The opportunity to return to Missouri (I am a Mizzou graduate) is an exciting one, and I look forward to chronicling the 2012 season and beyond for you. Thank you to all who have already sent notes welcoming me to town. I can't say that the response from Cardinal Nation was surprising (you all already have a stellar reputation), but it's been humbling nonetheless.
As much as I'd love to answer every email personally or in this Inbox forum, remember that I can't get back to everyone and still have time to do the rest of my job. I'll do the best I can, and as long as I continue to receive questions from you, I'll make Inboxes a regular part of coverage.
Now, onto what you really want to know ...
Have a question about the Cardinals?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Cardinals beat reporter Jenifer Langosch for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
I am probably preaching to the choir, but why don't the Cardinals offer Roy Oswalt something he deems "close to sufficient," but with incentives that could make the contract worth $10 million? The Cardinals could move Jake Westbrook back to the bullpen to strengthen it and, at the same time, have a backup starter.
-- Casey H., Elk Grove, Calif.
I'd estimate that at least two-thirds of the questions that made it into my Inbox this week were on the subject of Oswalt. The Cardinals had interest in Oswalt -- but at their price. Oswalt has interest in the Cardinals -- at his price. At this point, those two desired salary figures haven't matched.
Unless Oswalt lowers his demands -- which are reportedly around $10 million for a one-year deal -- he won't be coming to St. Louis. The Cardinals don't have significant wiggle room in their budget, and it does little good to lace a contract with incentives if the team doesn't want to make that money available up front. Yes, incentives would protect the Cardinals in case Oswalt were to get injured. But it wouldn't help them stay under budget if he doesn't.
The reality is that the Cardinals don't feel desperate to add a starter. They have a solid rotation of five already in place, and while you could argue that Oswalt would be an upgrade over Kyle Lohse and/or Westbrook, St. Louis is somewhat bound by the fact that both pitchers own no-trade clauses. Therefore, dealing one to open a rotation spot and create salary relief would not be easy.
I'd expect that the only way for the Oswalt-to-Cardinals rumors to regain steam would be if Oswalt, whose list of suitors is dwindling, comes down on his salary expectations. That could rekindle the Cardinals' initial intrigue in the veteran right-hander.
While Matthew did a great job before you, I'm excited to get a fresh take on what we consider baseball heaven here in St. Louis. As an outsider and recently with a division rival, the Pirates, what is your take on the outlook of the Cardinals organization and our chances of being competitive in the National League Central?
-- John E., St. Louis
I won't go so far as to say that Cardinals fans are spoiled, but I do wonder if sometimes you all truly realize how good you have it. Coming from Pittsburgh, a city whose baseball team has not had a winning season in 19 years, fans would take a fraction of the talent on this Cardinals big league squad.
That said, this team appears built to handle the absence of Albert Pujols, if the core contributors stay healthy. If there is a concern about the makeup of this club, it is that several of the key pieces are in their 30s and approaching the point where production begins to decline. If St. Louis can avoid this being an issue, it has to be the favorite in the division.
There's no doubt that the club will benefit from Milwaukee weakening and the Cubs/Pirates/Astros remaining in rebuilding mode. Watch out for the Reds, who I think could be a dark horse in the division.
Going into camp, what is your perspective on the second-base competition? You have Skip Schumaker, who has the best bat of the lot. You have Daniel Descalso, who has the best glove but is probably below average at the plate. Lastly, you have Tyler Greene, who has been shown a lot of love on the airwaves by general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny.
-- Marlon T., Encinitas, Calif.
Both Mozeliak and Matheny pushed Greene's name out in front of the other two during last month's Winter Warm-Up. Neither did it to tout Greene as the sure answer, but it was another indication of how intrigued the organization remains about Greene's potential. There is still a belief that the production he has showed in the Minors can translate into Major League success. It will remain hard to rule that out, too, until Greene is given the chance to accrue consistent big league at-bats.
That said, second base is up for grabs this spring. Neither Schumaker, nor Descalso, are out of the running, though both could fill utility roles if Greene does ultimately get the first crack at the job. Of all the storylines that will present themselves during Spring Training, consider this one of the most interesting.
I was wondering if you have any Allen Craig updates? How is he doing, and when is his projected return?
-- John B., Poplar Bluff, Mo.
I'll be able to provide a more specific report on Craig's status next week, when I travel to Jupiter, Fla., for the start of my Spring Training stay. What I can tell you now is that Craig has been rehabbing his knee in Florida for the past three weeks.
Craig spoke to reporters at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up event in mid-January and said that his recovery from surgery was right on track. He remains hopeful that he will not have to spend any time on the disabled list, though the Cardinals are preparing to play April with Craig still sidelined.
Craig's progression over the next few weeks will allow for a better determination of his timeline.
In the recent "Around the Horn - Outfielders" story, no mention was made of Erik Komatsu. As a Rule 5 draftee, aren't the Cardinals required to keep him on the active roster all year?
-- Bob H., Lake Charles, La.
Yes, Komatsu is another outfielder that the Cardinals will carefully look at this spring. As a Rule 5 pick, he must make the Opening Day roster and remain on the 25-man roster for a full season or else be offered back to the Nationals for half of the $50,000 the Cardinals paid to select him in December.
If Craig opens the season on the disabled list, Komatsu could make a run at a bench spot as an extra outfielder. Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson, who are both on the 40-man roster, will also be competing for such a role.
Can you take a crack at predicting the starting lineup and pitching rotation?
-- E. Clark B., Franklin, Tenn.
The rotation, assuming Oswalt indeed goes elsewhere, is easy to project. Behind Chris Carpenter will sit Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Lohse and Westbrook.
As of now, there still appears to be some fluidity in the batting order. Carlos Beltran could hit second or fifth, and his placement could be partially determined by whether Craig is ready in April or not. If I had to guess now, I'd put the batting order as such: Rafael Furcal, Beltran, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay and the second baseman.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.