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February 24, 2005

Team Health Reports

St. Louis Cardinals

by Will Carroll

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Hitters

Yellow light C Yadier Molina: He's a catcher. He's untested. If he stays around 120 games behind the plate, he should be fine. There's no adjustment in the system for good genes, though there should be.

Yellow light 1B Albert Pujols: He can play with pain and still be among the elite. Plantar fasciitis knocked Mark McGwire out for nearly two seasons; playing with it the last two years, Pujols put up WARP3s that surpass McGwire's 1998 both times. That's just sick. If he's healthy, there are no comparables.

Yellow light 2B Mark Grudzielanek: What was it with the Cubs and Achilles? Grudzialanek has some chronic hamstring problems and a bad shoulder to boot. He's not being expected to do anything more than play solid, average baseball; even that might be hoping for a bit much.

Red light SS David Eckstein: If St. Louis loved Bo Hart, what will they do for Eckstein? We can only hope Ozzie Smith's son stays on "American Idol" a while and distracts their adulation for a bit. Eckstein is a high-effort player who will be rendered nearly useless by any injury, like last season's bad elbow, bum knee or severely strained hamstring. It's hard to drop off from Tony Womack atop the lineup, but here it is.

Yellow light 3B Scott Rolen: It's always something here. Rolen is great and can play with pain, but it affects his game more. He battled through knee and back injuries last season and is likely to age poorly due to the chronic conditions through which he's fought. I'm not sure if PECOTA will agree, but he's starting to remind me of Dale Murphy.

Yellow light LF Reggie Sanders: He still carries a rap for being injury prone. At 37, expecting 140 games doesn't seem reasonable anyway. He still heals slowly, but even with that, is a pretty good player.

Yellow light CF Jim Edmonds: Edmonds a yellow? PECOTA sees a very low collapse rate, which saves him. Edmonds has toned down his playing style a notch, perhaps because he seems to have lost half a step. If that keeps him healthy, it's not a bad thing at all.

Red light RF Larry Walker: You know what you're getting here. For the Cardinals, it means having So Taguchi and Roger Cedeno at the ready. For your fantasy team, it means you might want to draft that fourth outfielder a round or two early to get the 40-50 games' worth of PAs you'll need. Walker will only surprise you if he gets 140 games; that's not bad.

Yellow light OF Roger Cedeno: Spitting isn't so bad if you don't get provoked, I guess. Cedeno's had some hamstring problems over the past couple years that have cut into his speed.

Green light OF So Taguchi: I just like saying "So Taguchi."

Pitchers

Red light SP Mark Mulder: Whispers of shoulder problems followed Mulder through the second half. In overcoming back and hip injuries, the changes to his mechanics could well have put more pressure on his shoulder. Curt Young isn't a tinkerer like Dave Duncan is, so it will be interesting to see how Mulder responds to his new pitching coach. The system says red, but I'm betting on Duncan here.

Red light SP Matt Morris: A system gimme, Morris will miss the first couple months after shoulder surgery, though he's reportedly ahead of schedule. I don't like comparing anyone to Darryl Kile for obvious reasons, but it's similar surgery and Morris should have similar results. He's not young any more; he'll really have to be more of a pitcher than he has been in the past.

Yellow light SP Chris Carpenter: The Cards don't think Carpenter's injury was nearly as bad as the similar one that Brad Penny suffered. If the World Series were a week later, Carpenter might have pitched, though it wouldn't have changed destiny, would it have, Red Sox Nation? Don't expect a repeat of last season, on innings alone. Labrum survivors seem to have a wall they can't bust through.

Green light SP Jeff Suppan

Yellow light SP Jason Marquis: Adjustments have always come hard for Marquis. He's got a reputation in the game as "tough to coach." It certainly didn't surface last season, though his increase in innings was significant. The year after cracking the 200-inning mark is a big test for pitchers, so watch him early.

Yellow light SP Rick Ankiel: Do I really need to remind you of the risks here? His elbow seems fine, despite being shut down in the winter leagues. He's still just 25, still left-handed, and if he still has his electric stuff, he's a sleeper.

Red light CL Jason Isringhausen: When is labrum surgery not bad? When it's the acetabular (hip) labrum. Isringhausen's adjustments for the hip pain caused his shoulder to get sore; then again, he's also blamed the hip problem on adjustments he'd made for earlier shoulder pain. He's a mess, physically, but still has nasty stuff on the nights he can go out to the mound.

--

It's a good thing the Cardinals like red. I'm not sure of their feelings on yellow, but there's a lot of bright Cardinal red on this page. Much of it is simple accepted risk; they understand that someone like Edmonds, Walker or Rolen is going to miss some time and they'll deal with that when it comes. The Cards coaching staff and front office has certainly taken this into account.

It's a bit more shallow in the pitching end of the pool, where the team is starting the season with Morris on the DL and, beyond Ankiel, there's nothing even remotely ready. Go ahead, tell me who the next starter would be if someone went down in spring training. Sure, it's easier to come up with a fourth outfielder or utility infielder than it is a credible major-league starter, but this is something well beyond that. A fragile staff needs depth behind it.

Part of that depth--Dan Haren and Kiko Calero (who started some in the minors, as do most relievers)--was dealt to get Mulder. That's a reasonable gamble on the surface, but if Adam Wainwright isn't ready--and no one thinks he is--this could get bad in a hurry. Two top prospects, Blake Hawksworth and Jimmy Journell, have serious health problems. The team might not need depth, but on a staff that is this clearly fragile, not having a real Plan B, or Plan C after Ankiel, doesn't seem as smart as this team normally is.

Given Dave Duncan's success bringing back pitchers from the Island of Misfit Junkballers, it's surprising that he hasn't been given more to work with. Wade Miller was certainly available, and he's the kind of guy--rather than the Ankiels of the world--who has been Duncan's stock in trade. A team always needs to know what its strengths and weaknesses are. Duncan is one of the Cards' strengths, and needs to be leveraged to get maximum results from a minimal investment.

It's the last season in old Busch Stadium before heading across the alley to New Busch Stadium. The Cards will be playing deep into October again...if only they stay healthy.

Related Content:  Dave Duncan,  Bad Season

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