Where does the all-time-great St. Louis Cardinals team have the least depth?

The fourth starter and the backup catcher talk about how to best approach Zombie Silver King. - Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Cardinals make a pretty imposing All-Time Great 25-man roster. Where are their (relative) weaknesses?

In a theoretical all-time-great-based economy, the St. Louis Cardinals would be a net exporter of first baseman, among other things. The Tampa Bay Rays are still early enough in their history that Fred McGriff is 10th all-time on their position-player-WAR leaderboard; the Cardinals' 10th-best is questionable Hall-of-Famer Jim Bottomley, who would leapfrog Carl Crawford as the Rays' all-time leader.

[Soft-sell note: This series of historically minded, not-about-Ty-Wigginton Viva El Birdos posts is brought to you by The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book, the book of Cardinals stats, stories, history, and Ray Lankford advocacy I released this year. You can buy it at that link, and you can read a sample here. Thanks!]

Which is only by way of saying that--given a time machine, a rigorous (and possibly prenatal) nutrition-and-exercise regimen, and a real gift for mitigating everyone-you-ever-loved-is-dead sci-fi culture shock--you can make a really outstanding starting nine out of the Cardinals' all-time greats. Here's one carved out of the rWAR leaderboards and five minutes; yours might look a little different, and mine would too, tomorrow:

POS NAME
1 2B Rogers Hornsby
2 LF Stan Musial
3 1B Albert Pujols
4 CF Jim Edmonds
5 RF Enos Slaughter
6 C Ted Simmons
7 3B Ken Boyer
8 P Bob Gibson
9 SS Ozzie Smith

That's a pretty good baseball team; Ken Boyer, Ted Simmons, and Joe Medwick are the weakest links in terms of their Hall of Fame candidacies, and they all left the Cardinals on HOF paths. But what does the Cardinals' all-time 25-man roster look like? Where do they need a little more depth? Will signing Hiroyuki Nakajima help?

With five more minutes, here's what my 25-man roster looks like:

POS Name POS Name
C Yadier Molina SP1 Bob Gibson
C Ted Simmons SP2 Dizzy Dean
1B Johnny Mize SP3 John Tudor
OF/1B Stan Musial SP4 Chris Carpenter
1B Albert Pujols SP5 Harry Brecheen
2B Frankie Frisch
2B Rogers Hornsby LHP Max Lanier
3B Ken Boyer RHP/OF Bob Caruthers
SS Marty Marion RHP Mort Cooper
SS Ozzie Smith RHP Bob Forsch
LF Lou Brock RHP Silver King
CF Jim Edmonds RHP Jesse Haines
CF Curt Flood
RF Enos Slaughter


Note: My real list has Ray Lankford (35.3 WAR/18.6 WAA) on it instead of Lou Brock (39.9/9.9), and there's nothing you can do about that.

It's easy, this way, to figure out where the Cardinals' all-time depth lies. At first base Johnny Mize, who put up 37.4 WAR in six seasons, rides the bench; Keith Hernandez (32.9, and perhaps the best defensive first baseman ever), Jim Bottomley, Mark McGwire, and Ed Konetchy (the only competent player on the early-aughts Cardinals) all have to watch from AAA All-Time Memphis, as managed by Stubby Clapp. And that's without mentioning Stan Musial.

At second base Rogers Hornsby and Frankie Frisch push Red Schoendienst off the roster, and in the outfield Lankford and Joe Medwick are among the casualties.

Third base is a problem area--behind Ken Boyer (54.4) you're left with Scott Rolen (24.7)--unless you're treating this like an actual team; Frisch, Hornsby, and Pujols can all handle third base on Boyer's day off. At catcher Yadier Molina should continue to gain ground, but the third-stringer is Tim McCarver (19.1) and his backup is... Darrell Porter, maybe? Walker Cooper? Inexplicable 1926 MVP Bob O'Farrell?

But the weakest area is almost certainly--a little surprisingly--the pitching staff. In all those years, the Cardinals have gotten 30 rWAR from just five pitchers: Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Harry Brecheen, Jesse Haines (who took 18 seasons to do it), and 1890s Local Hero Ted Breitenstein.

The depth isn't the problem, really; it might surprise you to learn that Adam Wainwright is already among the Top 20 Cardinals pitchers ever, but the Athletics' 20th-ranked pitcher by rWAR is currently Rich Harden; C.C. Sabathia is already 16th in Yankees history.

The problem is the top-line pitching. Bob Gibson will match up against any team's ace, but he's the only Cardinals starter so far who's managed to combine elite effectiveness and long-term durability. Keep Dizzy Dean, John Tudor, and Chris Carpenter healthy--or else have Bob Caruthers and Silver King throw a few 400-inning seasons, for old times' sake--and things are good. But the All-Time Cubs are going to bring Pete Alexander and Greg Maddux out in the middle of their rotation.

The Cardinals are already doing their part to make this right; Carpenter and Wainwright will add another year of value, and they're developing pitchers pretty relentlessly. So congratulations, Shelby Miller: You're only five Cy Young-caliber seasons (or ten really-pretty-good seasons) from cracking the back of this particular rotation.

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