The St. Louis Cardinals go into 2013 with a team that's nearly finished but not quite stagnant.
The reaction to the St. Louis Cardinals' Ty Wigginton--its duration, its magnitude, all of that--had plenty to do with Ty Wigginton himself. He offered no outs for us to assign to John Mozeliak: we couldn't assume he was signed for his versatility, because he can't play defense anywhere; we couldn't assume he was signed to hit left-handers, because he didn't do that especially well for a below-average hitter.
But I think just as much of it had to do with what he signified: If they were really that focused on signing a bench bat (if in name only) and a left-handed reliever, the Cardinals were just about finished. Your best guess at a 25-man roster is going to look a lot like the one the Cardinals field in April, even if you're not especially happy about that.
I'm not especially happy about that, personally--this is a good team, but it's insufficiently good, I think, to go into Spring Training with Rafael Furcal and Daniel Descalso at the front lines of its middle infield.
But it's worth using this last week of the year as an excuse to remember that these 2013 Cardinals are done, but they're not at all stagnant. Wigginton meant the Cardinals weren't interested in Hiroyuki Nakajima, and that they're probably not interested in Kelly Johnson, but few teams' minor league successes are so fundamental to their strategy and their depth in 2013.
So maybe now's the time--with the rest of the offseason free agency intrigue seemingly off-limits--to explicitly connect their very nice-looking Top 20 prospects lists to their 2013 prospects. On the Future Redbirds list, for instance, it's reasonable to imagine any of the top eight prospects playing a significant role on this year's club. (Tyrell Jenkins and Anthony Garcia, at nine and 10, end the streak.)
That's one way to create a dynamic team, even if it's not as predictable a method as just signing a middle infielder already and even if it has nothing to do with justifying Ty Wigginton as the Cardinals' choice of offseason-ending symbol.
Even inside the 25-man roster, though, this team is unusually keen on leaving us guessing. Derrick Goold's big Post-Dispatch piece this morning reminds us that the Matt-Carpenter-to-second-base thing is still a going concern, at least if you ask Matt Carpenter. (So a point to everybody who guessed that as a possible Wigginton motivator, even though Wigginton remains a completely unsatisfactory Matt Carpenter replacement.)
As frustratingly as the Skip Schumaker experiment ended, it's worth remembering that he managed to parlay a -12 season with the glove into a basically average season at second base before his offense fell off. He certainly looked more like a second baseman than Carpenter does, but he was also two years older. And less of a hitter--Clay Davenport's translations suggest that before adding power in 2012 Carpenter was still about the hitter Schumaker was, at his best, in 2010 and 2011.
Without the short-slap-hitter stereotype to guide us, as it did with Schumaker, this is maybe the purest test yet of the joke about Everyone Being A Second Baseman. How hard is it, really, to be about as bad as Dan Uggla? (This is probably the part of the post where I should nod to the identical positional adjustment Tom Tango gives second and third basemen... and center fielders.)
We're probably generalizing with not-quite-enough examples, at this point, but it seems like this kind of uncertainty and flexibility might be a genuine team strategy, at this point--one I'm surprised to see outlast Tony La Russa. So far this offseason the Cardinals have refused to guarantee Lance Lynn's rotation spot and given the job of fixing their black hole at second base to a third baseman. Last year they spread a bunch of at-bats around among an undifferentiated lump of injury prone and unproven corner outfielders and infielders.