Mailbag: As the rotation turns

Mailbag: As the rotation turns

We're well past the midpoint of the winter. It's definitely the time when you're looking fully ahead to next season rather than back at last season. We have three weeks until Spring Training, which is pretty remarkable.

As always, if you have a question, use the link below to submit it -- and please be sure to include your first name, last initial and hometown. If you send a regular e-mail, be certain to use the word "mailbag" in the subject header -- if not, your mail may be directed to the spam folder, or otherwise ignored in an unbecoming manner.

I have a question about the signing of Sidney Ponson. With six pitchers competing for five spots, someone will be left out. What will the Cardinals do with that odd man? Would they test the trade waters or use the extra guy to strengthen the bullpen?
-- Kaden M., Springfield, Ky.

I wouldn't expect a trade, though it's not impossible. If Anthony Reyes wins the spot, odds are that Ponson would be sent to the bullpen, something he's said that he's open to. If Ponson wins out, you might see Reyes in the bullpen, though I'm not sure that would be the organization's first preference. I think what you might see is Reyes headed back to Memphis to start every fifth day there, where he'd be at the ready if anything happened to one of the other five starters. It's a good problem to have.

After reading a few articles about players doing well in Winter Leagues, I started to wonder how well success in the winter translates to the regular season. Can we expect players such as John Rodriguez to continue to hit well against Major League pitching, as he is in Puerto Rico?
-- Dan S., Florissant, Mo.

The translation isn't that great, because the level of competition is probably equivalent to the high Minors -- so don't expect Rodriguez to hit .340 with major power this year.

I do think, however, that in the case of someone such as Rodriguez, every at-bat helps, and the increased confidence of a successful winter can only help him. He has some things that he needs to work on -- like pitch recognition and handling offspeed and breaking pitches -- but every game where he keeps hitting is encouraging.

Oh, great Yoda of the baseball diamond, we need your wisdom. When we signed Juan Encarnacion, I was not happy. This was not the big-time outfielder we all coveted -- until I saw that he is from the Dominican Republic, the same country that Albert Pujols is from. I'm a believer that chemistry is a huge key, along with talent and injuries, for a successful season. In this age of being PC, I hope you understand my question: Do you think that this had any bearing in Walt Jocketty's decision?
-- Randy S., St. Louis

Yoda. I like that.

Have a question about the Cardinals?
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I don't think it's inappropriate to wonder whether players benefit from being around people who have similar backgrounds -- whether that background is California, Mississippi, Korea or the Dominican Republic. Pujols and Encarnacion have known each other for several years, and Pujols speaks very highly of his new teammate as both a player and a person.

I don't know if that necessarily means Encarnacion's performance will improve, but it can't hurt. I don't believe it was part of the decision-making process, though. I think the Cardinals feel that Encarnacion is coming into his prime offensively, and that his speed and defense will benefit the club.

I was looking at the Cardinals roster online and saw that they didn't offer arbitration to Al Reyes. Yet everything else I read seems to count on him being a part of the Cardinals' second half next year. Was this misinformation, or is the team planning on signing him after May 1? I was just confused. Thanks.
-- Andy H., St. Charles, Mo.

From a recent conversation with Jocketty, my understanding is that Reyes didn't want to sign anywhere at this point. The reasoning is that if he's only going to play a month or two, he wants to wait until he has a better read on where the best situations will be in the season's final month or two. That might well be in St. Louis, but it might be somewhere else. He hasn't been written out of the plans, but he's not decidedly in them either.

I read in a recent mailbag that you believe Junior Spivey will be the starting second baseman for the Cardinals. Before he was added to the roster, I had read that Hector Luna was considered to be the front-runner for starting second baseman. Do you now see the Cards trading Luna? If not, do you believe he will be on the big-league roster when the season begins?
-- Jerry M., Leavenworth, Kan.

I don't know that Luna was ever necessarily the front-runner, but I do believe he figures in the plans. The club still likes his potential, particularly offensively.

My expectation is that Luna will make the club and see a career high for at-bats, but still will not be a regular player. I don't expect they'll shop him just to get rid of him, but on the other hand, I don't think they'd be unwilling to move him in the right deal.

Isn't Gary Bennett the catcher with whom Pujols got into a scuffle over a walk-off home run? I was at both games that particular weekend -- the walk-off was Saturday night, then Albert got hit by a pitch, confronted by (I think) Bennett and tossed out of the game on Sunday. I'm also thinking that they were playing the Padres that series.  So if all the above is true, what will the clubhouse dynamics be like this year?
-- Nickie J.

Your memory is dead-on, and that incident was the first thing that came to my mind as well when Bennett signed.

But you'd be amazed at what ballplayers can forget. I actually think this is a less significant roadblock than the one two years ago, when Julian Tavarez and Mike Matheny had to share a clubhouse after a much more extensive history. These guys should be fine, because they're both pros and they both believe in the team.

I don't think the issue between them was ever necessarily personal. I expect they'll be just fine.

Why do teams only use five-man rotations? The Cardinals this year are in a great position, having six amazing starters. Why does one have to sit in the bullpen when you can add him to the rotation and have better-rested pitchers and a deeper pitching staff?
-- Kevin G., St. Louis

There are two questions here, one broader and one more specific. Broadly, four to five days of rest is pretty much plenty for pitchers. There's never been any benefit shown to giving pitchers more than the regular rest they get now, and, in fact, there are quite a few people who believe that teams should be moving the other direction -- back toward four-man rotations.

In the specific case of the Cardinals, look at it this way. Though Ponson and Reyes both have the ability to be quality pitchers, if you get each of them 25 to 27 starts, you're taking games away from Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis -- which doesn't seem to benefit the club. It will be good to have someone in reserve in case any pitchers get hurt.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.