The Cardinals cruised to the NL Central last season with a 91-71 record, 7.5 games ahead of second place Chicago. They did so despite an $11 million cut in payroll from the previous year down to around $90 million. They are maintaining that level in 2010 even with the addition of Matt Holliday.
Just as the payroll is remaining fairly static, the projected win totals for the Cardinals is close to their 2009 actual totals. FanGraphs readers have the Cardinals at 88 wins for 2010, a massive ten games over the second place Cubs. That is twice the separation of any other division. CHONE agrees as well with the Cardinals topping the NL Central at 91 wins, ten games ahead of the Brewers and Reds.
Around the infield, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan all return. They’re all reasonably young and none really had outrageously fluke-filled seasons so St. Louis fans should have a pretty good idea of what is in store for 2010. I might expect slightly less offense from the right side, but Schumaker might make up for that with increased defensive prowess at second base with more experience there. What is less known is at third base where David Freese and Felipe Lopez will battle for the majority of playing time.
Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick all return for the Cardinals outfield though there appears to be some questions as to who will be providing depth behind the starting three. Holliday and Ludwick are roughly average gloves in the corners but Rasmus provides an opportunity for a plus defender in center and obviously all three can swing the stick a little bit.
While Joel Pineiro is unlikely to repeat the success he had in 2009 for the Angels this coming year, his loss still hurts the Cards some. They did import Brad Penny to ease some of that pain however. The fifth spot was Kyle McClellan‘s to lose and he apparently has as Jaime Garcia appears to have been named to the post. Nevertheless, his hold is tenuous and McClellan along with Rich Hill and others are lurking. Still, it should remain an above average unit for St. Louis.
The bullpen returns largely intact and that’s less of a positive as they were unimpressive in 2009. Still, they were not a disaster and if that’s the worst unit on the team, it’s not bad enough to prevent the Cardinals from playing postseason baseball.
When it comes down to it, the 2010 Cardinals look a lot like the 2009 Cardinals and for a team that’s not overly old and won the division last year, that’s a good thing.