There is an argument to be made for several of the St. Louis Cardinals to claim the title of most important Cardinal. I want to clarify that I am not talking about the Most Valuable Player, but the team member that it is most vital to see growth and success of this club. There is a distinct difference between the two. When I tell you my thoughts on who this player is and why you may be shocked. A couple of the candidates for this honor could start the season on the disabled list and may spend significant time there.
It is easy to throw Matt Holliday, David Freese, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina into the MVP discussion. If Chris Carpenter can come back healthy and be effective he is in the hunt for this also depending on how long he is on the shelf. As I stated earlier, this is about the player that is the most important and could have the most impact on the success of this team. Over the next few paragraphs, I will break down my top three choices for who is the most important and why. Ultimately, I will select one of them as my most important Cardinal.
The first candidate is Jason Motte. Motte has recently had the title of closer bestowed on him. This title was an elusive one under Tony LaRussa’s leadership. LaRussa for whatever reason would never commit to Motte as his closer even though that is the role he played. He proved to be one of the best as he had a stellar playoff run and established himself as the leading candidate for the job heading into this season. Motte plays with a passion and intensity that would make Ricky Vaughn proud. He commands the mound and when he is on, he is nearly unhittable. He is vital to the Cardinals success for several reasons. With the loss of offensive production that headed west this past offseason, pitching is at a premium. Statistically there should be more close games requiring pitching to be a bigger part of the equation.
This brings us to our next contestant. Chris Carpenter could prove to be the biggest loss the Cards face this year or the hero who returns to lead them back to the promise land. Carp’s injury is scary. Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of the end of his career. Carp is this team’s emotional leader. As he goes so does the team. I was less concerned with the loss of our former first baseman with the promise of a 2012 campaign with a healthy Waino and Carp. The combination of those two should be lethal and dominate the NL Central. Hopefully we will get to see them dominate the rotation in the near future. Carpenter has a chance to be the team MVP if he can come back soon and return to form. If this happens, the Cardinals will easily have the best staff in the National League and one of the best in the Major Leagues.
Our last candidate for this award is Tyler Greene. Greene has had a decent spring and should see significant time at second base this season. The Cardinals need Greene to show some dramatic and continuing improvement at this position sooner rather than later. Greene becomes important for a couple of reasons as an everyday player. His speed is one of his biggest assets and maybe the most valuable thing he brings to the table. In 104 at-bats last year Greene had 11 stolen bases (which lead the team). This is a dimension that the Cardinals have to explore. I tend to think this is a big reason Mike Matheny has spent time with Whitey Herzog this spring to learn from one of the best at producing runs with speed. Greene has been a minor league phenomenon. He tore up the Pacific Coast League and the excelled at AAA Memphis before being recalled to the majors in September where he got two hits in two at-bats. Green can best be described as inconsistent. He seems to fall prey to the gravity of the moment in big situations. He can look like the best to ever put on a glove in one moment and then struggle to make a routine play the next. This has kept him from assuming the role that the Cards hoped he would two years ago as the everyday shortstop. He has a chance to make his mark now. It may be now or never. I would expect that Daniel Descalso and Greene will split time at second. If Greene can overcome his inconsistent play, he should receive the lions share of time there, as Descalso should be playing the role of super sub. I hope that Greene only sees time at second or shortstop and that we don’t see him shuffled to the outfield.
My winner for the Most Important Cardinal hands down is Greene. This may come as a shock to most especially after the two others I placed in this group. Greene has the biggest upside and the most to prove. I seriously hope he is the solution for the Cardinals carousel of second basemen. There has to be some sort of consistency at this point. I selected him due to his ability to change games with his speed and his fielding ability (when he performs). He has the potential to make the biggest impact and could be the key to a postseason run. In my mind solidifying this position is more important than both Motte and Carp. This may not be a popular statement but I tend to lean toward everyday players having a greater impact than those who are out there every 3-5 days. Greene has the ability to alter the daily play of this team and his speed is more important than his fielding, although that must be much improved. If he can stay steady in the field, get on base at a decent clip, and use his speed to help the team, he very well may be the Most Important Cardinal of 2012.