Do the Cardinals Have Any Open 2014 Roster Spots?

Like most fans, I enjoy a spirited Spring Training competition. Non-roster invitees, young upstarts, and the previous year’s hangers-on engage in friendly warfare for what usually figure to be 2 or three “TBD” slots on a team’s bench, bullpen, or the back of the starting rotation. For this year’s defending National League champs, there could conceivably be only one (or none) as-yet-spoken-for job to win in Florida this spring, and one of those on the outside looking in figures to be a player who appeared in all but 19 games for the Cards in 2013.

Even with the free agency of Carlos Beltran, John Axford, and Edward Mujica, the loss via trade of David Freese and Fernando Salas, and the retirement of Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals’ 2014 roster is already a crowded one. Let’s take a look at the players who have guaranteed, set-in-stone roster spots, and then a few who are all but sure to be on hand at Busch Stadium for Opening Day.

Pitchers:

1. Adam Wainwright

2. Shelby Miller

3. Lance Lynn

4. Michael Wacha

5. Joe Kelly

6. Trevor Rosenthal

7. Carlos Martinez

8. Kevin Siegrist

9. Randy Choate

10. Seth Maness

11. Jaime Garcia: If he’s healthy, and all indications are that he is, he will likely get penciled into a St. Louis rotation devoid of lefties. The return of Wainwright’s dominance and the success of the Cards’ youth movement last year makes it easy to forget Garcia, but even with a crowded group vying for a chance to pitch every five days, my hunch is that manager Mike Matheny gives him a shot to prove he can still be an above-average major league starter. The question, then, becomes who takes the fourth and fifth spots (Wacha’s ascendance having virtually locked up one of them, the likely contenders for one job will be All-Star Lance Lynn, 2013 season savior Joe Kelly, and the absurdly talented Carlos Martinez).

12. Jason Motte/a fill-in: Having had season-ending Tommy John surgery a year ago, former closer Motte is expected to return to full strength (albeit in an eighth-inning role) toward the end of March. If he needs a few more weeks, look for capable fill-in Sam Freeman or righty Keith Butler to pick up the slack.

Infielders:

13. Allen Craig

14. Matt Carpenter

15. Jhonny Peralta

16. Kolten Wong

17. Mark Ellis

18. Matt Adams

19. Daniel Descalso: I am fairly positive that the last spot on the Cardinals’ infield bench will go to Descalso, as he is the only plausible backup option for the reconverted Carpenter at third. Ellis is assured a spot and plenty of at-bats as a security blanket for rookie Kolten Wong, and Descalso carries the added bonus of being able to (kind of) play shortstop if needed. If things go south for Wong in a hurry, Pete Kozma (see below) may resurface as a backup option at shortstop while Descalso and Ellis split time.

Catchers:

20. Yadier Molina

21. Tony Cruz

Getting tight, right? And this is not even considering that Allen Craig figures to spend quite a bit of time in 2014 pretending to play the outfield.

Outfielders:

22. Matt Holliday

23. Peter Bourjos

24. Jon Jay

That leaves one more, and even with Craig in the mix, the 25th roster spot almost has to go to an outfielder. Now, look back at the previous 24 names. I would be shocked if Pete Kozma weren’t called up to spell an injured infielder, but he can’t hit, can basically only play one position, and that position has been expensively filled. Of course, if Peralta’s durability becomes an issue, the Cardinals will need Kozma’s help. But, I can’t see him on the roster when the season begins. This is more remarkable than you’d think, even given Kozma’s plate ineptitude. A 2013 starting position player, healthy and under team control, has almost no chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Kozma will likely not be the only full-time 2013 Cardinal left out in the cold. Although Shane Robinson is a much better defender than Jon Jay and only slightly worse at the plate, Jay’s “veteran-ness” will likely keep Robinson from usurping him on the depth chart, and (along with Bourjos) a team only needs so many light-hitting center fielders. If the Cardinals’ bench needs pop from the right side, a much better hitter (also with an outside roster chance) awaits in Memphis, in the newly-acquired minor league veteran Joey Butler.

So, who’s number 25? Well, in all of the hubbub, I haven’t mentioned this guy.

A lot of people are going to be unhappy in about two months, and the Cardinals just keep being good. Even with an expected regression from the unsustainable numbers the 2013 Cards’ offense put up with runners in scoring position, this year’s team should be able to roughly equal last year’s league-best win total. As boring as it sounds, look for a repeat NL Central champion in 2014.

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