As regular readers know, I annually publish my predictions for the New Year’s top five stories concerning the St. Louis Cardinals. 12 months later, I return for a year-end view, as well.
I put a lot of thought into those selections and take them very seriously. As a result, they end up being solid choices, but conservative in nature, by definition hardly bold. In conjunction, I have been encouraged to take another run at the subject – from a much different perspective.
I would not call the following “predictions” as much as I might label them longer-shot, lower-importance (non-top five), but still interesting potential stories of 2012. I have no idea if none or all seven of the ideas detailed below will actually come to pass, but they each represent ideas that have been bouncing around my head.
Cox passes Adams
Coming off his superb 2011, during which he was named Texas League Player of the Year, Matt Adams is being viewed by some as the heir apparent to Lance Berkman at first base for 2013. While that may happen, I have an alternative thought.
What if Cox continues to hit in Triple-A and Adams slows down? David Freese seems locked at third for St. Louis and Daniel Descalso can cover as a reserve. Matt Carpenter may be a secondary competitor for a bench spot down the line as a third baseman or maybe even a corner outfielder.
So, where would Cox fit in St. Louis? How about a move to first base, where he, not Adams, could become the starter in 2013? An alternate scenario would be for Freese to take his questionable ankles over to first, but I remain skeptical that Cox’ defense at third will be satisfactory at the major league level.
The possibility also exists for either Cox or Adams to be traded, but if the race is close, Cox has a major league contract and a spot already on the 40-man roster. For that reason, under the right conditions, I could see him making his MLB debut ahead of the more-heralded Adams.
Miller forces his way into the bigs in 2012
The identity of the team’s current unofficial sixth starter is unclear. Lance Lynn would perhaps be the most likely candidate, but it appears that he will go to camp with a good shot at holding down a relief spot in St. Louis.
I can envision a scenario in which Miller pitches well in the first half for Memphis and if/when a second-half opening appears in St. Louis’ rotation, the 22-year-old receives the call. Would it be aggressive? Yes. Would I recommend it? Maybe not, but I could see it happening.
In recent years, the Cardinals have typically let young starters acclimate to the majors in a relief role before subjecting them to the pressures of starting. Then again, Miller isn’t a typical pitcher.
Motte becomes team’s oldest reliever
That title seemed more eye-catching and exciting than the original title, “Romero sleeps with the fishes.” The Cardinals’ second bullpen left-hander was with four organizations last summer and couldn’t make the major league roster of two of them.
I don’t have to go too far out on a limb to suggest a Brian Tallet-like year is ahead for the 35-year-old, one in which he is gone no later than mid-season. It could be sooner.
Where I might be reaching a bit more is to suggest the Cards may go with an in-house right-hander to replace Romero. This would depend on a bit of a rebound from Kyle McClellan, especially recovering his past ability to retire left-handed hitters.
As the opening day roster currently looks, there is not enough room for all the experienced relievers. One pitcher from the group of Eduardo Sanchez, Lance Lynn and Mitchell Boggs may have to go back down to Memphis – at least until there is an opening.
None of the non-Romero relievers on the roster have yet reached 30 years of age, but Motte is closest. A Romero departure would make Motte the grand old man of the pen – not counting 65-year-old bullpen coach Dyar Miller, that is.
Speaking of Motte…
Sanchez becomes closer
Anyone who has read my minor league writings over the past few years knows that I have been a big backer of Venezuelan right-hander Eduardo Sanchez. Unlike almost every other reliever who has come up in recent years, the 22-year-old was not shuttled back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis in 2011. When he arrived, he was ready.
Only a shoulder injury kept Sanchez out of the second-half relief picture. He came back to pitch briefly at the end of the season and also threw a few innings in winter ball to ensure he is sound.
Jason Motte did a spectacular job in a set up role last summer before taking over the ninth inning role for the final month of the season and the playoffs. He comes into 2012 camp as the incumbent closer and should leave Florida with the job.
I just have the funny feeling that when Motte’s inevitable bump in the road is encountered, Sanchez will be ready, and this time, won’t relinquish the job.
Komatsu lasts longer than expected
As of right now, the Cardinals bench is sorely lacking in veteran presence. With Allen Craig slated to start the season on the disabled list, the five position player reserves will look something like this:
The only other player close would seem to be outfielder Adron Chambers. When the Cards selected Komatsu in the Rule 5 Draft, they said they would prefer to keep Chambers in Memphis playing every day.
I do think the Cardinals will end up inviting a few on-the-way-down major leaguers to camp on minor league contracts to compete for bench jobs, but I have no idea who they might be. So here, I am going with the guys we know.
In this scenario, Komatsu would get to hang around at least until Craig comes off the disabled list. He might even last longer if he hits and Hamilton doesn’t. An injury or two to others would improve his chances even more. Hamilton has the advantage of long-ball potential, though that was strangely missing in 2011. (A variation on the theme would have Matt Carpenter making the team instead of Hamilton, but it wouldn’t change Komatsu’s standing.)
Komatsu has no career at-bats above Double-A, so is hardly a lock for anything. Yet, if he plays well enough, he may log more major league service time than anyone might expect. Remember Brian Barton?
Dry powder used on second base
As folks know, the 2011 mid-season adjustment approach taken was to sacrifice offense (Colby Rasmus) to strengthen both the rotation (Edwin Jackson) and bullpen (Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski). While that remains a possible scenario in 2012 as well, my gut tells me there will be a higher priority elsewhere.
I suspect that second base will become the Cardinals 2012 trade deadline target for improvement. While I recognize Daniel Descalso’s 2011 contributions, especially in filling the David Freese injury gap at third base, I am less convinced the steady but unspectacular Descalso will hit enough to be an above-average MLB second baseman.
The other in-house options are not necessarily better. Schumaker has given the job his all, but would be better deployed as a reserve outfielder and utilityman than a starting second baseman. Greene has the potential, but we’ve been saying that ever since he was drafted number 30 overall in 2005, just two picks after Rasmus.
Kolten Wong is the best second baseman in the system. Since the 2011 first-rounder is still a few years away, following the Rafael Furcal model again would not be out of the question. In other words, take a chance on a veteran, perhaps in the final months of his current contract, and if he works out, try to convince him to hang around for a year or two more.
Skip logs most starts in center
How this one might come to pass is actually pretty easy to envision. Carlos Beltran’s body, specifically his aged knees, overrules his head. As a result, the hopes of him playing centerfield on a semi-regular basis, at least against left-handed pitching, are scuttled.
While some will call for Allen Craig to play there, think about how Chris Carpenter and the other pitchers would feel about an outfield behind them that consists from left to right of Matt Holliday, Craig and a hobbled Beltran? Trying the Musial statue out there might be comparable.
The centerfield incumbent, Jon Jay, has shown the ability to handle the position defensively, but goes through long stretches where his offense is sub-par.
My thought is that when all is said and done, given the current roster, Schumaker ends up making the most starts of any Cardinal in center in 2012. We don’t yet know the managerial tendencies of Mike Matheny, so I readily admit that I would feel more strongly about this idea had Tony La Russa remained at the helm.
It would take much of the second half for this to play out, and require the club to remain in playoff contention to unfold. (Otherwise, we might see Adron Chambers receive more time.)
OK, so there they are. Seven ideas of potential 2012 stories that should generate some discussion, if nothing else. Vote for your most likely and least likely from this list and comment below.