Also, please understand that literally hundreds of e-mails arrive every week, so they can't all be used in the Inbox or receive personal responses. Moreover, if you leave a fake e-mail address, and I do try to respond personally, then obviously you're not going to receive my response.
With Muse's "Absolution" playing, let's get on with the questions and answers.
I very much enjoy the Inbox and appreciate you doing this! Courtesy of a gift from my son, he and I will be attending our first Cardinals Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla., this March. Other than watching the games, autographs and taking (500) pictures, are there any other "must see" or "must do" opportunities that would add to the great experience it will already be?
-- Jim W., Mackinaw, Ill.
First, thanks for the kind words. As for Jupiter, there's quite a bit.
I'd start by highly recommending that any fans who make the trek down for games, also come out and see the practices. You can get out on the back fields in the mornings, and it's entirely worth doing. It's a totally different view of everything from what you get inside the stadium, and it would be kind of silly to come all that way and not see all you can see of baseball.
Beyond that, a few recommendations from the area, since as of this spring I will have spent a year of my life in Palm Beach County.
Go to the beach. It's beautiful, it's easily accessible, and you'll be able to gloat to your friends back home. The Jupiter Lighthouse and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center are cool attractions in Jupiter, and, of course, it's a short trip to West Palm Beach or even Fort Lauderdale.
But what people may not realize until they get down there is how well you can eat in the Jupiter area. The Food Shack, Nick's Tomatoe Pie (yes, it's spelled with the extra 'e'), Jetty's, Pyro's Grill, the Reef Grill and Hurricane Wings are all really terrific eateries with various price points, locations and cuisines. To anyone making the trip down: Don't eat at the chains. Get out and have some good meals. You'll be glad you did.
Have a question about the Cardinals?
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Are the Cards done spending on pitching for the offseason?
-- Ryan P., St. Louis
It's never a done deal. One consistent strategy of this front office has been to keep its options open for good fits, whether it be in January, March or July. But as of now, that's the way it looks. The higher priority is upgrading the bench and perhaps the lineup. Nonetheless, see the next answer. It's possible they're done spending entirely until Spring Training starts.
The signing of Rich Hill confuses me. I'm hearing that the Cardinals were looking for a pitcher who could possibly be the fifth starter or relieve, should another competitor for the fifth starter job have a standout Spring Training. It seems to me that John Smoltz would have been a better fit here given his price tag, his past accomplishment and his veteran presence on a somewhat young pitching staff. Do you have any insight as to why Hill seemed more appealing to the Cardinals than Smoltz?
-- Keith K., O'Fallon, Mo.
Hill signed a Minor League deal, one that will pay him $575,000 if he does make the big league roster. That combination of flexibility and price made him a very intriguing option for the Cardinals. Smoltz is looking at a lot of factors, and the Cardinals do interest him, but it is my understanding that he has very little desire to pitch in relief.
Mostly, though, it's becoming clearer by the day that the Cardinals' plan is to leave themselves some financial flexibility to address their needs after Spring Training starts, or possibly even after the regular season starts.
Why do we not have any impact Minor Leaguers in our system? Are we not drafting well? Why do other teams have so many when we have none? Why does it seem that the only guys we have are fill-in guys? They are good defensively, but where are the big bats? Why don't we have solid starting pitching prospects? Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions.
-- Bryce G., Columbia, Mo.
We talked about this some last week, but it's a relevant question, so let's go into it some more. There are several things at play here. One is that a lot of the organization's top prospects have either reached the Majors (Colby Rasmus, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs) or been traded (Brett Wallace, Chris Perez, Clayton Mortensen). A year ago, the system was ranked as one of the best in the game.
Drafting does play a role, though. The Cardinals have had a tendency in some recent years to draft safely, rather than higher-risk, higher-reward types of players in the early rounds. That can lead to a good number of useful, role-player types, and as you note, the Cardinals have some of those. But it can also lead to a dearth of high-end players, and as you note, that's currently the case. They got away from that somewhat this past year when they took Shelby Miller in the first round, and his development will be one of the most important stories in the system this year.
The basic point is this, though: the club can't afford to have a non-productive farm system year in and year out. So it will have to get better, and I expect that will remain a priority.
Now that we picked up Hill and we are "no longer pursuing any pitchers," all of the talk has been centered on a third baseman and/or an outfielder to round out the roster. My question is who do/will we have in place to play first when Albert Pujols needs a spell? And why hasn't anyone mentioned a backup first baseman as one of our needs this offseason?
-- Tim A., South St. Louis, Mo.
To answer the last question first, just look at the numbers. Players besides Pujols got a total of 27 at-bats at first base for the Cardinals in 2009, and those at-bats were divided among five players. The Cardinals didn't have a backup first baseman. They don't need one. Nearly any Major League hitter can stand in at first base for a day, so it's not worth the roster spot to carry one -- especially if, as is likely to be the Cardinals' case, a team is carrying 12 or more pitchers.
As for the first part, there are already some options around. David Freese, Allen Craig and Joe Mather could all be that player, based on who makes the roster. Additionally, when and if the Cardinals add that left-handed bench bat that they're seeking, it's likely he will be able to take some games at first base.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.