COMMENTARY | Going into the last few weeks of spring training, here are 10 things to be encouraged about if you're a St. Louis Cardinal fans (in no particular order):
10). Pitching depth. With Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, that only means one of them won't be a starter right now. Inevitably, a pitcher will go down during the year and the Cards will have a capable replacement who isn't a 42-year-old left-handed retread. (Is Jeff Fassero still available?)
9). A very diverse and solid core of young players. We've been over this, but Matt Adams, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, Adron Chambers, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, et al mean the Cardinals can deal if they have to, but, more likely, can slowly integrate the youngsters into the big club as contracts expire for Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, etc.
8). A very solid and respected farm system that has produced major-league ballplayers. The Cardinals' scouting department deserves some respect from fans for identifying talent, and the farm system deserves a great deal of appreciation for developing that talent. Unlike a lot of clubs, the Cardinals don't let players linger in Low-A for years. They move them up or move them along. That is the fairest way to handle young players.
7). A much-improved bullpen. Randy Choate and Marc Rzepczynski (when his eye heals) give the Cardinals some options against lefties. Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and Fernando Salas offer middle-relief depth and Trevor Rosenthal looks like he could develop into a quality setup man for Jason Motte. Hopefully, four- and five-out saves won't be necessary this year.
6). Mike Matheny has a year of experience and an increased level of comfort in his role. He may not feel this way, but he doesn't have to prove himself every day to his players, the fans or the front office. He led the club through a trying year, rallied them to the playoffs, and came within a win of returning to the World Series. He's made his bones.
5). A 5-year deal with Allen Craig means the Redbirds' front office recognizes the need for stability in its veteran core and the contribution Craig has made.
4). Through hard work and Jose Oquendo's tutelage, Matt Carpenter appears to be a very adequate second baseman. That puts a potent bat in the lineup from the left side.
3). At the end of this year, they will have considerable payroll flexibility as expiring contracts for Beltran, Furcal and Chris Carpenter will free up over $30 million, according to Cots Baseball Contracts. That means a better chance to re-sign Adam Wainwright and explore the free-agent market.
2). That they owe ZERO dollars to former players. This is a seldom-considered factor, but it can severely impact payroll flexibility. For example, the New York Mets owe Jason Bay over $18 million plus a $4 million buyout next year. The New York Yankees owe A.J. Burnett over $8 million.
1). They didn't pay Zack Greinke $147 million for six years.
Mike Bailey is a former part-time professional baseball scout who has managed high school and college baseball teams. He has followed the St Louis Cardinals for 40 years.
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- Carlos Beltran
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