Going into this season, I once again find myself cautiously optimistic. There are so many holes to be filled in the Cardinals lineup, that I don't know where to start? This off season has been another, almost predictable, disappointment for Cardinals fans. Since the departure of former general manager Walt Jocketty, and the arrival of the new general manager, John Mozeliak, the front office has been hesitant to pull the trigger on any major deal.
The addition of Khalil Greene at shortstop is questionable, at best. While it will be nice to once again have an everyday guy playing the position, the numbers that Greene put up last season leave a lot of room for doubt. If he can revert back to the player he was 2 years ago, then we can all exhale with relief. If not... it's going to be a long season for the fans, and Greene.
Troy Glaus had off season shoulder surgery, and very quietly, Joe Mather has been taking his reps in the infield. Mather, a 6'4", 215 lb. specimen, has the kind of power with his bat that has earned him the nickname, "Joey Bombs" amongst his teammates. Mather, an outfielder in the Cardinals organization until now, was actually drafted as a shortstop, and has played the hot corner on occasion in the minors. So, Joe Mather may be a pleasant surprise this year, filling in until Glaus is ready to re-enter the lineup.
The release of 2nd baseman Adam Kennedy a few weeks ago might be the biggest surprise up to this point. With no real replacement waiting in the wings, Tony Larussa is in the process of trying to convert Skip Schumaker, last years impressive and dependable outfielder, into a reliable and capable 2nd baseman. Other names mentioned to fill the role have included Brendan Ryan, Tyler Greene, and Brian Barden. Ryan is a good utility man, but doesn't have the "pop" that I think most fans would like to see at the position. Barden has all of 23 games of experience under his belt in the majors, and all of those were played as a shortstop. Greene, on the other hand, has absolutely no experience, and to throw him into the lineup as a starter is highly unlikely. Cardinal fans might have to get used to the "position-by-platoon" concept for yet another season.
Unfortunatley, 2nd base may not be the only position to be platooned. Jason Isringhausen, the long time Cardinals closer, was not offered a contract renewal this off season. Injuries had plagued the St. Louis closer for the past 4 seasons, and the organization felt it was time to part ways, with no viable "plan B" in place. Hopes were high on acquiring Brian Fuentes, the highly sought after closer from the Rockies, but Fuentes had his eyes on Anaheim, his home town. The Angels had already lost their 9th inning man, the outstanding Francisco Rodriguez, to free agency. Once Fuentes made his desires to play in southern California known, he basically wrote his own ticket. The day that Fuentes signed with the Angels, Cardinal fans watched the last hope at getting an experienced closer ride off into the western sunset. We'll just have to wait and see how the Cardinals skipper decides to handle this one. I can tell you this... I'm not excited.
The last big question is Chris Carpenter. Carpenter has had a full year to rehab and rest his twice surgically repaired elbow. What he'll have in the tank, and how effective his "stuff" will be, is going to be the question of the day each time he takes the mound. The former Cy Young award winner has the ability to be a dominant force, but only if he's healthy. All we can do, is hold our breath, and hope for the best. All indications up to this point show that Carpenter is back and throwing nasty stuff to hitters in Florida.
With so many questions going into the season, I am not betting the farm on a World Series title in '09. Being a die hard Cardinals fan, I always go into every year with an optimistic hope that they can find a way to do something spectacular. this year is no exception, but I'm also smart enough to know that that the reality is, my Redbirds are going to need the stars and the moon to align at just the right time, and in just the right order for this to be a "dream season". I'm pulling for Albert to win the MVP, among many other awards that he'll no doubt receive at seasons' end. I'm hoping that Comeback Player of the Year will go to Chris Carpenter, and that Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel each can pick right up where they left off last year.
While I always wish for a World Series title, if nothing else, I hope that the Cardinals can find a way to win their division and make the playoffs. Another division banner would look good hanging in Bush Stadium. With that being said, we may not win the World Series, and we may not even win our division, but as long as we finish ahead of the Cubs in the final standings... that's another good season as far as I'm concerned!