ZiPS projections for the 2010 season have been out a few days, now, so you probably already have a rough understanding of the lineup, but sometimes these things look clearest when laid out in a more familiar format. Here, then, is the lineup, as I understand it:
The changes from 2009 are mostly good ones; among other things Yadier Molina's newfound on-base talent finally shows itself, after a two year delay, in the projections. That season from Ryan Ludwick would be especially welcome—twenty points of batting average and 15 extra base hits are the difference between a passable solution in the outfield and a difference-making one. Otherwise it is mostly holding steady or incremental improvement all around, with the exception of Brendan Ryan—who did, in ZiPS's defense, hit .244/.307/.289 in half a season in 2008.
This lineup resembles all Cardinals lineups of late, surrounding Albert Pujols with a bunch of guys who are or are nearly average hitters, but this is, it seems to me, a better version than the 2009 edition. Certainly Matt Holliday as a second focal point helps—there was a time, on July 1 of last year, when Skip Schumaker was arguably the second best hitter on the team. But David Freese and Troy Glaus falling out of commission, and the shortstop situation failing to resolve itself until relatively late in the season, left two holes in their basically average armor.
Laid out like this I can understand the worries about depth that have cropped up—the ones after the worries about pitching depth burn themselves out, I mean. When the team is built on average play all around there are a lot of relatively important players to miss, and when there are no obvious holes at the start of the year the whole team looks wider and shallower. Last year the Cardinals had to lose two third basemen to end up in a sinkhole and they still managed it; this year there's no David Freese behind David Freese.
But perhaps my favorite part of the ZiPS report is the optimistic projections for some of the teams' bench and minor league pieces. Allen Craig (.279/.330/.434) ends up looking a lot like the bad version of Ryan Ludwick, which the Cardinals sent out last year, and Jon Jay (.276/.329/.388) is a reasonable facsimile of last year's Colby Rasmus; Ruben Gotay (.246/.346/.376) and Daniel Descalso (.266/.326/.393) are more appealing replacements at third and second than Joe Thurston proved to be last year. At catcher, where Bryan Anderson is no sure thing on defense and in the eyes of La Russa, there is no great fit, but that is the Jason LaRue tax they must pay. (And ZiPS hates Tyler Greene, who just edges out Matt Pagnozzi in the worst-projection derby, but I'll take the over on that.)