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Projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2012

Note to readers: I wrote this post prior to year-end, obviously long before Thursday evening’s news that Dave Duncan is taking an indefinite leave of absence as Cardinals pitching coach. Rather than update this article, I decided to leave it in its original form. After all, the Duncan news is clearly a 2012 story.

This announcement has the potential of impacting several top stories beyond just number five. Depending on how and in what manner the team decides to replace Duncan, a Derek Lilliquist move would affect the bullpen, story number four, and potentially Mike Matheny’s first year as well (honorable mention).

First, we looked at the top 20 stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals this past year. Not surprisingly, the list was dominated by the late- and post-season success of the club, along with the departures of the team’s manager and best player. Quite a lot to consume!

Now it is time for me to make my annual predictions for the top story lines of this New Year, as well.

Right up front, I will set aside the easiest and most logical entry – the results of the 2012 team on the field. The nature of that story has yet to be determined, shaped by the items discussed here and many more plot lines not yet developed.

As I compiled my list and rankings, I considered the staying power of the story, how long it might remain in the headlines as well as its potential short- and long-term impact – on the 2012 Cardinals and the organization’s future.

Without further ado, here are my projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2012. As always, your comments are welcome below.

1. Wainwright’s comeback

As most everyone knows, last spring, the Cardinals’ co-ace required season-ending Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. Adam Wainwright is now working his way back and is said to be ahead of schedule – assumed by many to be poised to pick up right where he left off in 2010.

The bar is high as his most recent season included a career-best 20 wins and a second-place showing in the National League Cy Young Award voting. It remains to be seen how quickly the 30-year-old can live up to those lofty expectations, but it could be a major swing point for the 2012 Cardinals season.

The Cardinals have an interesting challenge with Wainwright’s contract situation. While his 2012 and 2013 options have been picked up, the time may be right to try to secure a new long-term deal – from a buy-low perspective. The price should only go up once Wainwright returns to his past dominance. Yet that is the very reason I question why the pitcher would consider negotiating a new contract now. He should be in the absolute prime of his career and can likely only expect more money later on.

2. Molina’s contract

Just as his friend and former teammate Albert Pujols held all the contract cards in his negotiations with the Cardinals, so does catcher Yadier Molina. The 29-year-old is entering the final year of his contract signed prior to the 2008 season and could decide to test free agency for the first time. As such, his situation is more pressing than Wainwright’s.

Coming off his best season offensively in 2011 and already considered the top defensive catcher in the game, Molina is positioned perfectly to score a big payday – if that is what the elite backstop desires.

Watching to see how closely Molina’s situation parallels Pujols’ and of course, what the end result will be, should be one of the most-talked about storylines of 2012.

3. Killer B’s reunion (sort of)

Put aside the fact that Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are long gone from the game. The Cardinals have re-assembled the two remaining active members of the Houston Astros’ ‘Killer B’s’ from last decade.

Both Carlos Beltran, signed by the Cardinals to a two-year deal as a free agent in December, and Lance Berkman, back for a second year with St. Louis in 2012, are mid-30’s players with checkered health histories.

Likely to bat second and third in Mike Matheny’s lineup, the late-career productivity of the two should be a prime determiner of how far this season’s Cardinals will go.

Looking ahead 12 months, the player most affected by the second year of Beltran’s contract may be his old-new teammate Berkman. If Allen Craig continues to improve, Berkman may find himself pushed out of a job in 2013, as Matt Holliday carries a long-term contract. But, first things first.

4. Young bullpen

Even if veteran left-hander J.C. Romero makes the 2012 Cardinals’ opening day bullpen, the relief corps will be among the youngest, if not the youngest, in MLB. Barring any signings or trades between now and then, the other six members will all be under 30 years old. The pen should consist of some combination of Eduardo Sanchez (22), Lance Lynn (24), Marc Rzepczynski (25), Fernando Salas (26), Mitchell Boggs (27), Kyle McClellan (27) and Jason Motte (29).

Motte seems to have a hold on the closer’s job, but four of the others also picked up saves last season. The ability of this very young (and low-cost) bullpen to deliver consistent results may be a big story in this upcoming season.

5. Duncan’s future

Speaking of ensuring those relatively inexperienced pitchers contribute at the level expected, the man most responsible from a guidance perspective is the subject of my next top story prediction.

