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October 31, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

St. Louis Cardinals

by Ben Lindbergh, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.

Today we bid farewell to the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that kept the baseball world on the edge of its collective seat for the past six weeks.

Projected 2012 Lineup
The lineup obviously changes if Albert Pujols leaves in free agency, but otherwise the Cardinals need to find a long-term solution at shortstop, and Jon Jay would be best served as a fourth outfielder. With a healthy Adam Wainwright in 2012, St. Louis' rotation shapes up nicely.

Batting order
SS: ?
CF: Jon Jay
1B: Albert Pujols
LF: Matt Holliday
RF: Lance Berkman
C: Yadier Molina
3B: ?
2B: Skip Schumaker

Rotation
SP: Chris Carpenter
SP: Adam Wainwright
SP: Jaime Garcia
SP: Kyle Lohse
SP: Jake Westbrook

Signs of hope: The Cardinals overcame the highest double-play rate in baseball and outscored their opponents by 70 runs with the aid of the senior circuit’s most powerful lineup, finishing with a league-best .272 True Average (TAv). St. Louis had strong bats everywhere but in the middle infield, as every Cardinal with at least 150 plate appearances save for Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot finished with a TAv above the .260 league average. Strong showings by Allen Craig and Jon Jay gave the Cardinals considerable flexibility, and while the team’s three heaviest hitters were all on the wrong side of 30, a career year by Yadier Molina and another encouraging, albeit injury-prone, performance from David Freese (who added five home runs and two series MVP awards in October) held up the 20-something contingent’s end of the bargain.

Signs of disaster: “Disaster” might be a strong word to describe the ills that befell a team that went all the way, but the Cardinals’ season did come close to running off the rails. After losing their ace, Adam Wainwright, in spring training, St. Louis struggled at times on the mound, finishing with a 4.45 Fair Run Average that ranked eighth in the league. The staff was especially shaky before reinforcements arrived in the Colby Rasmus trade, most notably in the bullpen, where closer Ryan Franklin blew four saves in five opportunities before being relieved of his duties. It didn’t help that the Cardinals had the sixth-worst defense in the NL, converting just 70.4 percent of balls in play into outs, which almost ended their season in Game Six of the World Series. These weak spots conspired to keep the Cards 10.5 games behind the Braves as late as August 25, when it appeared that they had almost no chance of making the playoffs; their unlikely comeback had as much to do with Atlanta’s collapse as it did their own 18-7 finish. The Cardinals also fielded the NL’s oldest collection of pitchers and its fourth-oldest assortment of hitters, which might make their success difficult to sustain.

Signs you can ignore: Albert Pujols hit .267/.336/.419 with nine home runs through the first two months of the season. The slugger hadn’t had a single sub-800 OPS month (let alone two consecutive ones) with more than 10 games played since July of his rookie year, so his early- season struggles prompted worries that age or contract concerns had caught up to him. However, Albert hit .318/.383/.613 the rest of the waya level of production in line with his career rates given the lack of offense league-wide. The overall record reveals a .312 TAvthe lowest mark of his careerbut while the Machine might be obsolete someday, Pujols’s post-May performance and five playoff homers suggest that he’s not yet at the end of his historic offensive onslaught. The only question is whether he’ll continue it as a Cardinal. Ben Lindbergh

Bowden's Bold Move
The Cardinals head into the offseason with the goal of resigning future Hall of Famer Pujols to a long-term contract. The bold move I would make is signing him to an eight-year, $216 million contract with club options for years nine and ten without a buyout. Just in case that doesn't work out, the Cardinals should stay in touch with agent Scott Boras regarding Prince Fielder.

If the Cardinals aren't able to sign Pujols or Fielder, I think they should look at improving the closer position long term. That seems to go against the club's philosophy, though, as the front office would rather hope Jason Motte and Fernando Salas develop into inexpensive solutions rather than spend money on the ninth inning.

However, signing a proven closer would allow St. Louis to move Salas and Motte to the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, giving the team more depth late in games. Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, and Francisco Rodriguez should be near the top of their list of free-agent relievers, while Joakim Soria, Joel Hanrahan, and Carlos Marmol should be at the top of their trade target lists. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 92-70

I'm assuming a 50 percent chance of Pujols returning to St. Louis, so this number could go up or down depending on how one of the biggest decisions in Cardinals history goes. With the signing of Berkman for 2012, the rest of the offense will return. Even with the possible loss of Pujols, the team should score a lot of runs in 2012. The pitching staff will determine the ceiling of the 2012 Cardinals. Chris Carpenter is coming off his weakest season in a decade, Adam Wainwright is returning but is an uncertainty, and Kyle Lohse has never really put up two good years in a row. With a bit of luck, a returning Pujols, and Shelby Miller terrorizing minor leaguers and pushing Jake Westbrook out of a job, and the Cards could beat that projection.

