We are entering year two of the post-Albert era in St. Louis and after an 88-win season that resulted in a wild card berth and a trip to the NLCS that fell just one win short of a World Series appearance, the Cardinals are returning with a largely unchanged infield configuration. For better or for worse, the St. Louis brass opted to leave things as is and let other teams play the free agent market this season. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy is in play here and for fantasy purposes, it’s not bad, but the upside is just as limited now as it was just a year ago.
Before we break it down position by position, let’s take a look at a quick depth chart…
|C||Yadier Molina||Tony Cruz|
|1B||Allen Craig||Ty Wigginton||Matt Carpenter||Matt Adams|
|2B||Daniel Descalso||Matt Carpenter||Pete Kozma||Kolten Wong|
|SS||Rafael Furcal||Ronny Cedeno||Pete Kozma|
|3B||David Freese||Ty Wigginton||Matt Carpenter|
Now let’s hit the starters first and then we’ll look at some of the back-ups and reserves…
Catcher: I’ll be the first to admit it. Never did I think that, in his age-30 season, Molina would be able to repeat his numbers from 2011, let alone build off them and produce such a savage year that saw him re-define his career numbers. But lo and behold he did and kudos to every fantasy owner who was able to grab him in the eighth or ninth round as an aging backstop whose previous season was expected to be the peak and not a springboard. There’s really nothing more that you can say about it. Can he do it again? Personally, I doubt it, but then again, I doubted it last year as well. However, whether or not he can repeat his 2012 numbers is irrelevant because whether he does or he doesn’t he’s still costing a pretty penny in drafts and therefore will not be the great value pick he once was. He might still be an excellent choice and worthy of his draft position, but his current ADP of 70.17 in the NFBC and even more outlandish 39.51 over at Mock Draft Central, show you that he’s no longer the bargain he used to be and will, at best, earn his draft value but probably never surpass it as he once did.
First Base: This is where things get interesting for the Cardinals and for fantasy owners as well as the 29-year old Craig gets his first real crack at a starting job in St. Louis. There’s no reason to beat a dead horse an reiterate my concerns here, but I will direct you to the piece I wrote about him back in late January. If you’re not into the back-clicking, I’ll sum it up — 29 years old, first real opportunity to start after years of minor league play and injuries. It’s not that I don’t think that he’s got the talent, because, believe me, I do. My only issue is how high he is going in drafts right now. For me, he’s just a little too unproven to rate a 52.15 ADP in the NFBC and an even more absurd 35.80 at MDC given the fact that he plays one of the deepest positions out there. Even dual-position eligibility can’t inflate a value that much. If he does stay healthy and produce as he is capable, at least according to the small sample size that we have, then a .300-30-100 season is what you should be able to expect. Would that be worthy of the draft position? Sure. But he’s got to get there first.
Second Base: The keystone is actually an interesting spot for fantasy owners to keep on their watch list. Descalso is listed atop the depth chart and his glove has earned him the endorsement of GM John Mozeliak who said the job is Descalso’s to lose. But Carpenter, who was told to work on his defense at second during the offseason, has been seeing a good amount of time at the position this spring, so it looks as if the door is slightly open. He’s shown a little more pop in his bat than Descalso, but in truth, not that much. A platoon seems unlikely as they both swing from the left side of the plate although in looking at their career numbers, though not abundant, it looks as if Descalso does a better job against left-handed pitching while Carpenter does the majority of his work against righties. If you’re looking to draft, go with Descalso as again, his glove should keep him in the lineup regularly and as nice as Carpenter’s first 10 spring at-bats have looked, he’ll probably remain the back-up.
Shortstop: The 35-year old Furcal returns this season with an elbow full of question marks, but supposedly, he’s going to be ready in time for Opening Day. He was suffering from elbow problems at the end of the Cardinals run last year but was told he could avoid offseason surgery and so he just gave his arm some rest and time to heal. So far he’s received an anti-inflammatory shot and finally just took some swings from the left side of the plate. He’s already been swinging from the right side without issue. He’s clearly not at 100-percent and he hasn’t played the field yet, but the expectations are there for him to be ready once the season starts. Fantasy-wise? Red flag. Big one. Raised high. Maybe surgery wasn’t necessary but, in my opinion, this will be a chronic issue throughout the year and relying on him is a seriously risky move. You want to draft him? Do so at your own risk. Just make sure you’ve got Ronny Cedeno, the only guy who makes the phrase “light-hitting” sound like an overstatement, in reserve.
Third Base: Freese is locked in at the hot corner and after he showed last year that he is capable of staying reasonably healthy, playing in a career-best 144 games, he makes for a solid choice in the middle rounds of your draft after the first tier or two at the position have come off the board. While those in St. Louis will laud him for his clutch-hitting, fantasy owners need to take a less dramatic look at him. He hits for a solid average and has good 15-20 home run pop in his bat. He doesn’t really steal bases and he still strikes out roughly 20-percent of the time. For fantasy purposes, he’s just a good, solid yeoman at the position. You’re not going to be jumping over too many people to get at him on draft day but you’re not going to be aggravated with your team if you own him at third. It’s not that he’s boring, it’s just that there’s also nothing special about him as it relates to the fantasy game…not unless your league counts shaving cream pies.
Back-Ups and Reserves
As for the supporting cast, there seems to be some opportunity on the horizon, but not enough that you should be getting ready to pounce on anyone during your draft. Carpenter could push for time, but unless something dramatic happens this spring, he’ll stay a reserve. Working against him, in addition to an inexperienced glove, is the fact that Pete Kozma is a pretty good fielder and the team envisions him as a swingman between both middle infield positions. Then, of course, there’s prospect Kolten Wong who has a solid glove and good power for his undersized frame. Given the current infield depth, I see him starting the year in Triple-A, but should he continue to play well down there, more opportunity could arise during the latter part of the season.
As for the corners, you’ve got good ol’ relieable, super-utility man Ty Wigginton who will be the primary back-up at both first and third. At 34-years old, his plate skills are diminishing a bit, but he should be solid enough to fill in, at least on a short term basis. Big, lumbering Matt Adams is also lurking behind the scenes and given the injury histories of both Freese and Craig, there’s obviously a chance that Adam is called upon to play first base. He’s not the most athletic guy you’ll see on the field, but his bat is mighty strong. I’d treat him more as a stash in dynasty leagues at this point, especially with Craig blocking him on the depth chart now.
And, of course, let’s not forget about Molina’s back-up Tony Cruz. Or can we?I’ve been in some deep NL-only mocks lately and not one person has drafted him. What’s that say about the faith in Yaddy?