Hot Stove Daily: St. Louis Cardinals

Steve Henson
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Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the St. Louis Cardinals.

2008 record: 86-76

Finish: Fourth place in National League Central, 11½ games behind the Chicago Cubs.

2008 opening-day payroll: $99.6 million

2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $91 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

The Cardinals are accustomed to being sucker punched by injuries. It's nothing new to learn that a key player's elbow or knee or shoulder resembles grated cheese. Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Tyler Johnson, Scott Rolen, Jason Isringhausen, … the list goes on.

Yet the news that third baseman Troy Glaus would be sidelined until mid-May after he had surgery last week to mend a muscle tear in his throwing shoulder was unsettling to the legions of restless Redbird loyalists. And a bit galling.

Glaus, a big bat behind Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick in the lineup, experienced shoulder pain last September. Why didn't he have the surgery the day the season ended? Waiting made no sense, not for the Cardinals, not for Glaus. It wasn't as if he had to wait until the club picked up his option to reveal the injury; he had exercised a player's option for $11.5 million in 2009 when St. Louis acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays a year ago.

The Glaus loss makes the acquisition of shortstop Khalil Greene even more crucial. Greene belted 27 home runs

in 2007 for the San Diego Padres, but last year he was injured, impotent and impatient, batting .213

with 10 home runs

and nearly five strikeouts for every walk in 105 games.

Nevertheless, Greene ought to be a significant offensive upgrade over Cesar Izturis, who left via free agency along with two other Cardinals infielders, Aaron Miles and Felipe Lopez.

For the most part, though, the offseason has been one of window shopping for second-year general manager John Mozeliak. The Cardinals couldn't trade for slugger Matt Holliday and couldn't sign free-agent closer Brian Fuentes. It appears a payroll that flirted with the $100 million mark in 2008 could shrink by nearly 10 percent. The sour economy is a factor; the Cardinals pulled out of a deal to purchase their Triple-A team in Memphis, although the Redbirds will remain the Cardinals' affiliate.

REALITY CHECK

Several intriguing prospects are in the pipeline at third base, but none will deliver the .270

batting average, 27

home runs and 99

RBIs that Glaus did last season.

David Freese, acquired from the Padres in the Jim Edmonds deal a year ago, tore it up in Memphis and is nearly 26, so he'll likely get first shot. Slick-fielding Brian Barden could hold down the fort if Freese falters, but he'd bat ninth. Joe Mather, who hit eight

homers in 133

at-bats as a backup outfielder last year, has experience at third. And Brett Wallace, the top hitting prospect in the organization, will get a look in spring training, although he needs more seasoning.

When Glaus returns, the Cardinals will have impressive power deep into the lineup. Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, and outfielders Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan all hit home runs. Yadier Molina is a top-level catcher and outfielder Skip Schumacher is a valuable lineup presence.

Losing all those infielders puts the onus on Adam Kennedy to rebound and seize back the second-base job. He'll probably bat ninth in manager Tony La Russa's oddball lineup unless Barden is the starter at third.

The No. 8 hitters are the key because, for St. Louis, that often means the starting pitchers. The surprising Kyle Lohse was re-signed to a four-year deal. Todd Wellmeyer and Adam Wainwright are well and good. Joel Piniero will show up every five days. But the rotation lacks an ace.

That's Carpenter's role, or was. It's too much to ask any more, even though he is upbeat after a nerve in his elbow was moved in November. He says lingering discomfort from his ligament replacement surgery in 2007 disappeared after the latest procedure, but the Cardinals will bring him along slowly. Making him the closer has been discussed, but Carpenter would prefer to start and La Russa is leaning in that direction.

The bullpen is iffy, the addition of Trever Miller and another couple of left-handed arms notwithstanding. La Russa is hoping someone from the nondescript group of Ryan Franklin, Chris Perez, Kyle McClellan and Josh Kinney emerges as a closer. Otherwise, the job could fall to Jason Motte, a converted catcher who throws hard and was nearly unhittable in 11 late-season innings.

The Cardinals improved by eight victories in 2008, but they look like an 86-win team again. The fan base, perhaps the savviest in the National League, senses it, and season ticket sales are down. Catching the Cubs in the NL Central is a longshot, but competing for a wild-card berth isn't.

And any St. Louis fan knows it was the 83-victory Cardinals of 2006 that won a World Series, while the 105-victory Cardinals of 2004 were swept by the Boston Red Sox.

Still need a closer. An ace. And a healthy Glaus.

Next: Kansas City Royals