Exploring why the Cardinals will dominate the NL Central for years to come.
If you follow this blog closely, you probably haven't heard much about the Cardinals this offseason.
This is precisely why Cardinals fans should be so excited, they are perhaps the only team in all of baseball that did not have any major holes to patch this offseason.
The Cardinals have done an excellent job of balancing the Amateur Draft, international free agents, trades, and free agents signings to build a team that should contend for World Series titles for the next 5-10 years.
They have had a tremendous amount of success with developing players from within, which is evidenced by the fact that 5 of their 8 projected everyday players are homegrown. Matt Holliday was acquired using prospects the Cardinals had drafted and developed.
Their starting rotation is very similar to their line-up, in that 3 out of their 5 projected starters (Jaime Garcia included) project to be homegrown. They have tremendous depth at the starting pitcher spot however, with Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller all having pitched in the Majors last season to varying degrees of success.
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The Cardinals are anchored by perennial All-Stars Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday, with both providing consistent production from year-to-year. Both of these players should continue to provide roughly 5 wins each.
Where St Louis sticks out is their ability to replace from within, as a string of extremely fruitful drafts has left them overcrowded at nearly every spot. At shortstop if anything were to happen to Rafael Furcal, they have the young Pete Kozma who posted 1.4 WAR in just 26 games down the stretch for St Louis. They also have minor leaguers such as Ryan Jackson and Greg Garcia who could both fill in capably.
At the corner spots they are equally as deep, with starting first baseman Allen Craig breaking out last season to post a wRC+ of 138, which should be plenty repeatable for the slugging first baseman. At third they feature World Series hero David Freese, who is quite the effective player when he is able to stay healthy. If Freese or Craig are injured or need to be replaced for one reason or the other, the Cardinals have Matt Carpenter on the bench and Matt Adams in Triple-A. Carpenter hit his way to a 125 wRC+ in 340 plate appearances, and has been working out at second base during the offseason to try and find at-bats. Adams is a strict first baseman who has a track record of destroying minor league pitching.
The one potential weakness could be second base, with incumbent Daniel Descalso posting a wOBA of just .278 in 2012, and has a career WAR of 1.4 in 302 games. Kozma, Carpenter, and rising prospect Kolten Wong are all potential solutions at the second base position.
So despite their immense amount of talent all across the diamond, they finished just 89-73 and squeaked into the postseason last year as the second-Wild Card. Evidence says that they may have been better than their record would suggest last season, with the Pythagorean record standing at 94-68, the fourth-highest in baseball last season.
Perhaps the most exciting part about the Cardinals is that they are just about to promote some of their premier talent, including Wong who was discussed earlier, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and Oscar Taveras.
Taveras is widely-considered one of the top five prospects in baseball, and he could reach Busch Stadium by the end of the year. The outfielder is just 20-years old, but is near-Major League ready having hit .321/.380/.572 last season for Double-A Springfield. ZiPS, Fangraphs projection system, has the outfielder projected for more WAR in 2013 than Carlos Beltran (albeit on a lower rate basis).
Wong is another interesting case, as he is near-ready and is just waiting for the spot to open up. The 22-year old hit .287/.348/.405 for Double-A Springfield last season, and profiles as a good second baseman. ZiPS likes him, having him projected for 2.3 WAR in 2013, which is higher than the 1 WAR it is projecting Daniel Descalso for.
The Cardinals are an example of a team that has developed and acquired players in an efficient, shrewd manner. They ooze both depth and talent at the major-league level, high minors, and low minors.
It is just a matter of time before they are hoisting another World Series trophy.