As the offseason trudges on, and the speculation on the Cardinals’ roster continues, we extend our discussion of the team’s needs and luxuries. This week I’ll take a look at the infield. If you missed the evaluation of the bullpen, check it out here.
Barring any trades, most of the infield from last season remains intact. The look of the everyday players, however, might not resemble the ’07 squad much. The Cardinals suffered through a ton of injuries last year, and had only one player on the entire roster that appeared in more than 120 games.
That player was Albert Pujols. It was no surprise that Albert led the team last season in nearly every offensive category, as well as played a gold-glove caliber defense at first base. His first seven seasons in the league can only be compared to the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Pujols played through a lot of pain late last year, and still put up amazing numbers. I expect much of the same consistency in ’08, but wouldn’t be surprised if he had another MVP type season. As one of the best players in the game, he still makes a somewhat reasonable $16 million next year.
The everyday catcher will once again be Yadier Molina. Molina has quickly become one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and completely shuts down the opposition’s running game. Although any offense that he generates would be considered a bonus, Molina vastly improved last season, finishing with a .275 average, and 6 homers. More than likely, he’ll hit in the seven hole. I’d like to see him locked up long term, as he’s arbitration eligible, and still just 25 years old.
Second base, will be Adam Kennedy’s to lose. He had the worst season of his career in ’07, hitting .219 in 279 at-bats. He was signed to a three year deal last offseason, and is still owed another $7.5 million, plus bonuses over the next two years. Kennedy should have every chance to regain his past form. He’s also the only left-handed hitting infielder. I imagine the Cardinals will have a back up plan in place come Spring Training, but I doubt Adam will be as bad in ’08 as he was last season.
Seven time Gold Glove winner, Scott Rolen, will be back at third base, despite the issues that he and Tony La Russa have had. Derrick Goold, from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, has more insight on that situation here. Rolen has had some lingering shoulder injuries for the past few seasons, and had another clean-up surgery recently, in hopes to be ready again in the spring. I hope he can return to his previous form, and overcome the diminished power caused by the sore shoulder. Still, a less than 100% Scott Rolen is better than many third basemen out there. He needs to play up to his $12 million salary.
That leaves the shortstop position. David Eckstein is a free-agent, and the Cardinals don’t have a lot in-house to replace him. Aaron Miles and Brendan Ryan split most of the playing time at short during Eckstein’s time on the DL, but neither are considered everyday players. There has been some talk of re-signing David, as well as some chatter about going after former Redbird, Edgar Renteria. Without Eckstein, the Cards are also without a lead-off hitter, so the situation is further complicated. The guys at Viva El Birdos have done an excellent job at evaluating the pros and cons of an Eckstein return. Check it out here. Aside from starting pitching, I think SS is the most pressing need for the Cardinals this offseason.
Overall, I expect the team to have a good infield. Errors were a problem last season, on a normally strong defensive ball club. I imagine that will be addressed thoroughly in Spring Training, and we’ll see more of the slick fielding Cardinal infield that we’re used to. I’m also very intrigued about the opening at short, and can’t wait to hear the solution.