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Projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2013

First, we looked at the top 20 stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals this past year. Not surprisingly, the list was headlined by the post-season run by the club, along with the recognition of fine individual seasons put together by Yadier Molina and Kyle Lohse.

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

As is customary, I will set aside the easiest and most logical entry – the results of the 2013 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 2013 Cardinals and the organization’s future.

Without further ado, here are my projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2013. As always, your comments are welcome below.

1. Wainwright’s contract

The Cardinals’ resolution of star player contracts in each of the past two years went very differently. In 2011, Albert Pujols’ touchy standoff with the club drew headlines all season long before culminating in a somewhat messy divorce. Last year, the club and Molina had a much different resolution. They quickly and painlessly came to terms on an extension in the spring, heading off the potential of fall free agency.

Now, it is Adam Wainwright’s turn in the barrel. Given the escalation of pitching prices in the open market, the pressure on the Cardinals is increasing. With a wealth of young arms reaching the majors and others close, might the club be tempted to let Wainwright walk rather than pay him to be the club’s pitching leader in the post-Chris Carpenter years?

This story has all the potential of becoming almost Pujolsian in magnitude. Note that I said, “almost!”

2. “What’s on second?”

No, the Cardinals’ second base situation is not so bad that dusting off the old Abbott and Costello comedy routine is needed. On the other hand, it is as blurry as a 1940’s black and white film.

Skip Schumaker was traded away. Like Schumaker before him, Matt Carpenter has been asked to learn second base as a very difficult homework assignment. Returnee Daniel Descalso hasn’t shown he has enough bat to be an everyday player for a contender. Pete Kozma offered a surprising burst in September, but few believe it can be repeated over an entire season.

Barring a trade or free agent signing, that leaves prospect Kolten Wong as the best potential answer – for the long-haul, at least. With no career at-bats above Double-A, the team’s first-rounder in 2011 could use some time in Triple-A.

A slow start by the second base incumbents and/or a hot start by Wong at Memphis could accelerate the time table. Another option might be the acquisition of a rental player to provide a late-season boost. Otherwise, even with everyone healthy, the second base position looks to be the weakest on the club.

3. Can there be “Happy Flights” without Furcal?

Speaking of healthy, one of the externally-supplied sparkplugs that helped fire the Cardinals’ engine to fly to the 2011 championship was shortstop Rafael Furcal. He is the man who coined the term “Happy Flights” to celebrate final-game road series wins. During last off-season, general manager John Mozeliak surprised many by giving Furcal a two-year contract covering 2012 and 2013.

Like another of the Cards’ aging, injury-plagued 2011 stars, Lance Berkman, Furcal did not make it through the 2012 season unscathed. Elbow problems that apparently did not require surgery remain a red flag for the now-35-year-old, who has a checkered injury past.

Though rumors had the Cardinals looking for alternatives this winter, the apparent high price of shortstops on the open market led to no action. As a result, the high risk remains.

Beyond Kozma, untested Ryan Jackson or playing Descalso out of position, the Cardinals have no obvious plan to cover themselves at the most crucial infield position in 2013 if (when?) Furcal goes down again.

4. A young starter takes the NL by storm

In 2012, Lance Lynn seized the rotation spot vacated by injured Chris Carpenter and was named a National League all-star. Though he cooled a bit in the second half, Lynn won 18 games for the Cardinals, including 17 as a starter.

Right behind Lynn was Joe Kelly, ready in Memphis to step into the big league rotation and performing admirably when Jaime Garcia suffered shoulder problems.

With one fewer starter in 2013 (the departure of Lohse as a free agent) and injury questions with Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals may need help again. One or both of their top pitching prospects – Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal could be asked to join the starting five at some point.

Which one would receive the call first and who has the best chance of most quickly thriving in the role?

5. Will Matheny have a sophomore slump?

In reality, the fortunes of the second-year 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 Mike Matheny personally deals with the inevitable ups and downs during his sophomore year in a most pressure-filled job.

He has proven he can lead his team into the playoffs and with so many young, promising players on hand and on deck, anything short of returning to the post-season may set him up as a 2013 disappointment.

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

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of 2012

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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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25 Responses to “Projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2013”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    I hope Shelby Miller grabs a rotation role in spring training and goes on to have a big rookie season. It could happen. This would be a good news story that could get a lot of play. Rookie hotshot sparks Cards!

    Matheny will help himself avoid a sophmore slump by assuming Furcal is an invalid waiting to happen. Furcal should start no more than 90 games. Even if his elbow is mysteriously better, he plays hard and has a chronic sore back vulnerability, not a good combination. Raffy is no longer an everyday starter, because of the back. Matheny needs to get smarter about this and not wishful think otherwise, as in 2012.

