The St. Louis weather may not suggest it, but winter is just about over. That is, if you define winter in baseball terms. I am headed south to Jupiter, Fla., later today, and the first pitchers/catchers workout is slated for Sunday.
This will likely be the final Inbox until the start of the regular season. But don't fret -- that doesn't mean I am done answering your inquiries until April. In an effort to answer even more questions than this Inbox forum will allow, my plan is to take one question a day and answer it on my blog. This will allow for more interaction and should also be the best way to handle the volume of questions I receive.
We'll give this a try beginning on Sunday and see how it goes throughout spring. If all goes well, perhaps it will be something that I continue through the regular season. Also, be aware that there will be daily updates on the blog throughout Spring Training, so I'd recommend making it a regular stop during your news gathering.
For now, let's get rolling with today's bunch of questions:
Why is it that most people project Carlos Beltran to bat second in the batting order? I feel as though Jon Jay has shown enough ability to hit second. In his two years, Jay has batted right around .300. And Beltran has the ability to drive in more runs.
-- Gregory L., Eagle River, Ark.
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Any speculation you've read about Beltran ending up in the second spot in the order is still speculation at this point. If manager Mike Matheny has made up his mind on a batting order, he has not yet shared. That said, he did suggest that, if healthy, Beltran could fit nicely behind Rafael Furcal.
So what's the rationale? Matheny likes the idea of having his best hitters get the most at-bats, which obviously makes sense. Putting Beltran in the second spot in the order as opposed to the fifth hole will better maximize the number of times he comes to the plate.
Hitting second is not foreign to Beltran, and he has a terrific on-base percentage (.378) in that spot. His career on-base percentage is also higher than Jay's, so that is something to factor in. The Cardinals obviously want to plug that second spot with someone who will get on base in front of Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday.
I actually think the decision gets more interesting when Allen Craig returns. He would seem a solid candidate to hit second, so perhaps there's discussion then about moving Beltran down to the fifth spot. Beltran could also be needed to shift down in the batting order if David Freese can't provide the production needed behind Berkman/Holliday.
There are several variables with this decision, but perhaps it's best to see how things play out this spring before analyzing it to death.
It seems like everyone is getting down on Yadier Molina because he was not at Winter Warm-Up and because of the Albert Pujols situation. Is there any word on whether he will be reporting to Spring Training on time?
-- Charlie W., Plainfield, Ill.
Molina is not on time to Spring Training. He's early. Quite early, in fact. Molina has been down in Jupiter for several days now, even though catchers are not required to report until Saturday. All indications are that neither the Cardinals, nor Molina, harbor any animosity over what went on this offseason. While it's no secret that Molina and Pujols were close friends, Molina is adept enough to understand the business aspect of this sport.
All this speculation about Molina's feelings toward the organization has already taken up enough discussion time in print and on the airwaves. All sides agree it's time to move on.
Every time I hear Kyle Lohse mentioned, it seems that someone is belittling his value. Outside of only having one year left on his contract, what is wrong with him when he is healthy? He was very effective in his first season with the Cardinals and again last year. Am I missing something?
-- Thom M., Kansas City
You're not missing a thing. When healthy, Lohse has given the Cardinals fine results. And maybe it does get lost on some that he actually led the team's starters in wins (14) and ERA (3.39) last year. When you're talking about a guy who is projected to be a team's fourth starter, there doesn't seem to be much to legitimately gripe about. Obviously, health is a huge factor, but it is with any pitcher.
Perhaps some of the negativity toward Lohse is actually directed toward his contract. He is going to be the fifth-highest paid player on the club with an $11.875 million salary in 2012. Also, his no-trade clause has potentially handcuffed the organization from considering a trade as a way to address other areas of need.
When can we expect to see Shelby Miller called up? And will the Cardinals use him as a starter or put him in the bullpen?
-- Scott G., White Heath, Ill.
Miller, the Cardinals' top-ranked prospect heading into 2012, as rated by MLB.com, is going to be a starter this year and well beyond. If Miller has the same success in Triple-A that he has had throughout his Minor League climb, it is certainly not a stretch to project that he could be in St. Louis sometime during the 2012 season.
Of course, Miller alone won't entirely dictate his rise. If the Cardinals are making a push for the playoffs and there is no need to shake up the rotation, Miller may have to wait until 2013 to get his start in the Majors.
What are the chances of seeing Lance Lynn in the starting rotation this season?
-- Michael, Vancouver, Wash.
Lynn is projected to spend the year in a bullpen role, and I see only two factors potentially changing that. If one of the Cardinals' five starters were to get injured this spring, Lynn would be an option to step into that rotation spot. It's one of the reasons why the Cardinals are likely to get Lynn multiple-inning appearances in Grapefruit League play.
The other way Lynn's role could change is if he does not make the Major League roster out of camp. I don't see this as likely, though there is plenty of competition among right-handed relievers. If Lynn is somehow left out, he could go down to Triple-A and start there to maintain his versatility. That would allow Lynn to be considered if the Cardinals lose a starter sometime during the year.
It's early yet and there is plenty of time, but do you have any insight as to which positions the Cards are deeming more important in this year's First-Year Player Draft? I would think catcher might be a priority given the unsure situation with Molina at this time.
-- James B., Midland, Texas
After receiving several similar questions, I thought it couldn't hurt to address the Draft, even though it is still almost four months away. One of the most important things to remember about baseball's First-Year Player Draft is that teams pick players based on talent, not on need. Most drafted players take at least two or three years to climb to the Majors, so often what may be a need now is not necessarily going to be a need when members of a Draft class finally start breaking into the big leagues.
Even if the Cardinals are legitimately concerned that Molina will leave St. Louis after the 2012 season, the team is not going to find a replacement in this summer's Draft.
I guess here in Arkansas we hear things that may be somewhat questionable. So here goes my question: I've heard that part of Pujols' contract with the Angels stipulates that he will never have any ties with the Cardinals' organization again. Is this so?
-- Bill, Malvern, Ark.
I guess I don't have to tell you not to believe everything you hear, as you obviously have already learned that lesson at some point. And in this case, the rumors swirling around your area are inaccurate.
The confusion likely stems from the personal services contract that is included in Pujols' contract. This clause stipulates that the Angels will offer Pujols $1 million a year for 10 years after he retires to have him provide his personal services to the organization. Pujols has the option to decline this offer, but if he accepts, he'll essentially be a part of the Angels' organization for the next 20 years.