... and three reasons to be worried. It can't all be good news but in an offseason where the Cardinals watched the best player of the last decade leave the birds on the bat for some halos, the offseason has otherwise been remarkably kind to the club.
Reason to be Excited #1: Adam Wainwright
Prior to his Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright had been the work horse of the rotation logging 460 regular season innings between 2009 & 2010. It was a remarkable pair of seasons featuring strikeouts (8+k/9IP), above average ground ball rates (50%+), and excellent control (<3BB/9IP). He was arguably the second and third most valuable (fWAR) player -- not just pitcher but player -- on the team in those seasons, respectively.
If Adam Wainwright comes back like the old Adam Wainwright, while that shouldn't be our expectation that is essentially what Jaime Garcia did two years ago, it's upwards of 4 or 5 wins on paper for the club. With an aging Chris Carpenter (who logged 270+ innings including the post season in 2012) the club will need a pitcher that can regularly go deep into games. Adam Wainwright might be that guy.
Reason to be Worried #1: AARP Memberships
The club is getting a little long in the tooth. We know that players get worse after roughly their age 31 or 32 season and maybe even sooner than that. So even though Carlos Beltran is a great player he's going to be 35. A player's value rarely goes from significant positive to replacement level but as players age the probability that it could occur is higher. Here's a list of guys who will be 35 or older in 2012: Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals are heavily vested (12 WAR) in the success of their aging players. Should that age catch up to them, things could get ugly.
Reason to be Excited #2: Shelby Miller
There's at least an outside chance that Miller will be in St. Louis in some capacity during 2012. It is difficult to see that happening out of big league camp but with a high-90s fastball and surprisingly good control (control and a changeup were the primary draft day questions about Miller) it's hard not to get a little excited about the prospect. There's a lot of things that could stand between Miller and the big league club -- maturity issues, roster space, pitching depth -- but this is January and January is when blogs dream of a rotation that includes Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Shelby Miller.
At the very least, 2012 should be one step closer to the big leagues in 2012 even if that step culminates in Memphis.
Reason to be Worried #2: Wrong Hand
Marc Rzepczynski is an excellent left handed pitcher. He's also the only lefty in the system (outside of Jaime Garcia) that looks like a reasonable bet to be a good player in 2012. If you fudge some 2011 numbers and ignore everything before June, JC Romero might have recaptured his slider mid-season. If you squint real hard, Nick Additon or Barret Browning could maybe retire same handed hitters out of the bullpen in the major leagues. R.J. Swindle has gone through 5 organizations in 6 years but there could be something to him that all of those teams missed. Having a left handed reliever in the pen isn't a necessity despite what modern bullpen construction would have you believe. It is, however, a nice luxury and one that the Cardinals have struggled coping with in the past when the wrong hands go past their expiration dates.
Reason to be Excited #3: The Outfield
Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig and Jon Jay all have an important offensive trait in common: ZiPS projects each of them to be an above average offensive player. They may not be world class defenders but offense was cool way before defense. It's retro. In a lot of ways, the outfield is vastly different than what anyone thought it might look like a few years ago. Matt Holliday on a 7 year contract and the highest paid player on the team? Carlos Beltran getting the biggest contract a player with no Cardinal ties has gotten since Jason Isringhausen? (h/t Matthew Leach) 3rd base prospect Allen Craig? Colby Rasmus in Toronto and Jon Jay in center? Who knew? And yet, the outfield looks superb.
Reason to be Worried #3: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changing
Let me go all Skip Bayless on everyone for a moment: Tony LaRussa won ball games. That's what the guy did. You could question some of his on the field decision making but, on balance, he was rational and made defensible choices. You could question a lot of his off the field decision making (like seriously a truck load of it) but he also managed to get a lot out of players. More than anything else, Tony LaRussa was a foundational piece of the Cardinals and he managed the club through two World Series Championships. I won't say that I'm sad to see him go -- I'm not -- but it is reasonable to have a certain degree of apprehension about changes within coaching staff including Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan.
The same goes for the front office. It's gone through a pretty dramatic restructure. In many ways, it will look like a more traditional and directly hierarchical organization. Dan Krantrovitz will lead the scouting department as a director (Jeff Luhnow had been a Vice President). Tony LaRussa's outsized influence on the team's decision making will disappear and John Mozeliak will ultimately own the teams that the Cardinals put on the field over the next 3-5 years. They will be his team managed by his people. Is that bad? Is it good? Don't know. Ask me in 5 years.
Reason to be Excited #4: 2011
Not sure if you remember this but the St. Louis Cardinals just won a World Series Championship. We beat, arguably, the best regular season ballclub in the divisional series, stomped on some hated rivals in the Championship series and then followed it up with the wildest seven games that we'll probably ever see in our lifetime. It was incredible. It was awesome. 2011 is dead. Long live 2012.