    Kozma and Jackson are each solid SS prospects. The Cards are fortunate to have two young players of such ability, to supplement Furcal. When did we last have one let alone two SSes at AAA of their calibre? Since we traded Jack Wilson, one has to back to Templeton.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Regarding Wainwright, much will hinge on the number of years he will accept. The Cards will likely be willing to pay a high price for a few years at a time, as they have done lately with Carpenter. If Adam and the Union want a long term deal, it may be harder for the Cards to satisfy them.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Brendan Ryan has been a starting SS for the past three years, two with Seattle. OPSes during 2010-12 were 573, 639, and last year 555, across 1,300 at bats. This is a large N. So far at MLB Trade Rumors there has not been one rumor this winter about Brendan. This makes sense. Its established he is a weak offensive SS, when he has to play steadily. There may be a job for him next year as a part-timer, or even as a starter for a team willing to sacrifice offense at SS, but few GMs are going to anticipate more than 600 OPS from Ryan.

    Brendan Ryan first received a lot of play at the ML level during 2009, owing to Khalil Greene’s problems. He was 27. Before 09, Ryan had 1,523 minor at bats (at all levels) and 180 in the majors.
    Lets compare to Kozma. During 2013, Pete will turn 25, two years younger than Ryan in 09. Kozma has had much more minor league training, with 1,900 at bats at AA, AAA, and the Majors. Ryan had only about 625 at bats at AA/AAA, while Kozma has already had 1,500. Kozma is the more trained.
    Kozma has been durable and received plenty of at bats at upper rungs in the minors. This is useful training that readies a player for the majors. Last season, Kozma led Memphis in RBIs with 63. Was this surprising? No, he socked 13 homers and had 72 RBIs at AA in 2010. His 2010 and 2012 offensive statistics are similar, with OPSes of 702 and 647 those years at AA and AAA. He looks like the same guy.
    Pete enjoyed a 952 OPS with the Cards in September, in 72 at bats. Is this sustainable? No.

    Pete looks a 675 OPS contributor at the ML level, if given regular play, based on 2010 and 2012 minor league numbers. He is not going to hit for a high batting average, but will provide occasional pop and drive in runs. This is sufficient for the 8th position in a lineup, and more than Brendan Ryan has contributed offensively during the past 3 seasons.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Lotsa Pete happy talk going on there, Jumbo. Rather than postulate, why not enter his minor league numbers into any one of the numerous MLB equivalency engines out there?

      Just for grins, I ran his 2012 Memphis stats through one of them and it translates to an MLB-equivalent OPS of .551. Sounds about right.

      No, wait! Those calculators were developed based on real stats from scores of ordinary players from the past and could never take into account Super Pete. I got it.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        There has been lots of “unhappy talk” about Pete, since self-omniscient Keith Law disparaged the young man during MLB’s live coverage of 2007 draft.

        I am comfortable with 675. .551 would be Brendan Ryan’s genuine offensive territory during 2012. After 2013, we can look back and see whose forecast turned out to be closer. Me or one of the numerous MLB equivalency engines out there.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Now lets connect to Ryan Theriot. Ryan rang up a 637 OPS last year, down from a .691 career OPS. Teams rumored pursuing Theriot include the reigning World Champs, the high spending Phils, and frequent contender Rangers. Thus a .637 OPS for a backup middle infielder can be acceptable for some high spending, competitive teams.
          IIRC, Cesar Izturis rang up a .639 as our regular SS during 2008, and this coupled with defense earned Cesar a 2 year deal from the Orioles during 09-10.
          Compared with our other recent SSes, mitey Cesar (2008), Theriot (2011), and Brendan Ryan (2009-10), I can see how the Cards could, with seriousness, consider Pete Kozma to be an offensive equivalent for 2013.

          • Brian Walton says:

            For all we know, Theriot is only being offered a minor league deal but is holding out for a major league contract. Either way, it has no relevance to the 2013 Cardinals unless you think they are a “mystery team.” 😉

            Lumping Kozma with Izturis and Theriot is akin to taking two wrongs and adding a third.

            • JumboShrimp says:

              “For all we know, Theriot is only being offered a minor league deal.”
              If rumors were true that the Rangers, Giants, and Phils are after somebody, I infer its a ML offer, probably for reserve middle infielder, 2B/SS.

              “Lumping Kozma with Izturis and Theriot is akin to taking two wrongs and adding a third.”
              That’s a wonderful comment, because revealing! Thanks.

