From my count, there are seven pitchers vying for a spot in the rotation next year: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia (if healthy), Joe Kelly, and Carlos Martinez. Would the Cardinals consider a six-man rotation going into the season? If not, would those on the outside of the rotation be put in the bullpen or be sent down?
-- Joel C., Mesa, Ariz.
Asked about the possibility of using a six-man rotation last April, manager Mike Matheny put the likelihood of such a setup as "not very high." If the Cardinals want to monitor the workload for some of their young pitchers, a modified six-man rotation could always be implemented later in the year. But don't plan on seeing it in April.
Those seven pitchers you listed all have proven themselves in the Major Leagues, so it's likely all seven will dent the team's Opening Day roster. Five would fill the rotation; the other two would take on bullpen roles. One of the reasons the Cardinals did not feel it necessary to pursue pitching this offseason was because they intended to backfill the bullpen with pitchers who don't crack the rotation. The only one of the seven that I think could start in Triple-A would be Martinez, and that would only be if the Cardinals wanted to keep him stretched out in case a need arose in the big league rotation.
Beyond adding a right-handed-hitting infielder (Mark Ellis) to provide insurance for Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, etc., do the Cards have any intention of adding a power bat to the bench? With Matt Adams slated to start, they have no one who can provide pinch-hit power. I'd like to see the Redbirds sign a low-risk/high-reward power guy, although Ty Wiggington didn't work out so well last year.
-- Josh C., S.C.
The Cardinals are likely done reconstructing their bench, so what you see now is what you're going to get. The bench does project to offer little in the way of power, but the quality of at-bats should improve. Tony Cruz will return as the backup catcher. Ellis will take an infield spot, as will Daniel Descalso or Pete Kozma. In the outfield, two of Jon Jay, Oscar Taveras and Shane Robinson are likely to be on the roster.
Whenever it is that Taveras is ready, his placement on the big league roster will boost the power potential. He could start out as a part-time player, or he could push Adams back into a reserve role and take an everyday spot in the outfield. Either way, the Cardinals' offense would seemingly improve.
With Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate holding down the left side of the bullpen, do you think Sam Freeman and Tyler Lyons will be sent back to [Triple-A] Memphis?
-- Ira M., Affton, Mo.
Triple-A would seem the likely placement for both Freeman and Lyons, though the Cardinals are not opposed to keeping three lefties in the bullpen if all three are deserving. The dilemma, though, is finding room. Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte and Seth Maness all have bullpen spots waiting. Two of the starting candidates who don't crack the rotation could fall to the 'pen, too. Already, that's a corps of seven relievers.
The benefit in sending Lyons back down to Triple-A (should the Cardinals chose to do so) would be that he could continue pitching as a starter. Then, if the Cardinals have a starting need in St. Louis, they would have someone stretched out and ready.
I saw that the Cardinals named Zach Petrick their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. There are many high-prospect pitchers in the organization that could have been given the award, yet an undrafted/unknown pitcher was named. What are the Cardinals' thoughts on Petrick's future?
-- Dave B. Morris, Ill.
It's important to note that this award goes to the Minor League pitcher who had the best season, not the one with the most promising future. It is not a prospect award. Petrick, though an unknown coming into the season, had a sensational 2013. He posted a 0.83 ERA in Class A (32 2/3 innings), 0.27 ERA in Class A-Advanced (33 1/3 innings) and 3.99 ERA in Double-A (47 1/3 innings).
The Cardinals are pleased to have taken a chance on a pitcher who went undrafted in 2012, but they also have tempered expectations for his continued trajectory. Petrick is not considered one of the Cardinals' top pitching prospects -- remember, that distinction takes into account long-term projection -- but that doesn't mean he isn't someone worth continuing to watch. It would seem likely that Petrick begins 2014 back in the Double-A rotation.
Are the Cardinals looking to upgrade their backup catcher? I know Cruz is a fairly solid defensive catcher, but he just doesn't contribute much at the plate. And I would like to see Yadier Molina get a few more days off this season.
-- Bob K., Chicago
The Cardinals are pleased with Cruz's job as a backup to Molina, so he will remain in that role. The Cardinals are not looking to add to their catching depth anymore this winter. They did already sign Ed Easley to a Minor League deal much in the same way they brought Rob Johnson into camp a year ago.
I often hear folks question Cruz's offensive production. First off, the Cardinals don't keep Cruz for what he does at the plate, and second, he get at-bats so sparingly that he is given little opportunity to succeed. The Cardinals value defense and rapport with the pitching staff much more than batting average or on-base percentage in that backup role. Cruz was a decent hitter when playing regularly in the Minors, so it's not that the bat is not there. But limited playing time likely will always stifle it.