Cards' biggest roster question: Who joins 'pen?

St. Louis tries to write winning formula with eight relievers

March 12th, 2018

JUPITER, Fla. -- The spring's second round of cuts hit Cardinals camp Sunday, bringing further into focus what the club's 25-man roster could look like come Opening Day.

Battles continue on the fringes of the roster, with and opening eyes on the position player side, and , and auditioning well for bullpen spots down the line. But barring injury (like Luke Gregerson's lingering oblique issue), this is a group that remains as relatively set as it was when's Jenifer Langosch predicted it in February.

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More than a month later, the signing of expands the size of the club's projected bullpen and likely knocks off the roster bubble. That's really the only new wrinkle. A busy offseason gave manager Mike Matheny one of baseball's more secure 25-man rosters before spring began.

Here is what it likely looks like when the season starts for real.

Catcher (2): There may come a point in the future when the Cardinals need to decide what to do with , one of the game's top catching prospects. But for now he'll back up , who is entering his 15th season in St. Louis and the first of a three-year contract extension.

First base (2): The Cardinals appear committed to restricting the versatile Matt Carpenter to first base, heeding to concerns over his back and shoulder. If the 32-year-old Carpenter misses time, as he has this spring, will provide coverage. He could also see time at either of the corner outfield positions.

Second base (1):  dabbled in yoga this winter with the hope it would help him stay healthy for a full season. He returns as the starting second baseman.

Third base (1): The rumors of St. Louis importing a splashy hot-corner upgrade this winter turned out to be just that. Instead it returns , who played more games there (109) than any other Cardinals player last season while producing on both sides of the ball.

Shortstop (1): National League Rookie of the Year runner-up grabbed hold of the shortstop position shortly after his initial callup last May. After signing a six-year, $26 million extension this spring, he's entrenched there, seen as St. Louis' shortstop of the present and future.

Utility (1): said this spring he models his game after , who played five positions over five seasons as the Cardinals' utility man earlier this decade. Garcia will once again serve a similar, Swiss-army-knife role, providing relief at every infield spot and some offensive punch off the bench.

Outfield (4): The offseason acquisition of as the team's new left fielder slides Tommy Pham to center field and to right. It also makes St. Louis' starting outfield one of the top projected units in the sport, one that brings speed, power and pedigree in spades.

Behind it, there is less certainty. The fiercest camp battle has been for the fourth outfielder role, likely the last bench spot with the club leaning toward carrying 13 pitchers. The Cardinals aren't looking for defensive versatility here, since all three of their starters can already play any of the three positions. They're looking for a bat above all else. entered camp as the favorite, and he still maintains the inside edge over Garcia, Voit and Munoz.

Starting pitching (5): is slated to make his second consecutive Opening Day start. returns as the No.2 starter after a bounceback season. The No.3 spot is ' to lose with the right-hander returning from three years in Japan, while and shore up the back end. and will likely factor in at some point, but neither starts the season on the active big league roster.

Bullpen (8): "The more the merrier," Matheny said recently, when asked how many pitchers he planned to take north. Club officials have since parroted this stance, indicating the Cardinals likely will bring 13 arms to New York on March 29. That means eight relievers.

, Gregerson (assuming he's healthy), , and Norris are locks. It's safe to expect to see , who is out of options, as well. and likely grab the last two spots. Both have Minor League options, providing the club flexibility going forward.