In my opinion, the key transitional figure between the La Russa and Matheny coaching administrations isn’t Jose Oquendo or Mark McGwire. It has to be pitching coach Dave Duncan. While the 66-year-old is under contract for 2012 and has a 2013 option, some combination of his wife’s poor health and the considerable changes occurring around him on the job could create unstable conditions regarding his future outlook.

Honorable mention: Matheny’s maiden voyage

In reality, the fortune of the new manager will most likely be intertwined with the on-field results of his club, a topic assumed to be among the top stories of the year by default.

Still, there is potential for newsworthiness in how Matheny personally deals with the inevitable ups and downs during his first year in a most pressure-filled job. Replacing a future Hall-of-Famer and leading the defending champion without baseball’s best player present formidable challenges to the new skipper.

Hopefully, his team will be the story, not him.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of 2011 countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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45 Responses to “Projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2012”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Happily, we pay Mo to worry about deciding who to give big bucks.
    This past winter, Mo was wooing Albert, until Arte swooped in to express his love with $254MM. Moving on, Mo outbid other teams for Furcal and Beltran at about $2OMM/yr. It must take a lot of composure for Mo to engage in such high stakes shennanigans.
    Next winter, Mo can work on re-signing Yadier or obtaining a successor. All will be revealed in time.

  2. T8Ball says:

    Matheny’s maiden voyage just got a bit tougher. I do wonder if Duncan’s indefinite LOA will eventually turn into phone calls, both to and from Matheny. A big shoulder to lean on isn’t going to be there for Mike. Though, Lilliquist (spell check) preformed decently late last summer.

    Duncan has to take care of his family first and foremost, but I wonder if he’ll be able to keep completely away? Too soon to tell, of course, and please no one fault me for me insensitive to the Duncan family. Just a question that crossed my mind, and I put it to words on a blog.

    Should be an interesting voyage for the young, new Skipper.

  3. T8Ball says:

    I’m really thankful for guys like Skip, Lance, and Matt. Guys who can positively stir the clubhouse. Include Waino in that from what I’ve seen (from the TV, not in person of course). I would think Matheny would lean heavily on those guys this season. And I guess don’t forget Carp. Whether you like his antics or not, he’s pretty intense and seems to get the best out of the guys when he’s on the mound. Awful sharp, too, when it comes to pitching advice, or so I’ve read a few times.

  4. T8Ball says:

    Waino’s comeback ~ I’m assuming there will be some sort of innings cap on him. If so, he’ll see more ND’s than normal. I’ve seen on other sites people assuming he’ll be a 20 game winner right off the bat. I can’t see that happening after TJ surgery. 180-190 innings, 13-14 wins. 6-7 losses. WHIP 1.22, I can’t see him walking a bunch, nor giving up a ton of hits. K/9, I really don’t know. I heard his fastball is sinking more and more, so he may go for pitch to contact more than before.

    I think his 2013 season barring a monster 2012 setback will be huge, more pre-TJ surgery like.

    • blingboy says:

      Managing Wainy’s comeback is a place where Dunc and TLR’s experience would be invaluable.

      I’m sure the Cards have ample organizational competence in that area. It’s the fine points where we may be lacking a bit.

  5. friendmouse says:

    I wonder about Yadi. I really do. He has obviously been Albert’s confident and “little buddy” for the past several years…living in Albert’s substantial shadow, so to speak. Now forced to stand in the full light of day (Shadow-maker removed), will he reflect the sun and shine even brighter, or will he get sun-burnt? [sic] Obviously, time will tell; but (as some might say) now is “tell-time.” We’ll see the compunction of Yadi, without the overwhelming Albert and the doting manager’s influences. Molina, by some measures, was our best hitter in 2012. Yet he didn’t get the headlines and fan-credit one might expect from that accomplishment. Can he repeat his “greatness” in 2012? He has the added motivation (as if he needs such motivation) of working for a “huger” paycheck what with free agency looming. How will he respond to such new and considerable challenges? Yes, I do wonder.

