In today’s blog we are going to look back at the St. Louis Cardinals 2013 season and look ahead to 2014.
One week ago the Cardinals season came to an unsatisfactory end leaving many people disappointed and frustrated. Given the way the World Series ended it is easy to forget just how good the Cardinals were in 2013. The fact that they accomplished everything they were able to accomplish given the adversity they faced during the year and the question marks going into the season is rather remarkable when you stop and think about it.
When the 2013 baseball season started I was not overly optimistic. I felt the Cardinals had a good team but not a great team. I thought they had a decent shot of winning the National League Central but that in my mind wasn’t saying much. I believed the NL Central was a weak division and the Cardinals has as good of a chance to win as most of the other teams in the division. I was certain the Cubs wouldn’t win but that’s kind of like saying there will be a Christmas this year. It’s guaranteed. Anyway, the Cardinals did very little over the off season last year and I just wasn’t all that excited about their prospects in 2013. They were counting on young kids who I didn’t think were ready yet. I wanted a veteran second baseman, someone more qualified to take Rafael Furcal’s place at shortstop. A more experienced bullpen, and a better bench. When it was announced the Chris Carpenter would not pitch this year and might never pitch again and that closer Jason Motte would be out for the year I thought our fate was sealed. Boy, was I wrong.
For the past several years the Cardinals have very quietly gone about the task of putting together the best minor league system in the major leagues, one that many teams are now trying to copy. The fruits of the Cardinals efforts were seen this year and you could not have asked for better results. Matt Carpenter proved he was more than ready to be the team’s everyday second baseman, Joe Kelly proved he was a starting pitcher who could pitch under tremendous pressure, ditto Michael Wacha who could become one of the most dominant pitchers we have seen in a long time, the young arms in the bullpen carried a very heavy workload and did it surprisingly well, Matt Adams proved he is a bigtime player. The list goes on and on. In a year when the Cardinals had more rookies on their team than I can ever remember they all performed at an amazingly high level. There is still a question mark at shortstop but we’ll get to that later. The Cardinals front office has assembled perhaps the most deep and talented roster of homegrown players I have seen in my lifetime. As the Cardinals entered the World Series their 25 man roster had 21 players who had come through the Cardinals minor league system. Given the way the game is structured today with free agents going from team to team seemingly every year, the way the Cardinals roster is constructed is incredible.
It wasn’t just the youngsters who contributed this year either. The Cardinals have a group of veterans who are really in my opinion the heart and soul of the team. One in particular is Yadier Molina, who had a career year both behind the plate and offensively. Molina is an irreplaceable part of the Cardinals team. There were those who felt that Albert Pujols couldn’t be replaced and they were quickly proven wrong. I don’t think Yadi can be replaced. In order for the Cardinals to be successful they need Yadi as their leader. Luckily, he is signed for several more years. Carlos Beltran also had a very good year and his passion for the game and the way he plays the game rubbed off on the younger players and I think his presence was very important to their success. Matt Holiday had a solid year and was a real workhorse this year for the Cardinals. Adam Wainright is very clearly the ace of the Cardinals staff and although he didn’t have a very good World Series he pitched great throughout most of the 2013 season and gave them lots of quality innings which was very important given the makeup of their pitching staff. Allen Craig is still relatively young but I think he has been around long enough to be considered a veteran and he further solidified his status as one of the game’s premier hitters and an RBI machine. It’s been fun watching this kid develop and I don’t think he is even close to being done yet.
There were some people this year who had disappointing seasons or didn’t’ live up to expectations. David Freese did not have a good year as he spent most of the year mired in a hitting slump. He played well defensively for the most part but wasn’t able to have the type of year expected from him. He did have some nagging injuries which could have contributed to his lackluster performance at the plate. When Jason Motte got hurt very early in spring training Mitchell Boggs was moved from his 2011 role as setup man to closer and it wasn’t a role he could handle. After numerous blown saves and a trip to the minors he was eventually sent to Colorado. Edward Mujica then became the closer and excelled in that role until September when he lost his job to Trevor Rosenthal. The Cardinals experiment at shortstop was not what the expected as Pete Kozma played well defensively but can’t hit. Jake Westbrook battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the year and has almost surely pitched his last game for the Cardinals. Jaime Garcia went down very early in the season with a season ending shoulder injury and was a non factor this year. All these injuries and struggles would have done the Cardinals in but they seemed to thrive on it and every time they had to dip into their minor leagues system the results were almost always positive.
Another major reason for the Cardinals success this year was their coaching staff and front office staff. Second year manager Mike Matheny did a terrific job of managing all the moving parts of a team that had so many rookies and young players. It is very obvious he has the respect of both the veterans and the younger players and that shows on the field with how they play the game. The Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak also has to be given a lot of credit as well as he is the one who primarily put this team together and didn’t give into the temptation to rush out and try to replace the injured players with players from other teams via trade. It would have been very easy for him to trade top prospects for veteran players but he did not do that and I applaud him for that. The Cardinals play as a team and not a group of individuals who happen to be on the same team and a lot of that comes from the fact that most of these guys have known each other for a while and came up through the system together.
Now that we are to the off season we start looking forward to 2014 and the Cardinals have some questions they have to figure out the answers to. In my mind there are two primary questions that they need to answer in the next few months. The first one is the status of Carlos Beltran. He is a free agent and I understand the Cardinals have made him a qualifying offer giving them the right to negotiate with him for a certain period of time before other teams can start making offers. I think it is really going to come down to how many years the Cardinals are willing to offer. Beltran wants a five year contract if I’m not mistaken and I wouldn’t sign him for any more than three. He is in his mid 30’s and although he has been relatively injury free the past couple of years he still has a history of serious injuries and he certainly isn’t getting any younger. If he will agree to two or three years and the Cardinals can make it worth his while financially I think that is the direction they need to go. They could always shift Allen Craig to the outfield and install Matt Adams at first base but I really think they need Beltran’s veteran presence on the team. I hope they can come to terms on a new contract.
The other big question is the situation at shortstop. The word on Pete Kozma when he was brought up last year was that he was good with the glove but not so good with the bat. I would say that is a accurate assessment although I wasn’t as impressed with him defensively as others were. I am not sure he has the skills to be an every day shortstop in the major leagues. I would like to see the Cardinals upgrade themselves at that position and one possibility is Steven Drew who the Cardinals have had interest in before and is available. I think his style of play and low key approach fit in well with the rest of the Cardinals team.
The Cardinals also have another problem but it is a good one to have. Many teams struggle to find five quality starting pitchers, the Cardinals have eight or nine starting pitchers. If Haime Garcia is able to come back this year and all indications are that he will then they not only have him, Adam Wainright, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Tyler Lyons and John Gast both pitched very well last year in fill in roles. Gast was injured for part of the year so we didn’t get a chance to see how good he can really be but what I saw of him was very impressive. The Cardinals may be in a position where they actually have too many major league ready starting pitchers and this puts them in a fantastic position if they need to go out and get somebody to be their shortstop or another quality bat off the bench or bullpen help. Most teams weakness is the Cardinals strength and that is an excellent position to be in.
Regardless of the outcome of this off season the Cardinals are in an excellent position heading into 2014 and I think the sky is the limit for this team. I am more excited about the 2014 Cardinals than I have been about any other Cardinals team for a very long time. This is a fun team to watch and they are only going to get better.
We’ll be back on Friday with a look at all this weekend’s sports action. Thanks as always for taking the time to read this blog and please do the same for all the other excellent blogs on this site. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter at KDEBlog.
Have a wonderful Wednesday!