What are the Cardinals going to do with seven right-handers for five open bullpen spots? Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs are secure in two spots. Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal earned spots with impressive play. Edward Mujica stabilized the 'pen. Shelby Miller was outstanding in his limited time. And Fernando Salas has the most experience. What to do?
-- Craig W., St. Charles, Mo.
Indeed, the Cardinals appear saturated with bullpen options. But after fighting through unsettled 'pen situations in each of the last two seasons, it's a problem the Cardinals welcome. It's more than reasonable to assume that five of the seven bullpen spots are already secured by Motte (closer), Boggs and Mujica (set-up men) and Marc Rzepczynski and Randy Choate (lefties). From there, it gets tricky.
Assuming Jaime Garcia and the rest of the Cardinals' set starters are healthy, the final rotation spot will be filled by one of Lance Lynn, Kelly, Miller or Rosenthal. I'd project that one of the three who doesn't end up starting will land in the bullpen, with Salas then taking the seventh place. Miller will not be used out of the bullpen, but Kelly, Rosenthal or Lynn could be a fit there. Remember, that for those who lose out on starting spots in St. Louis, there will be starting opportunities available in Triple-A. That rotation depth is almost always needed at some point, so it wouldn't hurt to keep one or two of those young right-handers stretched out and ready to fill in when necessary.
How do you think the record-breaking contract the Dodgers have given Zack Greinke will affect negotiations between the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright?
-- Jeff F., Davenport, Iowa
Greinke has reportedly reached an agreement with the Dodgers worth $147 million over six years. It is the largest contract ever given to a right-handed pitcher and offers Greinke an average annual salary of $24.5 million. Over the past year, just one other right-hander -- Matt Cain ($127.5 million) -- has also signed comparable six-year extensions.
Wainwright, 31, is older than Greinke (29) and Cain (28), and that will be a factor in his negotiations. He'll still likely command an average annual salary of at least $20 million, but is unlikely to get a deal extending six years in length if the Cards agree to go that high in annual salary.
Wainwright has expressed an interest in staying, but it's unreasonable to expect him to take a substantial hometown discount to remain. The Cardinals' offer will have to be competitive in today's marketplace, and certainly know that the organization would prefer to get an agreement wrapped up before Wainwright's value is driven up in free agency next offseason.
Why aren't the Cardinals more heavily pursuing Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera? I feel like this guy is a perfect fit and the Cards have been searching for a long-term solution at shortstop. With a fragile elbow, Rafael Furcal could fill in beautifully at second base until Kolten Wong is ready. I know general manager John Mozeliak doesn't want to get rid of any top-tier prospects, but this seems too beautiful to pass up. What are your thoughts?
-- Chad G., Edwardsville, Ill.
To consider Cabrera a long-term solution would be misguided. His current contract extends only for two more seasons, meaning he'll be a free agent after the 2014 season. That's not to downplay the impact he could have for a club for the next two years. But it is reason to pause before giving up a package of elite talent for only two years of Cabrera's service.
The Cardinals are not opposed to parting with prospects in order to improve the Major League club, but there is a cost-benefit analysis that can lead to some hesitation. For instance, is it worth sacrificing six years of control over one of the team's promising young pitchers for two years of Cabrera? The Cardinals are not convinced that it is. If Furcal is healthy -- as the team insists he will be -- the organization can wait until next winter to find the next long-term solution for the shortstop position.
Since the Cardinals have apparently bought into Furcal's recovery and will not pursue a shortstop this offseason, who are the possible free-agent shortstops after 2013?
-- Robert E., Wayland, Mich.
If the Cardinals wait until after the 2013 season to address their shortstop need, they will find a free-agent to again be lacking. Shortstops set to be free agents next winter include Clint Barmes, Willie Bloomquist, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Quintanilla and Brendan Ryan. The list could grow to include Yunel Escobar and Alexi Casilla if club options aren't exercised.
The trade market will offer other potential fits, and keep in mind that the Cardinals don't have to wait until next offseason to address this impending need. The Trade Deadline could present an opportunity to add a shortstop and if the club did so then, it would avoid backing itself into a spot where it may have to overpay to fill a need next winter.
Are the Cardinals going to give Matt Carpenter a shot at second base?
-- Michael N., Springfield, Ill.
The Cardinals sent Carpenter home for the winter with the directive to work at second base. Last year, Carpenter engaged in a crash course of winter work at first base and in the outfield, and everyone saw the fruits of that labor pay significant dividends this year. It's not far-fetched to expect Carpenter to show up to Spring Training a capable second baseman.
That said, the Cardinals have said they intend to emphasize defense over offense at that position. That would seem to favor Daniel Descalso's chances of becoming the team's starting second baseman, assuming the Cardinals don't make any middle infield additions between now and the start of the season. But if the Cardinals get into a place where they need to put more value on the offense, Carpenter could sneak into the picture and take away some of that playing time.
It seems like it would have made sense for the Cardinals to offer Dan Haren the same one-year, $13-million contract he received from Washington. It comes with little long-term risk, and he would have been a quality pitcher to replace Kyle Lohse. Now that he is with the Nationals, I hope Garcia is healthy.
-- Tom I., Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Cardinals were not in the market for starting pitching this offseason, which is why the club did not pursue Haren. Though Lohse is on his way out, remember that the Cardinals are anticipating a full season of availability from Chris Carpenter in 2013. Carpenter will be joined by Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Wainwright to make up four-fifths of the rotation. The club then has at least four young right-handers that could be considered candidates for the final spot.
The Cardinals had more pressing areas to address this year with their limited payroll flexibility and therefore paid little attention to the starting pitching market. For those concerned about Garcia's health, the Cardinals do believe they have enough young pitching depth to cover the club in the case that Garcia is not able to pitch for a full season.