Predicted Opening Day Roster and Depth Chart (reserves in parentheses, platoons in bold):
Molina (LaRue), c
Pujols (Duncan), 1b
Schumaker and Ryan, (Thurston), 2b
Greene (Ryan), ss
Freese (Mather), 3b
Duncan and Barton, lf
Ankiel (Schumaker), cf
Ludwick (Mather), rf
Bench: Barton, Ryan, Mather, Thurston, LaRue
That projection is based on these interrelated assumptions, taken as a whole:
- The Cardinal roster will include 13 hitters and 12 pitchers.
- Rasmus does not make the opening day roster, unless the Cardinals can manage to trade Ankiel or Ludwick before the end of spring training. Rasmus will be added to the ML team only if there is a full-time slot for him. If not, the Cards will give him a bit more time in Memphis. There are just too many experienced outfielders already on the roster to give Rasmus a full time role, unless the Cards trade away one of their three starting outfielders: Ludwick seems an unlikely trade candidate, since he is an All Star with a relatively low salary and the only RH hitter who starts in the OF, and he is a couple of years away from free agency; Ankiel, who can be a free agent next year, is going to be a regular starter as long as he is on the team, either to keep his trade value up or to maintain his value as a Type A or B free agent, so the Cards will get good draft picks if Rick does become a free agent next year; LaRussa and Mozeliak have made comments recently which clearly indicate that Chris Duncan will be the starter in LF if he is healthy, and by all reports Duncan is back to full health, with a new titanium vertebra. Duncan's trade value is too low to trade him, until he demonstrates in the regular season that his return to full strength is lasting. So unless Ankiel (or Ludwick) is traded or one of them or Chris Duncan goes on the DL, Rasmus will have no place to play full time with the Cardinals. The best bet seems to be that the Cards will trade away Ankiel by mid-season, if not before, and bring Rasmus up to the team then..
- Freese is likely to win the 3B job while Glaus is on the DL; Freese is very good defensively, better at 3B than Mather, and his projected hitting performance, based on his minor league experience, is better than Barden or Ryan, the other possibilities at 3B.
- Schumaker is likely to win a platoon position at 2B; the Cards need him to lead off; he is out of options; there is a big surplus of other players for the outfield positions who have much higher OPS; his trade value is too low to get much in return for him, so Skip's greatest value for the Cards probably is at 2B. If he plays well enough to keep the job, he could be the Cardinal secondbaseman beyond this year, at low cost. But there's a problem: Schumaker does not hit LHP well.
- Brian Barton is the only Cardinal other than Schumaker who fits the leadoff position in the batting order. His OBP has been very high in the minors and it was more than adequate with the Cards last year. He is the only RH outfielder on the roster other than Mather. His defense in LF is as good as Chris Duncan's. All this qualifies Barton for a platoon position in LF and a pinch-hitting and pinch-runner role.
- Ryan is out of options and his hitting vs. LHP, despite last year's poor hitting, makes him the best candidate, along with Brian Barden, to platoon at 2B vs. LHP. LaRussa was quoted in the last week saying that Ryan could go all spring without playing at 2B and still be in the starting lineup at that position on opening day. Unless Ryan plays himself off the team, he would be good RH players in a platoon with Schumaker at 2B. Barden would win that role if Ryan failed. Ryan and Barden would both be solid backups, as well, for Greene at SS.
- Mather's performance last year and his RH bat make him the best fit among all candidates for a role as RH pinch hitter with power. He can also serve as backup at 3B, 1B, and OF.
- Thurston's hitting at AAA last year indicates he'd be a solid utility infielder. Thurston bats LH, with some power, while Ryan and Barden are RH hitters, with little power. So Thurston would be the best bet as the LH pinch hitter with power, among the bench candidates. Although Thurston, Ryan, and Barden are billed as part of the competition for the 2B job, along with Schumaker, it seems highly unlikely that any of them would displace Schumaker, since he is crucial as the leadoff hitter. So Thurston seems to be the best fit for the utility infielder position, unless he plays himself back to AAA.
There's a lot of room for discussion and debate in all this, obviously. I look forward to hearing the analysis, insights, and arguments of others. If this post generates enough commentary, I'll add some statistical analysis and other evidence to support the assumptions I've listed.