The Facts
Head Trainer: Barry Weinberg
Player Days Lost: 1,025
Dollars Lost: $19.45 million
Three-Year Rank: 19

The Cardinals don’t like being mid-pack in anything, so coming up with a 19th overall ranking and a 2007 finish almost directly in the middle can’t feel good for Barry Weinberg and his staff. That said, credit and blame are often tough to pin down, so the Cardinals bear a closer look.

First, the Cardinals have been willing to take more (and bigger) risks, especially on pitchers. This is largely due to the type of pitcher that coach Dave Duncan is successful with, but this also leads to some failures. But while someone like Matt Clement might end up being a drag on their 2008 stats, the Cardinals also haven’t been able to keep the players they’ve had a couple years healthy. Last season’s numbers were dragged down by injuries to Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder much more than any new fix-it project for Duncan.

It’s also a problem judging whether or not the team was “successful” with players like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, who are talented, but require a lot of maintenance work just to keep them out on the field. Pushing them aside would seem to help, but Troy Glaus isn’t exactly Mr. Durable at third base. Instead, we find a mixed bag there and not much to hang credit or blame on. Familiarity doesn’t seem to change things when it comes to the results of longtime athletic Trainer and La Russa sidekick Barry Weinberg.

So what do the Cardinals do well or poorly? Not much. This mid-pack finish might actually show their true talent level, at least with the team as currently constructed. That might surprise, given the presence of injury guru Sig Mejdal in the Cards’ front office, but it’s also not a negative. They’ve done reasonably well with keeping Albert Pujols healthy enough to produce, which bodes well for Glaus. There’s no clear winner between consistency and an Astros-style hit or miss, as the NL Central results have shown. Instead, what might be more interesting is the idea that both approaches may have won or lost division titles each of the last five years. At least we can expect more of the same from this medical staff.

The Big Question
The bloggers at Viva El Birdos ask: “Are any of the Cards’ three arm-damaged starters (Carpenter, Mulder, and Clement) likely to come close to their former effectiveness within the next two years?”

The short answer? No. Longer answer: Hahahahaha; no. Non-snarky answer: There’s always a chance, but you can’t count on any of them to do anything. Carpenter is the best bet, coming back from Tommy John surgery and knowing that he knows how to rehab. He should be back late in the season for a cameo and we’ll see what’s left then. He’s got a better chance in ’09, but by then he’s overpaid. Mulder and Clement are low-dollar upside plays that leverage Dave Duncan’s skills. It’s a bit of “no harm, no foul” in that the money spent isn’t stopping other spending or blocking anyone from taking a rotation slot.

C Yadier Molina Yellow light: I wonder if the Molinas all have tattoos: “Born To Catch.” Little Yadi apparently didn’t get to eat quite as much as his big brothers, and maybe that saves his knees. The surgery should help him for now, but Molina seems to take more of a beating back there than most, and plays in a lot of hot Midwestern day games. He’s probably better off staying in the 100- or 110-games caught range if he wants to prevent the small injuries building up into something bigger.

1B Albert Pujols Yellow light: He’s never been healthy. Never. At least not during his major league career. That’s just sick and worthy of Mickey Mantle-level “what ifs.”

2B Adam Kennedy Yellow light: If you buy that Kennedy was playing on a bad knee much of last season, his terrible results can be discounted some. He should be able to come back from that type of injury, if that’s all it was.

3B Troy Glaus Red light: Glaus comes to the Midwest with a bad foot, a history of shoulder problems and a cloud. The grass should help him, as should having Tony La Russa watching his back. I’d expect Glaus to miss some time, but he’s the kind of player who, like Pujols, should benefit from the maintenance work this staff can handle.

SS Cesar Izturis Green light: Yes, I know he had Tommy John. He’s still green, and he still can’t hit.

LF Chris Duncan Yellow light: Sports hernia. Yeah, ouch, but they’re more painful than serious and easily corrected. Duncan’s a green if he plays more at first base, but if he’s playing first base much, the Cards have much, much bigger problems than keeping Duncan healthy.

CF Rick Ankiel Yellow light: Who has the better Disney movie, Josh Hamilton or Rick Ankiel? The yellow is the result of Ankiel’s odd career path and an adjustment I added in last year to deal with his relative newness to the outfield. The uncertainty of which specific portion of the outfield he’ll be patrolling is in play here as well. Who would have thought that, instead of being Sandy Koufax, he might end up as Rob Deer?

RF Ryan Ludwick Yellow light: Ludwick is one of those players who almost got stuck in Triple-A by injuries. Given a chance last year, though, Ludwick played the kind of hard-nosed baseball that St. Louis loves. He’ll have to fight off the Eric Davis-possessed body of Juan Gonzalez at the start of the season and hope that Colby Rasmus doesn’t need room in the second half. The problem is that he’ll have to stay healthy while doing it, or he turns back into a pumpkin.

SP Adam Wainwright Yellow light: The shift from closer to starter went pretty well for Wainwright, but last year’s workload remains a massive innings jump last year. If he puts up another 200 innings, put him in the “he’ll do this every year” category. The best sign is that he did not fade; in fact, he was better as the season went on.

SP Braden Looper Yellow light: Another shift to starter and another surprising success. Looper was used smartly and never overextended. He’s not exactly a horse as much as he is a sponge, but you need those. You just don’t want to see them as your #2.

SP Joel Pineiro Yellow light: What was it that Allard Baird saw in him in 2006 that convinced the Red Sox that he could be a closer? No one else saw it, though Dave Duncan turned him into a useful starter in the second half, showing there’s still something in his arm that the Mariners didn’t break.

SP Matt Clement Red light: Here’s where asking for lineups in January can get you into trouble. Even publishing in mid-February–as we did with the THR Matrix–looks foolish just a couple weeks later. Clement is unlikely to break camp or stay healthy. It’s an easy red, but this now creates a slot for Todd Wellemeyer (Yellow light).

SP Mark Mulder Red light: See above. Mulder’s also not even in the vicinity of ready and looks to be on his last frayed tendon in that shoulder. Moneyball didn’t talk about trading pitchers early, but it might have been Beane’s best move with his original big three. Makes you wonder a bit about Danny Haren, doesn’t it? Anthony Reyes (Yellow light) slots in here.

CL Jason Isringhausen Red light: He came back well after the hip surgery, but seemed to wear down hard at the end of the season. It might be age and the abnormal workload he’s seen in his career or it might be that he wasn’t able to condition last off-season. We’ll know a lot more this time next year, but for now, he’s risky, but mostly risky in the second half, if you think you’ve got some trading skillz.

RP Ryan Franklin Green light

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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