KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the St. Louis Cardinals?
How will three of their big boppers from 2012 perform?
Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina picked up the slack after Albert Pujols' departure and while Matt Holliday played through some injuries, including autumn back woes.
It's almost Miller time at Busch
The recipient of the most fantasy love in early mocks has been Craig, who carries eligibility at first base and outfield. His contact ability and alluring promise of controlling the plate while hitting second or cleanup, more likely the latter, stand out among second- and third-tier first sackers.
Still, he should be kept near the bottom end of the position's top 10 options in mixed leagues. Most assume there will be a direct extrapolation of his numbers in injury-shortened seasons. (Hint: He has frequent flier miles for an exotic destination called "the DL"). Many are paying as if a full season is a lock. Also, since he has yet to display a 30-homer season in the bigs, he must keep crushing southpaws to sustain a .300 clip to augment his dollar returns. There's plenty to like, and sometimes you have to go on guts when it comes to predicting growth, but to ditch options with longer track records for the sake of being a "smart guy" in the first three mixed rounds ... you're missing out on safer investments.
Beltran's back-to-back seasons of 520-plus at-bats have fueled his resurrection. He has become increasingly aggressive late in his career, and it paid off nicely last year. However, as he turns 36 in April, you have to wonder how much longer his bat speed will remain at optimal levels, which means he's unlikely to see a .300 BA again without significant good luck. The harsh correction in last year's second half might be a preview. Plus, how much do you want to spend to push the limit of him staying healthy?
Of this trio, Molina carries the best combination of foundation and value. People forget he was regularly hovering around .300 even when his power was miniscule. The late-blooming masher catcher is a tale as old as time, and Molina, with his beautiful output, has become a beast in his early 30s, increasing his output in the HR column by eight in each of the last two years.
OK, so that trend will halt, simply because his skills distribution won't allow it. Still, even if you knock a handful of taters off his 2012 total, he's one of the most complete offensive profiles among backstops. Unfortunately, more people are finally buying into him as an elite option, which makes him a stale stock for profit unless catchers as a whole get a discount via your draft flow.
Who will sub for Chris Carpenter?
It doesn't seem like they'll sign Kyle Lohse or someone else to address the veteran's shoulder setback, which may end his career. Carp's innings will probably be filled by multiple arms throughout the season, but for the initial opportunity, count on an internal competition with headliners Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal. Joe Kelly brings up the rear thanks to his moxie-fueled, skills-tenuous profile, and the farm tossers, including Carlos Martinez, need more polish. The other two, on the other hand, should land on mixed cheat sheets.
One would think this is Miller's to win. One of their top prospects, and frequently the No. 1 in recent years, rebounded after several speed bumps in his Triple-A Memphis go-round in 2012. He needed some organizational kid gloves, but relief duty with the big club last year displayed his refined approach, including comfort with secondary offerings. Of course, his pitches won't be as suffocating over a full season (read: fewer K's), but peripherally, he's sound and even at 22 can take a big step. Deep-mixed speculators can't pass him up, especially if he retains the inside track closer to the season's start.
Rosenthal will push him, though if the flamethrower (seriously, filthy stuff) can't show control over extended periods, they won't hesitate to keep him as a reliever. Don't worry; for a last-round dart, he could give you Kenley Jansen-esque production if he's coming out of the bullpen, and he should see at least a few starting rubbers this year. This'll be one of the most watched fantasy situations in any camp.
What will the middle infield look like?
Furcal's turn will determines INF
With Rafael Furcal, an increasingly boring fake-baseball option, trying to return from another injury, this query hardly constitutes a stretch. His right elbow "popped," per the 6, late last summer and turned out to have a strain. He opted against surgery and continues to rehab. St. Louis wisely has built up insurance as they determine his availability. Pete Kozma endeared himself to Mike Matheny late last year after a mini-breakout at Memphis. Ryan Jackson and Ronny Cedeno merely constitute last resorts. These three shouldn't interest you in dual-universe pools.
Daniel Descalso is the presumptive leader at the keystone, but Matt Carpenter's transition there from the hot corner is gaining steam. Coaches would love to get his bat as many hacks as possible; he was improving his drive as 2012 was ending.
This comes down to Furcal's durability (chuckle), and maybe David Freese's. Descalso, who plays shortstop, and Carpenter, a natural third baseman, could easily wind up on the field simultaneously even if someone wins the initial battle. Of course, top youngster Kolten Wong may force his way to the Gateway City sometime this year; if so, he's an instant deep-league pickup. The more logical situation, though, is that the 22-year-old waits until a September call-up.
If his bat can follow, to a bigger degree, in the successful position-switch footsteps of Skip Schumaker, Carpenter will yield the biggest fantasy payoff in any format. Descalso winning the job would provide you with an in-season mixed middle infielder who'll neither help nor hurt you; sometimes, you need buoys like that.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.