Worst-case scenario: 78-84
It's hard to imagine the rails coming off the team so soon after a title, but the offense isn't particularly young now and certainly won't be any younger next year, if I remember how time works. Berkman has suffered injuries that have sapped his offense before (just ask the Yankees), and most of the other big parts of the offense are on the wrong side of 30. A crash isn't imminent, but it's something to keep in the back of the mindSt. Louis' season would've ended a month ago if it was merely the No. 2 offense in the NL this year.

The pitching rotation looks good if everything works out, but every member of the rotation has had major arm injuries at some point in the past four years. That said, the Cards are very unlikely to be a bad team and fight with the Astros for last place, but it's not a stretch to imagine a scenario in which the team ends up with the same fate as last year's NL Central champs, the Cincinnati Reds. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
While the Cardinals were a big shock at the big league level with their late-season surge, their minor league system took an equally surprising step forward with many prospects going from guys with a chance to very real prospects. They are joined by a strong 2011 draft to provide depth soon. Right-hander Shelby Miller remains on pace for a 2012 big league debut with All-Star possibilities down the road, but he's no longer the only game in town, as Dominican fireballer Carlos Martinez joined him as a potential impact arm. On the position side, first baseman Matt Adams won Texas League MVP honors, and outfielder Oscar Taveras flirted with .400 in the Midwest League. The system is very much looking up, and the Cardinals will need it to reinforce what is a rapidly aging major league club. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

IvanGrushenko

Instead of signing a closer to a big FA deal, how about Coco Crisp or Grady Sizemore for CF and Mark Ellis or Nick Punto for 2B and Furcal or John McDonald for SS?

Oct 31, 2011 03:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Benjamin Harris

Yet another race to come down to the last day this year:

Mentions by Bowden, the final tallies are...

Yonder Alonso = 6
Prince Fielder = 8

Prince pulls it out with TWO mentions on the last day. Way to go Prince. Congratulations!

Oct 31, 2011 04:14 AM
rating: 11
 
Lou Doench

It is fun to pick on Leatherpants, isn't it.

Oct 31, 2011 06:59 AM
rating: 3
 
pepper

My big move would be: Don't sign Pujols. Spend the money on Jose Reyes. Move Berkman to first base,where he's less likely to be injured, and install Craig in right. Full seasons of Freese and Craig, Reyes at leadoff and Theriot or Schumacker or whoever plays 2B batting 8th will keep the lineup productive.

Or, alternatively: Re-sign Albert. Trade Holiday to free up the money to improve the middle infield...Craig becomes the everyday left fielder.

Oct 31, 2011 06:04 AM
rating: 1
 
Ryno23

I was actually thinking about the Holiday part this weekend -- trade him to bolster the No. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, free up money and get Craig in the lineup on a regular basis.

Oct 31, 2011 09:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Cromulent

This seems like a longshot. He's got 5 years left at $17 million per season - who do you propose is going to take that off your hands?

Oct 31, 2011 12:27 PM
rating: 3
 
ColonelTom

If Holliday were a free agent now, someone would be willing to sign him for 5yr/$85M. (I know the Phillies would.) Now if you're looking for a big return in trade, that's a different story unless a substantial contract goes back to St. Louis in the deal.

Nov 01, 2011 06:13 AM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

It's a bit misleading to talk about the Cardinals having the "NL's oldest collection of pitchers," given that the staff "aged" incredibly rapidly at the trade deadline and shortly afterward with guys who were never intended to be more than rentals. This seems to be a TLR trademark: add "veteran presence" for the stretch run, without any clear expectation that that presence will endure. Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel make that staff look older than it is, and there's no way they'll both be back for the whole season next year.

This said, who will replace them? When healthy, the Cardinals have an abundance of young right-handed guns for the pen (Eduardo Sanchez may have been the best pitcher left off the post-season squads of any of the 8 teams), and replacing the ancient Dotel from within shouldn't be difficult, which is not to say TLR will allow the front office to do it. A Rhodes replacement is harder to find in the farm system, but second LOOGYs are a dime a dozen in the off season. Anyway, the concern over that "oldest collection of pitchers" looks somewhat misplaced to me.

