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Cards can compete despite loss of Carpenter

Redbirds seeking fourth playoff berth in five years, 10th since 2000

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ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals, after falling one win short of a repeat trip to the World Series in 2012, went about their winter quietly. There were few impact departures and minimal key needs, leaving the Cardinals content to carry over their core into 2013.

The organization certainly wishes the offseason had ended with similar silence. Instead, one week before their first official workout of Spring Training, the Cardinals were forced to begin preparing for another season without Chris Carpenter.

How much that loss stings will depend upon the continued development of several young pitchers, all of whom now enter Spring Training aware that there are starting jobs to be won. That rotation competition will be an added wrinkle to a Cardinals spring camp that was setting up to feature few position battles.

Questions about the rotation and the health of certain key players will be front and center when the Cardinals open Spring Training next week. Pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout on Tuesday at the team's Jupiter, Fla., complex.

The expectations for the season, though, are not altered in the wake of Carpenter's setback. This is an organization that still has its eyes set on a championship, and is one built to contend for a division title. The Cardinals, despite their recent postseason success, have not finished atop the National League Central since 2009.

"We've got a good team returning," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "We've got most of our team back and a few new pieces. We feel pretty good about it. When you look at all of our young pitchers and some of our young prospects, I don't think [general manager John Mozeliak] wanted to block any of those potential opportunities. I think in looking at our team, we have a great chance to come together."

The Cardinals' offense projects to be one of the league's best for another season. The bullpen should be better stabilized with the addition of Randy Choate, and the returns of Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica. It's the makeup of the rotation that has emerged as the biggest unknown, though the Cardinals have a stockpile of emerging young pitchers who appear ready to take on regular work in a big league rotation.

"At some point, you're going to have to find out if they can do it or not," Mozeliak said. "We really believe this group is looking forward to this challenge."

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 11

Full squad reports

Feb. 14

First Spring Training game

Away vs. Marlins, Feb. 23 at 12:05 p.m. CT

Opening Day

Away vs. D-backs, April 1 at 9:10 p.m. CT

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. What answers will the Cardinals find in their attempts to fill out the rotation?
The Cardinals suffered their first significant setback before the season officially began when it was announced Carpenter is unlikely to pitch in 2013. The Cardinals knew this could be a possibility, and now it makes the health of their other returning starters that much more important.

Jaime Garcia, in particular, will arrive in camp having to prove that opting against left shoulder surgery last fall was the right call. Garcia's time on the mound this spring will be heavily scrutinized, and Garcia may need to make some adjustments to his between-start regimen in order to maintain his shoulder strength.

As the Cardinals monitor the health of Garcia and look for a replacement for Carpenter, they'll weigh the immediate futures of several young right-handers. Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal will make their cases for inclusion on the Opening Day roster, knowing there will be two open rotation spots, unless the Cardinals choose to look for help from outside the organization.

2. Will Rafael Furcal arrive healthy and without limitations?
Furcal's 2012 season ended on Aug. 30, when he suffered an elbow injury during a game against the Nationals. After deciding not to have surgery on his arm, Furcal engaged in an offseason of rest and rehab. To completely settle concerns, though, Furcal will have to prove this spring that he has no lingering effects from that injury.

The Cardinals' depth behind Furcal is suspect, which only augments how important it is that Furcal reports to camp healthy. If he has any setbacks, the Cardinals will have to turn to either Ronny Cedeno or Pete Kozma to take over at the position. Losing Furcal would leave the Cardinals without a leadoff hitter and defensively susceptible up the middle.

3. Will Matt Carpenter make a push for playing time at second base?
Though Daniel Descalso has the upper hand on the starting job at second base, Carpenter has worked at the position all winter with the intention of making a case to play the middle-infield spot. Carpenter was introduced to the position with sporadic work there in 2012, but dedicated himself to taking ground balls there over the offseason.

Whether the Cardinals opt to stick with Descalso or turn to Carpenter is likely to be influenced by how much offensive production the Cardinals feel they need at the position. Furcal's status could also factor into the second-base decision, as the team might lean toward Descalso, the more experienced second baseman, if Furcal can't go at short.

2012 record
88-74, second in the NL Central

Projected batting order
1. SS Rafael Furcal:
.264 BA, .325 OBP, .346 SLG, 5 HR, 49 RBI in 2012
2. RF Carlos Beltran:
.269 BA, .346 OBP, .495 SLG, 32 HR, 97 RBI in 2012
3. LF Matt Holliday:
.295 BA, .379 OBP, .497 SLG, 27 HR, 102 RBI in 2012
4. 1B Allen Craig:
.307 BA, .354 OBP, .522 SLG, 22 HR, 92 RBI in 2012
5. C Yadier Molina:
.315 BA, .373 OBP, .501 SLG, 22 HR, 76 RBI in 2012
6. 3B David Freese:
.293 BA, .372 OBP, .467 SLG, 20 HR, 79 RBI in 2012
7. CF Jon Jay:
.305 BA, .373 OBP, .400 SLG, 4 HR, 40 RBI in 2012
8. 2B Daniel Descalso:
.227 BA, .303 OBP, .324 SLG, 4 HR, 26 RBI in 2012

Projected rotation
1. Adam Wainwright, 14-13, 3.94 ERA in 2012
2. Jaime Garcia, 7-7, 3.92 ERA in 2012
3. Jake Westbrook, 13-11, 3.97 ERA in 2012
4. Lance Lynn, 18-7, 3.78 ERA in 2012
5. Shelby Miller, 1-0, 1.32 ERA in 2012

Projected bullpen
Closer: Jason Motte, 42/49 saves, 2.75 ERA in 2012
RH setup man: Mitchell Boggs, 2.21 ERA in 2012
LH setup man: Randy Choate, 3.03 ERA with Marlins and Dodgers in 2012

The new guys
LHP Randy Choate:
Atop the Cardinals' wish list this offseason was a left-handed specialist who could complement Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen. The club believes it found that person in Choate, who signed a three-year deal in December. Choate will give the Cardinals the late-inning lefty option they lacked last season.

