ST. LOUIS -- First off, I'd like to wish you and your family a blessed holiday season full of family, reflection, love and laughter. May 2013 become a prosperous year for all of you and usher in a more peaceful time in this country.
As you prepare to celebrate the New Year, let's first take a run through some of your questions about the Cardinals' upcoming season. And judging by the number of submissions I've received in recent weeks, you have plenty. Here are a few:
Why would the Cardinals get rid of Skip Schumaker and then sign Ty Wigginton, who seemingly has lesser abilities than Schumaker?
-- Donald P., McLoud, Okla.
Comparing Wigginton directly to Schumaker would be misguided, given that the Cardinals filled a specific void with the Wigginton signing. For most of the 2012 season, the club lacked a veteran right-handed-hitting player on the bench, and the organization wanted to address that this winter. That is where Wigginton came in.
With Schumaker, the time had come for both parties to go their separate ways. Schumaker no longer felt that he had a defined role with the organization, and the Cardinals only confirmed that with the way they limited Schumaker's playing time late in the 2012 season. With the left-handed-hitting and versatile Matt Carpenter likely to assume an important place on the bench, the Cardinals saw this as the right time to trade Schumaker.
A lot of other fans loved Schumaker because he was a great player for many years with the Cardinals. I know trades are part of the game, but why did they give him up for Jake Lemmerman? After looking at Lemmerman's Minor League stats, I don't understand the need for a mediocre shortstop.
-- Stefan H., Newtown, Conn.
First off, Stefan, I would be remiss not to offer you and your Connecticut community my heartfelt condolences for what you all have had to endure this month. Know that Newtown remains in the thoughts and prayers of so many.
This question (which was submitted a day before the Sandy Hook tragedy) is likely completely inconsequential to you now, but because you weren't the only one to ask, I'll go ahead and address it:
The Cardinals likely lost some leverage by letting it be known that they intended to trade Schumaker. As valuable and beloved as Schumaker was during his time in St. Louis, don't let that cloud the reality of how he is viewed externally -- and that's as a bench player. The Cardinals weren't going to be able to trade a player viewed as a fourth outfielder for an impact Major League player or top prospect.
The organization has an obvious deficiency at shortstop in its system and therefore saw it as advantageous in getting a solid Minor League shortstop into the system who could then work with a new set of instructors. The Cardinals are hopeful that they will end up with a player who can eventually make an impact on the Major League roster.
Why do people not think Pete Kozma can be an everyday shortstop in 2014? He had a good defensive year until the playoffs and has a fundamentally sound approach at the plate.
-- Jeff W., Paducah, Ky.
While Kozma did provide the Cardinals with a spark in September and October, the small sample size of success cannot be ignored. Remember that before Kozma was thrust into an everyday role with St. Louis, he was a 2007 Draft pick who was toiling away in the Minors. Several times during the 2012 season, the Cardinals considered removing him from their 40-man roster.
What he did during his short stint with the Cardinals was impressive and certainly key to the club's postseason run. But Kozma still has to prove that he can carry that level of production over the long term. The jury is still out on whether he can or not.
While the Cardinals wait to determine how Kozma can fit in this organization long term, the club is going to keep eyeing other already-established shortstops. If the right player can't be acquired this winter, the club can address the hole next offseason, when Rafael Furcal officially becomes a free agent. And perhaps by then, the club will have a better feel for how Kozma could fit in.
What is the status of Lance Berkman?
-- James A., Normal, Ill.
Berkman remains a free agent and has kept mostly quiet this offseason regarding his immediate plans. He has been serving as a volunteer baseball coach at Rice University since the season ended while also fielding Major League offers for the 2013 season. The Astros have reportedly been the most serious pursuers of Berkman, but the club's decision to sign Carlos Pena could reduce its interest in Berkman as a fit for the designated hitter spot.
Berkman said last season that both the location and compensation would have to be right for him to return in a Major League uniform for another year. If anyone is holding out hope that Berkman returns to St. Louis, go ahead and let that go. Neither side anticipates a reunion.
How does general manager John Mozeliak figure that he has made the team capable of contending for the 2013 division title? They finished nine games behind the Reds and six games out of the first Wild Card spot. He has basically stood pat on the whole team and has done nothing to make it better. In your opinion, does he just expect Allen Craig, Jon Jay, David Freese and the young pitchers to have monster years? Or does he figure they will have a shutdown rotation and bullpen?
-- Will B., Livingston, Mont.
One of the things that Mozeliak is banking on is health. Consider how different the complexion of the 2012 season would have been had the Cardinals not been hit with significant injuries to Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Furcal and Berkman. The team was without Craig for about six weeks and missed Jake Westbrook down the stretch. Injuries depleted the organization's depth, yet the club still responded with a deep postseason run.
If the Cardinals can stay collectively healthier in 2013, they have the pieces to compete for a division title. If injuries again pile up, there could be issues. One of the ways in which the Cardinals have said they are going to proactively guard against this -- as much as is possible -- is to give veteran position players more days off throughout the season.
The Cardinals believe their bullpen is better with the addition of Randy Choate and a full year of Edward Mujica. They insist their rotation will be formidable if Carpenter and Garcia come back strong. And the lineup, if not hit with injuries, will be arguably as deep as any in the league.
Are the Cardinals attempting to sign or make a trade for another left-handed starter? They currently have six left-handed pitchers on the 40-man roster, but only one is a starter.
-- Vermon U., Raleigh, N.C.
No, the Cardinals are not pursuing another starter, left-handed or right-handed. The club thrived last season with a rotation that had one lefty -- and for the two-plus months that Garcia was out, the rotation was actually entirely right-handed.
There can be a benefit to having different looks to a club's starters so as not to allow another offense to get comfortable during a series. But even though the Cardinals will be right-handed heavy in their rotation again in 2013, those right-handers are distinctive. Westbrook relies on his sinker. Adam Wainwright has that nasty curveball to rely upon. Lance Lynn can pitch for the strikeout. If the Cardinals' group of starters can pitch up to their capabilities, this rotation should be just fine.