First, we counted down the top 20 stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. Not surprisingly, the list was dominated by the post-season run by the club, along with the recognition of fine seasons put together by Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and several rookie hurlers – while fully acknowledging the greatness of the late Stan Musial.
As is customary, I will set aside the easiest and most logical entry – the results of the 2014 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 – both on the 2014 Cardinals and the organization’s future.
One thing that makes this year’s list a bit different is that there are no major impending contract situations hanging over the organization’s head. Even so, several contract questions appear below.
Without further ado, here are my projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2014. As always, your comments are welcome.
1. Progression of the young pitchers
It will be almost impossible for the 2014 Cardinals to receive as great a contribution from rookie pitchers as did the 2013 club. Yet, the fear of sophomore slumps is real until debunked on the field.
Second-year players should make up two-fifths of the rotation in Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller. Each has questions. Miller’s performance dropped off late in the season and he was a non-factor in the playoffs. As Miller stepped back, Wacha stepped up, but ran out of gas in the World Series and has yet to perform on the big stage for an entire season.
After coming up from the minors during 2013, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness will continue to be expected to play key roles in the bullpen. This does not even include third-year players Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly plus Carlos Martinez, still considered a rookie.
How these young pitchers perform the second time around will be a major factor in the ultimate results registered by the 2014 Cardinals.
2. Peralta proves a point
The Cardinals took heat from several corners of the baseball world for signing admitted PED user Jhonny Peralta during the off-season. The main rub was that the shortstop was given a four-year, $53 million contract weeks after coming off a 50-game suspension.
As a result, all eyes will be on the 31-year-old in 2014.
Will Peralta continue to hit with the same authority as he did with the Detroit Tigers? Will his defense at shortstop be good enough for Cardinals fans to forget Pete Kozma’s glovework?
If not, and Peralta becomes a Melky Cabrera, the doubters will have a field day. More importantly, what would the club do with a declining Peralta in 2015-2017?
Either way, one side or the other of the Peralta signing debate will likely be claiming victory by this fall.
3. The reconfigured outfield
Incumbent centerfielder Jon Jay had his moments offensively, though his play in centerfield was subpar in comparison to his MLB peers. In 2013, Jay’s Ultimate Zone Rating of -7.3 was 92nd of 97 MLB centerfielders.
With somewhat immobile defenders projected to play at the corners in 2014 in Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, the Cardinals moved to improve their defense in center. On November 22, the Cardinals acquired from the Los Angeles of Anaheim one of the best outfield defenders in the game in Peter Bourjos.
In addition to the pressure of the man he replaced, Jay, still remaining on the club, one of the most popular Cardinals was traded away to get Bourjos in David Freese.
Bourjos, who has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, will definitely be under the microscope in 2014, but has the capability to win over skeptical fans and become a Cardinals favorite. A fast start would help.
Then we have Oscar Taveras, coming off a 2013 lost to injury. Will the top prospect make the club out of spring training? If not, how soon will he arrive in St. Louis? Bourjos’ acquisition seems to have resolved the centerfield picture without the team having to play Taveras there, but that also limits Oscar’s opportunity.
As in the case of Matt Adams breaking in during 2013, Taveras may benefit most by injuries to others. Ultimately, offensive depth should again come into play for the 2014 Cardinals.
4. The only Carp in town
Simply put, what can Matt Carpenter do for an encore after emerging from the pack to become the spark plug of the Cardinals offense? The second baseman received considerable national notice in 2013, making the National League All-Star team and finishing fourth in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.
On paper, the 28-year-old should face an easier defensive challenge in returning to his old third base position, but how will it play out on the field? Offensively, would it be fair to expect him to get better?
If he doesn’t, how much would a decline in Carpenter’s output from the top of the order affect the 2014 team?
If he does, should he be considered the team’s next young core player and be in line for a multi-year extension – as Allen Craig, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina received before him?
Carpenter will become first-time arbitration-eligible next off-season, so big money is waiting after just one more good season ahead.
5. Jason Motte’s present and future
Coming off May 2013 Tommy John surgery, Jason Motte may not be ready to be activated to start the 2014 season. However, unless any setbacks occur, the right-hander should be able to rejoin the bullpen shortly after.
Understandably, post-season closer Trevor Rosenthal has been named the ninth-inning man to open 2014. Until Motte proves he can return to his prior level of effectiveness, that is unquestionably the best approach for the team.
Yet, less than 12 months ago, Motte was “the man.” He received a two-year contract that will conclude following the 2014 season. As such, it would not be surprising for him to be anxious to fortify his market value pre-free agency this coming fall.
If Rosenthal is needed during the season to help shore up the rotation or stumbles as closer, it could work out best for Motte. That may or may not be best for the 2014 Cardinals, though.
And what will follow for 2015 and beyond?
Will Rosenthal continue as closer, will another youngster take over or will Motte be the long-term answer for the ninth inning?
With the wealth of young pitching talent in the organization, will there be room on the roster for Motte in 2015 and would paying him market value be the best use of the organization’s financial resources?