ST. LOUIS -- Less than one month from now, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Jupiter, Fla., for the start of Spring Training. With anticipation building for another season, let's take time to run through some of the questions Cardinal Nation still has on its mind.
As a reminder, due to the volume of questions I receive, not all of them can be answered in this forum. Those that were not chosen for inclusion will be saved for future consideration. And with that, let's get rolling ...
In the Minors, Ryan Jackson was regarded as superior to Pete Kozma with both bat and glove. Then when both came up, manager Mike Matheny preferred Kozma to Jackson. Why?
-- Rick C., Malibu, Calif.
Kozma benefited from timing and immediate production. If you remember, Jackson had been with the club in a backup role for most of August, received almost no playing time (eight total at-bats) and was sent back to the Minors on Aug. 28. Two days later, Rafael Furcal suffered a season-ending elbow injury.
The Cardinals could have called Jackson back up but decided instead to bring in Kozma, largely because the team did not want to thrust Jackson into a starting role when he had hardly played over the previous three weeks. By summoning Kozma, the Cards figured Jackson could get back on track with everyday at-bats in Triple-A.
What few anticipated, though, was that Kozma would take off when given the chance to start in the Majors. Kozma was defensively sound and provided a spark in the lineup. The Cardinals opted not to mess with something that was working, which was why Jackson -- ranked by MLB.com as the No. 19 prospect in the Cards' organization -- never later displaced Kozma.
As the Cardinals consider depth for the middle infield in 2013, club officials have said that both Kozma and Jackson will be given a chance to win a bench job.
Do you expect the Cardinals to lock up some of their key players in 2013 -- most notably Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Allen Craig, David Freese and Jon Jay?
-- Darran K., Fort Myers, Fla.
I've noted in previous Inboxes that the Cardinals and Wainwright are set to discuss a contract extension before Wainwright becomes a free agent after the 2013 season. This has been public knowledge for a while now, though both sides are not publicly discussing the negotiation process.
Carpenter's contract is also set to expire after next season, but given that he will be 38 years old in April and is coming off another arm injury, I wouldn't expect the Cardinals to broach the subject of an extension until Carpenter has proven that he is healthy and effective. With so many young pitchers budding, the Cards might find themselves in position to part ways with Carpenter at the end of the year.
As for Craig, Freese and Jay, there is no urgency to negotiate any sort of long-term deal in the immediate future. Craig and Jay have another four years before they'd become free agents. Freese has three seasons before that point. The Cardinals have time to see how each of these three develops before making the decision to lock them up for longer.
What do think the batting order will look like for Opening Day?
-- Ron B., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
If the Cardinals make no more impact additions, and if there are no injuries, the only position that remains somewhat unsettled is second base. Daniel Descalso has more Major League experience at the position than any of the other current candidates, so, for now, let's project him as the team's starting second baseman.
That said, here is one guess (a really early and premature one, at that) as to the batting order the Cards will employ in 2013: Furcal (SS), Jay (CF), Matt Holliday (LF), Craig (1B), Yadier Molina (C), Carlos Beltran (RF), Freese (3B), Descalso (2B).
There are several variables that could change this up, though. Beltran could easily slot into the No. 2 hole, as he did many times in 2012; he could also hit fourth or fifth. Jay could hit second, or he could drop to seventh. Aside from having Furcal hit first, Holliday hit third and Descalso bat eighth (assuming he is the starting second baseman), there is certainly fluidity with where everyone else can fit.
Why is Marc Rzepczynski's place in the bullpen secure? He had some disastrous appearances last year. Is it simply because he's left-handed?
-- Terrence H., Springfield, Ill.
In making the decision to tender a contract to Rzepczynski, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, the Cardinals were essentially making a commitment to having him in their 2013 bullpen. Rzepczynski certainly didn't have the 2012 season that he envisioned, but it was not as bad as I think some remember it to be.
All went smoothly through his first 17 appearances, as Rzepczynski allowed only three earned runs in 13 2/3 innings through May 16. He was just as good from July 1 through the end of the regular season, when Rzepczynski gave up four earned runs in another 19 2/3 innings. It was that troublesome 20-game stretch in between that permanently affected his season numbers.
That said, the Cards do need Rzepczynski to be better over the entirety of the 2013 season. The club feels strongly about carrying two lefties and really has limited options outside of Rzepczynski and Randy Choate, who was signed last month to be a lefty specialist out of the 'pen. With the addition of Choate, Rzepczynski will fit in a middle-relief role, giving him a respite from the pressures of pitching in late-inning, key situations.
Why were the Cardinals so eager to re-sign Jake Westbrook when they haven't even put him on the roster for the last two postseasons?
-- Holden L., Mokane, Mo.
We're more than a year removed from Westbrook being left off the 2011 postseason roster, so that seems quite inconsequential now -- especially when you consider the bounce-back season he enjoyed in 2012. Westbrook's absence from the 2012 playoff roster had nothing to do with performance, but rather with injury. The oblique injury he sustained in early September took longer to heal than expected, preventing him from pitching in October.
The Cardinals' ability to sign Westbrook to an $8.75 million contract for 2013 actually now seems quite fruitful given the escalating contracts given to middle-of-the-rotation pitchers this winter. The Cards wanted the stability that Westbrook can bring to the rotation, and his return will give a group of young pitchers another year of seasoning before taking on more critical rotation roles.
Is Craig going to be the starting first baseman next season? I have heard that he prefers playing the outfield. Is there any chance Holliday would ever be moved to first?
-- Ryan H., Chesterfield, Mo.
Matheny indicated late in the season that Craig felt a hint more comfortable in the outfield; though that was not meant as a criticism to his ability to handle first base, which was Craig's primary position in 2012. Having had nearly a full season at first base this past season should only increase Craig's comfort level there for next year.
While it's impossible to predict what the future may hold for the 32-year-old Holliday, there are no immediate plans to have him play anywhere but left field.