  6. birdbats says:

    My projected top-five stories:

    1. Molina leaves Cards to join Pujols in Anaheim
    2. Age, injuries catch up to Cards; vets unloaded at trade deadline
    3. Wainwright makes Cy-worthy comeback
    4. Shelby Miller debuts, shines in September
    5. La Russa, Duncan reunite to helm NL All-Star squad

    I sincerely hope I’m wrong about the first two.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Interesting. So you think Wainwright will excel, but the team will be out of contention by July and Molina walks after the season. Poor Jumbo may go into cardiac arrest… 😉

      I think #4 and #5 are possible but don’t see them among the top five stories, though #4 is on my draft list of “out there” predictions that blingboy has encouraged me to write. Maybe it is not out there enough…

      This will be interesting to read again 12 months from now. Thanks for going on the record.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        I am not going to panic if Yadi leaves. I am very pro-player. If a man wants to move along, after he has earned his manumission, I am sympathetic and wish him well.
        Yadier is an adult. He gets to choose what he wants to do. He has labored hard for the Cards for years, at a tough job. He has earned a right to decide whats next.

        I am generally not sympathetic when its a bonus crybaby who wants to get traded. Then I am would like to give the kid an one-way airline ticket.

    • blingboy says:

      If the Cards anticipate #1, and if circumstances cause them to impliment #2, then might they move Yadi to a contender, too?

      • birdbats says:

        Yeah, I think Wainwright will pitch well as many pitchers do after TJ, though his W-L record may or may not reflect his performance. I’m concerned that Carp and Westbrook will show their age. And while I like Garcia’s talent, he seems to have a Zambrano-in-waiting thing going for him… seems like he gets angry easily and it affects his pitching. Entirely possible Waino could be Cy-worthy for a team that struggles when he doesn’t pitch. As for Yadi, I fear he and Albert will want to be together again… and Anaheim has the money and the need. I’d bet Yadi and Pujols already have had that conversation. I’m hoping for the best, but fear the worst.

  7. friendmouse says:

    It seems my spectacles have an indelible rosy hue, but no complaints. Here’s my predictions on 2012’s top Cardinals’ stories:

    1) REPEAT! Cardinals do it again…#12 in ’12!
    2) Wainwright’s ascent continues…wins first Cy Young!
    3) The Killer B’s (with Freese) show their stingers are still intact.
    4) Matheny more than expected…wins Manager of the Year.
    5) Domination…aka “Cardinal Nation.” Best team; best record; best manager; best pitcher; best fans. St. Louis widely regarded as “Baseball Heaven.” (epilogue: Albert wants to come back home.)

  8. crdswmn says:

    As much as I would love for Waino to win the Cy Young in 2012, I think that is very unrealistic coming off of TJ surgery, even for Waino.

    I’m cautiously optimistic about re-signing Molina. Two things that will be helpful are 1) Matheny as manager; and 2) Signing Beltran, who is a fellow Puerto Rican and possible Pujols replacement mentor. Those two things would not ensure a deal, but they can’t hurt. I’m not sure the Angels will be a bidder for Yadi. For one they just traded for Chris Ianetta, who is signed through 2013 (though 2013 is a club option, Ianetta can void it if traded before the 2013 season). There is also the possibility that the Rangers may not extend Napoli, which would make him a FA after 2012; would the Angels be interested in getting him back? None of this would matter if the Angels really wanted Yadi, but I don’t think it is the given that some people seem to think it is.

    Personally, I would prefer not to see Shelby Miller before 2013. I think he needs another full year in the minors.

    Duncan is where he needs to be. All of our pitchers know what Duncan has taught them. Lilliquist or whoever replaces Duncan will just need to reinforce it.

    • blingboy says:

      If Albert wants Yadi, the Angels want Yadi. They will find that out soon enough if they don’t know it already.

      For a starter with stuff, time at high level minor league assignments always focusses on command and confidence in secondary pitches. After that he’s just putting mileage on his arm.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      It would seem wise for fans to be cautious about assumptions based on culture or ethnicity.

      Rafael Furcal re-signed with the Cards, not to stay with his Dominican buddy, but ironically because Albert left and there was more budget. Rafael is all about the money.

      Carlos Beltran openly admitted in the press that he wanted to go to Toronto as a personal preference, however Mo was offering better dough, so Carlos had to take the better money.

      It may not be all about the money all the time for every player. Maybe.

