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Is the Cardinals’ window of opportunity closing?

A thought-provoking article series ran recently at ESPN. The subject is windows of contention for each of the 30 major league teams. In other words, when will each club be in its best position to win the World Series – now or later on?

Factors that went into the assessments are “current talent, age of roster, farm system and payroll, as well as free agents who figure to be available and could help the team…”

Since the articles are for ESPN Insiders, I am not going to go into specifics here other than to share the bottom line, already visible by all. The writer, Jason Martinez from MLB Depth Charts, concludes that the optimal year of contention for both the St. Louis Cardinals and National League Central Division defending champion Cincinnati Reds is here in 2013.

Given the Cardinals’ recent history of reloading on the fly, I had not seriously thought of their 2013 season as a potential peak before reading the ESPN series. The club has logged 12 winning records and nine post-season appearances in the last 13 seasons. After all, if it could continue in formation after losing Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan at once, my initial view was that the club should be able to weather anything else coming.

Inherent in Martinez’ assessment is that 2014 will be worse than 2013 for the Cardinals, so let’s step back and consider the possibilities for 2014. Other than everyone obviously being a year older, headlined by late-career Chris Carpenter, the key contracts coming due are Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran.

My range of potential outlooks by major positional groupings follow.

Pitching 2014

Worst case: Chris Carpenter retires and Wainwright departs via free agency. Jaime Garcia’s shoulder continues to hamper him. Jake Westbrook drops off, leading the Cardinals to decline his option. The growth of young pitchers Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal slows while prospects Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha indicate the need for more seasoning in the minors.

Jason Motte stumbles as closer. Though there are many young relief options, it takes time to sort them out. The most obvious choices are needed to try to shore up the depleted rotation.

Best case: Carpenter and Wainwright sign fair deals to stay and everyone is relatively healthy. The Cardinals have to struggle to find innings for their wealth of pitching and are in strong position to consider trades to improve other areas of the club.

Infield 2014

Worst case: Injuries plague key starters Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and David Freese. At second, Kolten Wong is not ready for the majors and Matt Carpenter’s defense is not good enough for everyday play. No clear candidate emerges to replace Furcal, the only current infield starter not signed or under team control for at least the next three seasons.

Best case: The core infielders remain healthy and productive while Wong shows his readiness to take over. Already contributing off the bench, Matt Adams joins Matt Carpenter in a push for more playing time. A new shortstop emerges or is acquired via trade, potentially using some of the pitching surplus.

Outfield 2014

Worst case: Oscar Taveras stumbles in Triple-A and is not ready to take over for Beltran, whose contract ends after the 2013 season. Matt Holliday and Jon Jay miss time due to injury, thinning the bench.

Best case: Taveras slips in nicely for Beltran in right and serves as Jay’s back up in center. Holliday remains stronger through regular rest with Craig filling in at the corners for Holliday and Taveras, backed up by Adams and Matt Carpenter.

In summary

Along with increasing age and unexpected injury potential that every club faces, the 2014 Cardinals could experience problems with expiring contracts thinning the rotation, shortstop and right field.

Their farm system, considered by some to be the very best in baseball, has a number of candidates very close to the majors. Viable replacements to fill the possible pitching and outfield needs seem almost ready. Middle infield may be the only major nagging question and could be addressed via acquisition if required.

Given all that, do you agree with the ESPN assessment that the Cardinals’ best window to go all the way is in 2013 or do you see it differently?

When do you see the Cardinals’ optimal window of opportunity?

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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 “Is the Cardinals’ window of opportunity closing?”

  1. blingboy says:

    It seems like the ESPN series is just another way of ranking the teams strongest to weakest, with the strongest teams getting a 2013 window, and progressively weaker teams getting progressively more distant windows. Off-season filler maybe.

  2. blingboy says:

    A couple odds and ends:

    I’m glad the fake to third then to first is going away. Hate that.

    Oscar Taveras dropped agent Melvin Roman (Yadi and Jaime’s agent) in favor of Rob Plummer whose niche is Dominican prospects.

    I’d like it if Taveras has a monster ST, just to see what would happen.

  3. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    Wainwright got a big pickup this last year………. Without it, do you see his stuff poking through a loser……… if that 2nd WC isn’t there to pace……….how does that turn out? ……. the point….you might have 3 or 4 hall of fame’s on the way………… you guys are stats guys…….. odds are great that these guys will grow the ego’s it takes to survive the show…………I don’t see a problem…… your draft picks were 200% better than every one else’s………….. The rating is based solely on Beltrans health and attitude to lead along with Molina………..Yadi is a Pujolian sulker…….if this tips…..he isn’t going to float it ……. how fast is your long / medium guys gong to burn out protecting weak arms early???????

    I have picked you for 3rd if it goes fairly well………… Pittsburgh is going to figure out a way to avoid the collapses……… the surely are gaining experience.

    • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

      One more thing…….the organization bent over backwards to make the Wainwright reentry work last year……….. just the scheduling around Adam doing opening day was all about selling the image……Lohse stepped up…….we dominated……even giving the Reds the 3rd game in that first series by giving all the hero’s rest……2 days rest ……. before the opening with the Cubs……. you remember how that went ………. that was the FO running Matheny all the way………with their priorities …….. the issue is…what does that say about their priorities………. they aren’t going to blow up the kids early…. if it isn’t going well early……they aren’t going to plug the dyke with these eggs……….. If they kid glove Carpenter and Garcia through spring training……… what happens when this invigorated NLC starts coming to blows……….. you all know who the target is….. I am so curious at this point…..