Oct 31, 2011 06:30 AM
rating: 0
 
ragerd

Dumb question: Why no David Freese in that projected lineup? Or are we assuming he got traded to Philly for Polanco?

Oct 31, 2011 06:34 AM
rating: 5
 
Lou Doench

If you'll allow me to indulge in a little concern trolling... Dear Cardinals GM... please follow Leatherpant's advice and waste a bunch of money on a closer...

Oct 31, 2011 07:02 AM
rating: 2
 
riverboatgambit

Have we already forgotten about the World Series MVP? I'm assuming it was a joke to get a rise out of fans, haha

Oct 31, 2011 08:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Well, looks like Bowden got the "bold move" wrong. (Surprise.) They'll now have to make a "bold move" and find a new manager.

Oct 31, 2011 09:02 AM
rating: 0
 
marshaja

Yeah I found this even more ridiculous than most of his big moves. The part about keeping Fielder as a back up plan is especially ridiculous.

If Pujols leaves signing a hefty slight inferior 1B to a huge long term contract is about the last thing they'd want to do especially with other holes and Allen Craig available to fill a corner spot.

Oct 31, 2011 09:35 AM
rating: 0
 
chuckmotl

Yeah, they already have a 1b playing RF and a future 1b playing LF. Of course, you'd love to resign Pujols, but if you lose him Berkman can take over 1B next year, and then in a year or two when Berkman's done, Holliday can take over 1b. The team needs to focus on adding some athletic players, not another softball type player.

Oct 31, 2011 13:44 PM
rating: 1
 
MikeJordan23

why is 3rd base a question mark?

Oct 31, 2011 10:48 AM
rating: 0
 
Meatpacker

I have to disagree with the comment suggesting Jon Jay would be better served as a fourth outfielder. I used to feel the same way, but I think he have proven us skeptics wrong.

In two seasons, he has a career .773 OPS (OPS+ of 114) and a career True Average of .274. My subjective eye tells me that his defense in CF was much better than last year, particularly after the Rasmus trade.

He's 26, so he still has some growth potential left.

He's not a star, and probably never will be one. But he's a solid regular in CF. The Cardinals may need to shore up in a few places to defend their title, but CF is not one of them.

Oct 31, 2011 11:22 AM
rating: 0
 
ColonelTom

The knocks on Jay are that (1) his arm is Juan Pierre-like and (2) he's an appalling base-stealer (8-for-19 in career SB attempts). He hits and can cover ground, so he'll probably be playable in CF for a few years until his speed declines a bit. Ultimately he's a second-division starter or a fourth outfielder on a good team.

Nov 01, 2011 06:24 AM
rating: 0
 
fgreenagel2

Is Jim Bowden actually writing for BP at this point, or is this a joke?

The fact that Bowden (or whoever is ghost writing for him) suggests the Cardinals need a "proven closer" is ludicrous. Closers (other than Rivera) can be invented on the spot. BP readers know this, as well as the more astute front offices.

Oct 31, 2011 11:59 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

To clarify, the Kiss 'Em Goodbye series, as in previous years, was a collaborative effort between BP and ESPN. The section under "Baseball Prospectus' Take" came from me, Steven, or Jay, and "Organizational Future" came from Kevin. For better or worse--opinions vary, I'm sure--we had nothing to do with the Bowden, Szymborski, and Projected Lineup bits.

Oct 31, 2011 12:13 PM
 
Bob Stocking

Thanks, Ben--now it makes sense why Bowden's comments have appeared here. He's a guy BP has effectively critiqued for years, so I could not figure out why BP would solicit his opinions, most of which (see above re: "proven closer") are sufficiently wrong-headed to keep him an ex-GM. Then again, guys like him seem to get lots of chances in MLB front offices... .

Nov 01, 2011 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Lloyd Cole

OK, it's too easy...but what a way to go out: Prince Fielder as a fallback plan, *AND* a "proven closer"!!! In a perverse way, I'm going to miss these--although I feel slightly guilty taking pleasure watching a car crash 30 times;-)

Oct 31, 2011 12:10 PM
rating: 4
 
Scott44

Will Allen Craig get a chance to play every day? He seems primed to be a really good bat in LF, plus he can play a bit of 2B too.

Oct 31, 2011 16:10 PM
rating: 0
 
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