      However, free agent vets do NOT seem not hugely swayed by having a team-mate who is Latin. Instead, based on anecdotal evidence, Latins, like other folks, seem able to recognize larger paychecks. No surprise.

      • crdswmn says:

        Uh Jumbo, it would seem wise for you not to throw stones at others for making assumptions. Pot calling kettle black and all. (Oh wait, you don’t make assumptions, you make guesses and call them facts. My bad).

        I was actually repeating some musings from some sports media types about the Beltran/Molina connection. I try to avoid just making stuff up.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Uh, you were “repeating some musings from sports media types.” If their insights inspire confidence among followers, the sports media types will be pleased.
          If a tree falls in the forest, does its crash really make a sound, unless there is a sports media type within earshot who can report this sound to followers?

  9. blingboy says:

    1. Matheny embraces pitcher-hit-eighth
    2. Yadi puts on hit-n-mosey
    3. Carp talks to self in tunnel
    4. Cox called up, brings dad
    5. Mo jumps out window

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Its fine if families follow players to St Louis or post here. In most cases, baseball families are not going to openly express misgivings about their son’s employer or hope for trades. This may not be bad and it may be honest in intention, but it can also get a little confusing.

      Ryan Ludwicks older brother, Eric, used to post at the Birdhouse, for instance. Seemed like a fantastic guy. Plenty of minor league families used to post at the Birdhouse; had lots of great thoughts to offer.

  10. CardinalFan4Ever says:

    1. Wainwright returns as if he was never gone
    2. 4 Cardinals headline 2012 All-Star team (Berkman, Beltran, Molina,Wainwright)
    3. Molina decides to test free agency
    4. Millermania erupts mid-season (Shelby Miller called up from minors)
    5. Pujols failed to find groove with the Halo’s (semi-Cardinal related).

  11. T8Ball says:

    1. Oquendo shows up to winter warmup with Mo’s scarf, and Mo with Oquendo’s Fedora.
    2. Dee Dee is the new bench coach for the Halos, later to take over as Pitching Coach. Only going to the mound when God tells her. Aretha Franklin belts a reprisal of “Respect” for her walk out music.
    3. TLR asks Ozzie to be his honorary 1B coach for the ASG, but won’t let him into the clubhouse before the game.
    4. Cards FO gets creative (even more than before) with ticket pricing barely pushing us over 3 million mark for attendance. Several Rally Squirrel bobble head doll nights go over rather well, while Free Torty Soup night fails to catch on.
    6. Skip Schumaker is selected by TLR to the ASG as a pitcher and bats him 8th.

    • T8Ball says:

      apparently, I can’t type nor count…….5., not 6.

      Actually, I had 6, but erased number 5.

      Here it is:

      5) Tony Rasmus is hired mid season as an assistant with the Cards. Inadvertently, he’s given #10, or maybe not inadvertently. 😉

  12. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    Tony and Dave…………….team up by mid season………………. somewhere…………… This story is progressing too fast………………… for either side………..thats a tell…….. BD isn’t going to pay DD 2 million+ dollars……….and if he was?????? give that some thought…………. some pony looks to be shaking his saddle off…………

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Tighten that saddle, pard, and hold on tight. (I don’t want my cowboy buddy to fall off and biff his noggin.)

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      Tony and Dave…………….team up by mid season………………. somewhere……………

      Only if you count the all star game, a charity event, or a local watering hole.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Tony and Dave……….Dubya………….deep oil…………the Caymens……………Fox controls the Angels and the Birdhouse………….that’s the tell……………guitars…………………….Higgs Boson………….Maui wowee…………………..Superstring theory………..diffferential equations………..saddle is slipping off hobby horse…………..Yee haw, I’ll gallop around the house some more and pull up at my computer and tell off the Brazilian…………………..Mo is a pawn……….Albert’s swing is horrible…………I could teach Colby how to hit though I never played baseball………saddle sores…………………….Crdswmn is my follower…………..Murdoch…………concertos…………..whats the vegas line?…………….thats the sell…………….BD was never going to pay Duncan…………..the Louvre…………,…….BD is going to release Ludwick…………………..Lugo is a cancer………………….glad we won the World Series though Cruz should have made that catch……….BD is good…………….Tea Party………….Boras…………..

  13. Brian Walton says:

    Wondering if I missed out by not mentioning the possibility of Shelbymania?

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