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happy humbugging

the 2006 team is more or less complete at this point. juancion is the new rightfielder; gooch / jrod / bigbie will share left; and junior spivey (it looks increasingly likely) will be signed to play 2b. if they don't land spivey, luna and miles will platoon there. jason marquis is probably staying put for now, leaving last year's rotation intact except for morris's slot, which reyes or ponson will take. the bullpen still has one opening, which may or may not be filled by felix rodriguez. here's the probable lineup:

eckstein ss
edmonds cf
pujols 1b
rolen 3b
juancion rf
spivey 2b
bigbie lf
molina c

or maybe they bat spivey 2d, with edmonds 4th rolen 5th juancion 6th. when j-rod's in the lineup, he could hit 2d; if bigbie raises his obp enough, he might suffice in that slot too.

here are the 2005 and 2006 rosters, side by side.

2005 2006
molina c molina
pujols 1b pujols
grud'k 2b spivey ??
eckstein ss eckstein
nunez 3b rolen
sanders lf bigbie
edmonds cf edmonds
walker rf juancion
carp sp1 carp
mulder sp2 mulder
marquis sp3 marquis
suppan sp4 suppan
morris sp5 reyes / ponson
is'hausen closer is'hausen
tavarez rp1 looper
al reyes rp2 fe'x rodri'z ???
thompson rp3 thompson
king lrp1 rincon
flores lrp2 flores
eldred mopup mateo
jrod of jrod
taguchi of taguchi
nunez if cruz
mabry ut luna
diaz c2 bennett

to be honest and blunt, i don't see a single position where the cardinals have meaningfully improved. if they sign spivey and he is healthy, he should be a modest upgrade over grud'k; two ifs, but it could happen. if rolen comes back healthy, he'll upgrade 3b, or at least restore it to its former high standards; and molina will probably contribute more with the bat in 06 than he did in 05, so that's an upgrade too. but look at the other side of this: they've lost boatloads of production at both corner outfield positions. edmonds is a year older and fading, and eckstein is due to fall back a ways toward his career norms after a stellar 2005. pitchers no longer will look at the cardinal lineup and shudder.

in the bullpen, the looper-tavarez transaction is a wash; rincon-king ditto. they still don't have a replacement for al reyes, who was their best reliever last year. the rotation has the same personnel, but we can't assume that carpenter will have a 2d straight cy young-type year, nor that suppan will have a third straight career year; he's due to regress. marquis will probably pitch better, and morris's slot we don't know -- if it's taken by ponson the cardinals lose some value; if it's taken by reyes, they gain some.

the cards came into this offseason looking to add power arms to the rotation and the bullpen and youth to the outfield. they did accomplish the last of these three objectives, but at the cost of ability; they got younger but also less productive. they have not achieved the bullpen / rotation upgrades they sought; haven't regressed, but haven't gotten any better. no doubt jocketty will still be out there looking, and if a deal comes along he will pounce; but we prob'y shouldn't hold our breath. the payroll is pretty fully committed; moreover, jocketty has only made one trade since the mulder deal 12 months ago -- king for bigbie / miles.

for those of you calling me a grinch -- and i strongly object to that, by the way; i consider myself much more of a scrooge than a grinch -- here's a perspective you'll prob'y like up to a point: i still think this looks like a playoff team. the cardinals have a strong lineup core and a very good rotation, and they play with intelligence and intensity. i thnk they're prob'y a 90- to 95-win outfit even if they don't make any other changes.

what i do not see, however (bah humbug), is a championship team -- not unless they make another couple of impact acquisitions. you can disagree w me, and feel free to, but i look at it like this: the 2004 team got swept in the world series, and the 2005 team got outclassed in the nlcs by a team that went on to get swept in the world series. as currently constituted, the 2006 cards do not improve upon those standards; we're going backward.

i'm gonna let this be the weekend discussion thread. a scrooge i can't help but be, but i can say: merry christmas, happy hanukah to all, and may 2006 bring you health and prosperity.