It's a matter of whether he wants to, I think. Edmonds' knowledge of the game, and of things like outfield positioning, is really exceptional. But he also has a lot of interests outside the game, and I won't be surprised if he doesn't choose to get into the grueling life of coaching.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.