              Mo chose to sign Cesar Izturis for 2008 for circa $3.6MM, if memory serves.
              After 2010, the Cards chose to trade for Theriot, later taking a chance on Furcal coming off injury.
              The Cards selected Izturis and Theriot. If Kozma is potentially as good offensively, then the same team could choose to use Kozma in September 2012 to clinch a wild card spot, as happened, and then again during 2013. This would not surprise.

              • Brian Walton says:

                Other than playing the same position and being below average hitters, what do Izturis and Theriot have to do with a player with minor league options in Kozma, anyway? Kozma will be around in 2013, but I still suspect they will be trying to add someone else with more experience to compete for that job. And you know as well as I do that the Cardinals did not keep either Theriot or izturis after one year. That was not coincidence. Further it appears they were not under consideration to return this coming year.

    • crdswmn says:

      Brendan Ryan got 3.25M from the Mariners. Brendan Ryan is so vastly superior defensively to Pete Kozma that it is blasphemous to put their names in the same sentence, oops, I did it, but I will have to do penance for it. The Mariners realize what they have, too bad the Cardinals didn’t.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        I had thought Ryan was a free agent ignored by the market, but it turns out he was still under the control of the Mariners. He won an award as second best defensive player in the majors last year, so good for him.

        • crdswmn says:

          2012 Fielding Bible Awards:

          Shortstop – Brendan Ryan, Seattle

          Brendan Ryan is the best defender in baseball. Period. Make that double period. His has saved 67 runs for his teams defensively over the last three years, the highest total among all players. The next highest runs saved total is not even close (Michael Bourn, 51). Ryan led all shortstops in 2012 with 27 runs saved, led in 2011 with 18, and finished second in both 2010 and 2009 with 22 runs saved each year. Seattle recognizes the value of Ryan’s defense, and that’s why they keep putting him out there day after day despite his .194 batting average during the 2012 season. It will be interesting to see if the American League coaches and managers, who vote for the Gold Glove Awards, can look past Ryan’s offense and base their ballot on his defense alone. This has been one of the problems with the Gold Glove voting—a certain amount of offense has always been required for what should be a defense-only award. Gold Glove voting has never allowed for a position player hitting below the Mendoza line to win a Gold Glove. Hopefully Ryan will be the first.

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        So Gould at the P/D is off the mark to say Kozma is the best defensive SS in the system? Not that that make him Ryan but it might merit the same sentence if true.

        • crdswmn says:

          Goold can say whatever he wants. Last time I checked his opinion wasn’t worth any more than mine. Keep in mind you are talking about someone who thinks Skip Schumaker is an above average second baseman. And I generally like Goold.

          His penance is his problem.

  4. blingboy says:

    I don’t see why Theriot wouldn’t make a reasonable utility infielder for somebody. Its not his fault he was deployed in such a ridiculous manner by Mo and TLR.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Utility infielders need to be able to handle more than just second base.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Theriot is a reasonable utility IF, just not a regular SS. We used Aaron Miles at SS and Descalso, neither with experience. Theriot served the World Champ Giants during 2012 and playoff type teams are interested in him again for 2013.

      • Nutlaw says:

        No. Theriot had horrendous UZR ratings at SS in 2010 and 2011 and rightfully didn’t play there whatsoever last year. He hasn’t played any 3B since 54 innings back in 2007.

        He’s a backup 2B, not a utility IF.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Baseball execs may not care as much about UZR ratings. Aaron Miles and Daniel Descalso played SS for the Cards, Allen Craig played 2B, Matt Carpenter will, Skip played the position for a few years. A team looking for a vet backup infielder can weigh the tradeoffs and go with Theriot. We shall see.
          Eckstein played SS though late in his career shifted back to college role at 2B. 2B is less demanding, so this makes sense. A team reasonably may prefer to put Eckstein or Theriot at 2B, but if they need to give the primary SS some time off, 8 men in the field is still better than just 7.

  5. jj-cf-stl says:

    furcal was at his best early in the 12′ season, after an offseason of R & R. considering his salary, Mo will stand behind that contract he offered, and view raffy as the 13′ starting SS. he may not make it out of ST, but with a bit of good fortune, he fills the role until the all-star break, effectively.

    regardless of if/when raffy goes down, a deadline deal for a starting shortstop should already have a list of “targets” . Koz isn’t going to carry his 2012 mlb BAbip of .415, when .285 is his highest large sample in the minors since A ball. but, he can provide replacement level until Mo pulls another rabbit out of his hat.

    i’ll be patient until independence day, best i can, but i’m expecting an acquisition at SS.

  6. […] January, I published my predictions of the topics I thought could evolve into the top five stories across the Cardinal Nation for the […]

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