INF/OF Ty Wigginton: Manager Mike Matheny's options off the bench late in games were limited by the end of the 2012 season. Wigginton will give him a new weapon. Wigginton fits the need for a veteran, right-handed hitter, and he can spell the starters at several defensive positions, as needed.

SS Ronny Cedeno: The Cardinals' thin middle-infield depth prompted the Cedeno signing. He gives the Cardinals an experienced option should a need arise at either second or short. Furcal's tenuous status made it imperative that the Cardinals protect themselves in case of injury. Cedeno is signed only for the 2013 season.

Prospects to watch
OF Oscar Taveras:
Recently ranked by MLB.com as baseball's third-best prospect, Taveras will be participating in his first Major League camp this spring. While he isn't projected to begin the year in St. Louis, he'll likely start at Triple-A. Taveras, 20, has been a standout hitter throughout his Minor League climb. Now the Cardinals are looking for the outfielder to refine other parts of his game, primarily his baserunning and defense.

RHP Shelby Miller: A September callup last season, Miller is looking to break camp with the Major League team this year. He'll compete for a rotation spot, and his chances of earning one increased with Carpenter moving out of the mix. If Miller can't dent the rotation, he'll likely return to Triple-A, where he can stay ready to be called up if needed.

2B Kolten Wong: The Cardinals have shuffled through second basemen with regularity in recent years, but Wong could soon end that merry-go-round. Though Wong is expected to start the year in Triple-A, many anticipate that he'll be in St. Louis before the end of the season. A first-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Wong has made a rapid climb through the organization's farm system.

RHP Trevor Rosenthal: Rosenthal ended the 2011 season pitching in low-A. By last fall, he was wowing on the big league postseason stage. Rosenthal was called to the Majors to fill a need in the bullpen midseason, and took on a critical role in October. He shined in the process. The Cardinals have told Rosenthal to prepare as a starter, though he could end back in the bullpen if a greater need arises there.

On the rebound
SS Rafael Furcal:
Furcal's season ended in late August when he suffered a ligament tear in his right elbow. Furcal opted to forego surgery, and has instead spent the winter taking on a regimen of rest and rehab. Furcal played in 121 games last season, his most since 2009. But the Cardinals are hopeful that Furcal can stay on the field for even more games this year.

LHP Jaime Garcia: Garcia's situation, like that of Furcal, will be tenuous until he proves he is healthy. Garcia was limited to 20 starts last year due to a setback with left shoulder discomfort. The same issue also resurfaced during Garcia's first postseason start, knocking him out of the rest of the Cardinals' playoff run. With Carpenter already lost for the season, the Cardinals need Garcia to break camp healthy.

Classic departures
RF Carlos Beltran:
Beltran will be playing with Team Puerto Rico for the third time after accepting another World Baseball Classic invitation. Beltran said he plans to use the Classic as preparation for the regular season, and he may get an opportunity to serve as Puerto Rico's designated hitter. That would help minimize the risk of Beltran doing too much, too quickly as he builds up in March.

C Yadier Molina: Molina will serve as Puerto Rico's starting catcher in his second Classic appearance. Molina's absence during Spring Training means he'll have less time to work with the Cardinals' pitching staff. But Molina is already familiar with most of them, and he got a head start on his spring work by reporting to Spring Training early.

RHP Mitchell Boggs: Boggs was selected to pitch out of Team USA's bullpen, giving him his first chance to represent his country in international play. Boggs does not have to compete for a bullpen spot with the Cardinals, so his absence won't affect his standing.

RHP Fernando Salas: Salas will join Team Mexico, also to pitch out of the bullpen. Salas is coming off a so-so season that appeared to be affected by the kidney stone he dealt with for approximately two months. Still, Salas does have something to prove this spring, so the Cardinals will have to monitor him closely during the time he is in their camp.

Long gone
RHP Kyle Lohse:
After a standout season in which he went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, Lohse entered free agency as one of the best available starters. Yet, he remains unsigned, seemingly due to the draft-pick compensation he is tied to. Some have speculated that, given the recent news with Carpenter, the Cardinals may try to re-sign Lohse. If they don't, the Cards will be losing a starter who led the club with 211 innings pitched last year.

1B Lance Berkman: After two seasons in St. Louis, Berkman has made the move back to Texas with the Rangers. The Cardinals are losing a key clubhouse presence with Berkman's departure, but the club has a deep enough offense to lessen the impact on that front. Berkman's contributions were negligible in 2012, as he was limited to 81 at-bats due to various injuries.

INF/OF Skip Schumaker: It was evident late in the 2012 season that Schumaker no longer had a defined role for the Cardinals, and the parting was made official in December when the club dealt Schumaker to the Dodgers. With Schumaker gone, the Cardinals lose a left-handed bat and a player who can fill in at second base or in the outfield.

RHP Chris Carpenter: While Carpenter isn't long gone in the same way the aforementioned three players are, he is still not expected to be around. The Cardinals are hopeful he will be at least a part-time presence in the clubhouse, but not having him on the field will be a tremendous loss. During his time in St. Louis, Carpenter, when healthy, has been one of baseball's top pitchers.

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.

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