Click here for the Cardinals’ 2006 depth chart.
C – Yadier Molina – Molina has the position and his age working against him, but he also has interesting genetic comparables. It seems like there’s a factory down there in Puerto Rico, churning out catchers.
1B – Albert Pujols – At some point, the chronic foot problem is going to catch up to him. I just have no idea what point that is. He’s played through that and a torn UCL in his throwing elbow. Short of kryptonite, I don’t think he can be stopped.
2B – Junior Spivey – He’s a fragile player with a wrist injury. Add the rest of his health problems to competition at his position and he’s likely to get Pipped.
3B – Scott Rolen – Rolen came back from a similar injury before, so that’s a plus. It’s an all-or-nothing recovery, so that’s a minus. People ask if Rolen can get back to his 2004 form. A lot of players don’t get hurt and never recapture their peak value. Would you settle for 2003?
CF – Jim Edmonds – He’s not injury prone anymore, but CFers age quickly and suddenly–see Griffey, Finley, et al.
RF – Juan Encarnacion – The wrist injury is worrisome and he’s 30 this year. There’s no other position where the Cards’ lack of depth seems as problematic. Pining for Reggie Sanders is going to be an odd emotion for Cardinals fans.
Key Sub – Larry Bigbie – Achilles tears don’t heal. Shoulder problems can, but haven’t with Bigbie.
SP – Chris Carpenter – He gets awarded the yellow light almost completely on history. He’s been pretty good the last two years and didn’t break down at the end of last season as he did in 2004.
SP – Mark Mulder – The Cards and Dave Duncan have done wonders with Mulder. Does this take some shine off Rick Peterson?
SP – Jeff Suppan
SP – Jason Marquis
CL – Jason Isringhausen – He has to be spotted perfectly, something the Cards have done. Braden Looper is in to take some of the load off and step into the closer role when Izzy breaks down. Thinking of Izzy like Mariano Rivera isn’t a bad idea–they both have one problem a year and are great the rest of the time.
Walt Jocketty must play fantasy baseball. I know he employs Sig Mejdal, one of the main characters in Fantasyland, and has a relationship with Ron Shandler’s crew. What really gives it away is this lineup. It’s pure fantasy strategy–studs and scrubs.
One of the recurring themes of injury analysis is positional depth, roster flexibility, and the value of multi-position players. This has been a hallmark of La Russa style, from Tony Phillips to Jose Oquendo to Hector Luna. This year, it’s not there unless you believe Scott Spiezio can be resurrected. Kevin Goldstein’s detailed the lack of useful, game-ready prospects in the system, so what you see here is roughly what you get, trades notwithstanding. That makes the Cardinals a good team that is shouldering a considerable amount of risk; one injury to the wrong guy or the wrong spot could drop them back into the middle of an NL Central race.
The Cards ride Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and, if healthy, Scott Rolen a long way. This allows role players like David Eckstein to make the most of the things they do well while La Russa keeps them from being overtasked. Dave Duncan takes discards, retreads, and Mark Mulder and molds them into something that can serve most needs. Every once in a while, he gets a Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, or Chris Carpenter out of the mix.
This team is good enough to top their division rivals, even acknowledging that they’ve given up wins. Where they simply can’t recover is in a major injury to one of their key players. No team can replace an Albert Pujols acceptably. Edmonds would actually be the bigger loss, since his offense and defense are a hard-to-find package. Any pitcher–or a Sidney Ponson flameout–could force the rotation to dance the razor’s edge all season long. Adam Wainwright has performed like most ex-Braves (poorly), but honestly remains the best option after Anthony Reyes.
Don’t get me wrong. The Cardinals are no worse off than last year: they have enough talent to win the division going away, and the team can deal with the normal nicks and bumps teams get. There are just several scenarios of varying likelihoods that could get ugly quickly.