      TW gets the deal………. provocative…… Fox got the Bailout for Boston…..and didn’t have to spend a dime………… gotta figure the Angels or Dodgers are going to make a move……. that match up is looking bigger than ever….

  4. Nutlaw says:

    So yeah, not having read the article, I don’t understand the assertion that the Cardinals are about ready to peak. I don’t ever recall having been this encouraged by their young players in the majors and in the upper levels of the minors.

    The Cardinals are overflowing with young starting pitching and players to man the corners who are all under team control for quite some time. Beltran could leave now and Adams, Carpenter, and Taveras would still be fighting for playing time. Their all star catcher is locked up. Their second baseman of the future is defined. So maybe they need to keep looking for help at shortstop and left handed relief, but that can’t be seen as a major concern.

  5. blingboy says:

    On stltoday, the panel was asked about the Cedeno signing. Here’s Strauss:

    “He can be easily exposed, but given the organizational model that appears unlikely.”

    WTF is that supposed to mean. I think he likes to sound profound and in the know.

    Another guy said this:

    “He’ll only hurt a team so much — he’s not liable to bat .150 or make bushels of errors, as either of the youngsters might if they were forced into extensive playing time. But Cedeno has no potential to actually contribute, which Kozma and (particularly) Jackson at least theoretically still possess.”

    Well said, other guy.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Strauss and the other guy both sound goofy.

      Strauss is claiming Cedeno can be beaten by pitchers, if he plays steadily. This is unlikely. Cedeno has been around the bigs for 8 years. He can handle himself and is a certain .250 BA. He also has potential to lift his game to a .280 BA.

      “No potential to actually contribute” makes zero sense. A guy who can average .250 to .275, and handle the position, is a contributor.

      If Ronnie excels during 2013, he can land a two year contract next winter, for $9MM. This is not far-fetched. There may be more opportunity to play with the Cards than there was with the Mets.

      Jackson has good potential for 2014. But that is light years away, right now. We are focused on 2013.

      • blingboy says:

        Jumbo have you read Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road”. Its the one he got the Pulitzer for a few years ago. Nothing but gloom from cover to cover. If you would write a book report on it, I’d really love to read it. Seriously.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          1. I do not read novels.
          2. Gloom is often unjustified. Bad news can sell, so some spew it out. Don’t let some pop stuff by somebody named Cormac get you down.
          3. My goodness, how gosh darn terrible can Ronny be, if Aura thinks he is ok? I believe in Aura.

          • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

            This guy is oddly similar to David Freeese, for finding mysterious motivations, and riding the roller coaster of almost a distracted inconsistency. Who knows, maybe he finds the clubhouse “stabilizing”.

            Leave Strauss alone……………. took balls to say that……… its the truth……

            • blingboy says:

              “. . . . took balls to say that……… its the truth……”

              You might be right, Westy, but my point is I don’t know, and neither do 99.9% of P-D readers, I’m sure. He’s writing for the daily newspaper not a trade publication.

  6. Bw52 says:

    The fact is that nobody know jack***t about the future for sure.Everything is pure speculation and guessing.Any team and any player can have injuries or breakdowns or slumps.Only the baseball gods know that and i really doubt they are sharing.
    Everything else is flinging and hoping it sticks.

  7. blingboy says:

    I wasn’t sure what Bw is getting at. Even though nobody knows the future, and anything can happen, still it is more likely the Cards will win it all in 2013 than the Astros, for example. I see nothing wrong with making educated guesses, but I don’t think much of the ESPN article.

  8. dadstocks says:

    You are missing key variable in the ESPN assessment…any team that has a legitimate shot at winning in 2013 is listed as 2013, regardless of the fact that they also have legitimate shots in 2014 or beyond.

    Case and point, Washington’s optimal year is also 2013 because they can win this year, not because they wont contend in 2014.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Welcome to commenting here, dadstocks. I can’t speak for others, but I don’t think I misunderstood. The author did NOT say that the 2013 optimal clubs would not also be competitive in the future. However, starting with the subtitle, it is made clear that the year listed is the author’s view of each club’s “optimal year to contend.”

      The unanswered question is what the author thinks about future years. For a 2013 optimal team, could its chance be equal the next year(s) (i.e. multiple consecutive “optimal” years), or more likely, if worse in future years, how much worse – how bad would the dropoff be? My guess that is beyond where the author wanted to go. You’d have to know an awful lot about all 30 organizations to be able to argue that point well.

      P.S. Hope you stay around and continue the discussions.

    • blingboy says:

      I took optimal to mean best chance rather that earliest chance.

  9. blingboy says:

    Ballpark Villiage getting underway. Groundbreaking next week. $100M first phase, $17M government incentives.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I don’t want to be negative, but I can’t help but expect a snowstorm or something to postpone the groundbreaking.

      • blingboy says:

        Yeah, my dad thinks they’ll dig up Jimmy Hoffa and the whole thing will get shut down for years.

        • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

          The $100 million project received $17 million in state and city incentives, which the team says were crucial to its financing package.

          Now they’ll start work on a pair of adjacent buildings — 100,000 square feet in all — that will house a Cardinals Hall of Fame and team-themed restaurant, Budweiser Brew House and an outdoor entertainment plaza. DeWitt said more tenants would be announced soon.

          Incredible……………………….. Its like a watching a half hr of Green Acres.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Super star of Green Acres, Dva Gabor was married five times, while her sister Zsa Zsa has been married nine times. In contrast, the marriage of Ronny and Aura has been steady and lasting, unlike the Gabor sisters.

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