The month of September is almost upon us. September, the time when pennant races heat up and rosters expand, the most exciting month of the regular season in my opinion. For those teams still in the playoff hunt, the focus is on winning as many games as possible and shoring up all those areas where there may be weakness. For those no longer looking to play in October, the focus is on the next season and evaluating what they currently have, what they want to keep, and what they need to get. For many Cardinal fans what I am about to say will probably elicit a collective groan, but I am a realist. The Cardinals fall in that second category. The fat lady may not be singing, but the music has started. Yeah, call me what you will, I have a thick skin. The facts are that the Cardinals are 10.5 games behind a team that won’t lose and there is not enough time left to right the ship. So, with unhappy Cardinal fans waving whatever at my retreating back, I move on.
Jeff Gordon of the Post Dispatch has an interesting piece today about this very subject. I rarely agree with Gordon, but with this piece he has nailed it. (Except for the part about Arthur Rhodes; I don’t want him on this year’s team, much less next year’s). The five priorities Gordon has set out are exactly what this organization needs to do to right the ship for 2012. No more sacrificing one element to prop up another. Give the young guys in the minors a chance to show what they can contribute. We have some very promising talent in our farm system. We have already seen what pitchers Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and to a lesser extent, Brandon Dickson, can do. We have also seen promise from Daniel Descalso and Tony Cruz. Many are calling for a longer look at Memphis shortstop Tyler Greene. I am personally not a fan, but giving Greene a longer look to give him time to show whether he can play with the big guys is only fair. And given the Cardinals woeful lack of a better option at shortstop in its current construction, it seems a must. If Greene can finally translate his minor league performance to the big leagues, I could become a fan. If not, there is always Springfield shortstop Ryan Jackson right behind him to fill the gap in the years ahead. In addition there are others in the minors, such as Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Mark Hamilton, Adron Chambers, etc, who could very well be future stars for the Cardinals.
Then there are the veterans. Albert Pujols is of course the big if on this list. That horse has been beaten to death by everybody and their cousin this season. I’m not going to add my blows. If Albert chooses to find a home elsewhere, the Cardinals are not without options. Veteran Lance Berkman really opened up the eyes of everyone in MLB this season. He has had a monster season with the Cardinals and he has expressed the desire to return. He appears to prefer playing in the outfield, though if a chance to return to the Cardinals playing first base were to become available, I am sure he wouldn’t hesitate. Yadier Molina is pretty much a lock to return for next season, and if the Cardinals are smart, they will start negotiating for a contract extension pronto. Ace pitcher Adam Wainwright will be back for at least two more seasons, as the organization recently announced his 2012 and 2013 options will be picked up. Again, if the Cardinals are smart, a further extension of his contract should be high on their list of priorities for the near future. Finally, there is Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals’ warhorse pitcher has not had a stellar season, but despite the numbers, the fire and the moxy is still there. Carpenter wants to retire a Cardinal. He has more than earned the right to do so. Don’t think for a millisecond there is not some other team out there that knows his worth and will grab him if given the chance.
With most of the core group returning (Pujols and Carpenter being the question marks) and the talented youngsters we have waiting in the minors to add to the mix, the Cardinals have a recipe for a contending team into 2012 and beyond. If a few outside additions that are both cost effective and talented become available in the offseason (I’m thinking centerfielder?) then the Cardinals should explore that avenue as well.
The last question mark is whether manager Tony LaRussa will return for another season. I am going to leave that question to others. I have a strong opinion on that subject but it is not one I plan to share on this forum. As one former president put it, “It wouldn’t be prudent”.