Running down the rosters: St. Louis Cardinals

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The World Series champion Cardinals will go it without Albert Pujols, but the additions of Adam Wainwright (back from Tommy John surgery) and Carlos Beltran should sufficiently make up for that. On paper this year’s team looks just as good as the one that won it all. Of course, last year’s winners wouldn’t have sniffed the postseason playing in any division besides the NL Central, so there is room for improvement.

Rotation
Adam Wainwright – R
Chris Carpenter – R
Jaime Garcia – L
Kyle Lohse – R
Jake Westbrook – R

Bullpen
Jason Motte – R
Fernando Salas – R
Mark Rzepczynski – L
Kyle McClellan – R
Mitchell Boggs – R
J.C. Romero – L
Eduardo Sanchez – R

SP next in line: Lance Lynn (R), McClellan, Shelby Miller (R), Brandon Dickson (R)
RP next in line: Scott Linebrink (R), Lynn, Jess Todd (R), Maikel Cleto (R), Adam Reifer (R), Samuel Freeman (L)

I didn’t leave a spot for Lynn here, even though I project him as the Cardinals’ fourth best starter. He’s quite a luxury for the team at the moment. The Cardinals could try to dump Westbrook’s salary and slide him into the rotation or move McClellan and use him as a long man. The best option, though, is probably to stand pat and see what happens this spring. I doubt Carpenter and Garcia are going to combine to make 66 starts again. The Cards are sure to need at least six starters, and as great as Miller will be someday, they’re not going to want to have to call on him in the first half.

The bullpen should be strong, even if neither Motte nor Salas can quite duplicate their 2.2x ERAs from last season. The closer’s gig is Motte’s to lose after a fine postseason that included five saves.

Lineup
SS Rafael Furcal – S
RF Carlos Beltran – S
LF Matt Holliday – R
1B Lance Berkman – S
3B David Freese – R
CF Jon Jay – L
C Yadier Molina – R
2B Daniel Descalso – L

Bench
C Tony Cruz – R
INF Tyler Greene – R
INF Alex Cora – L
2B/OF Skip Schumaker – L
OF Shane Robinson – R

Disabled list: Allen Craig (R)
Next in line: C Bryan Anderson (L), C Koyie Hill (S), 1B/OF Mark Hamilton (L), 1B Matt Adams (L), 3B Matt Carpenter (L), INF Pete Kozma (R), INF-OF Eugenio Velez (S), OF Adron Chambers (L), OF Erik Komatsu (L)(Rule 5)

The offense doesn’t lack for big names even with Pujols gone, but I do have my concerns. Berkman and Molina are due for at least mild declines, and Berkman, Furcal, Beltran and Freese all rank among the biggest injury risks at their positions. Given those issues, one would think the Cardinals would have invested more in their bench this winter.

Of course, the bench situation would look a lot better if Craig makes a quick return from knee surgery. He’s the team’s third best outfielder, and he’ll be great insurance for Beltran and Berkman if healthy.

As is, the bench spots are largely up for grabs, with only Schumaker completely assured of his place (though Greene is probably safe). Cruz will battle Anderson to become Molina’s backup, with Hill possibly sneaking in if neither youngster impresses. Cora, Hamilton and Carpenter are the candidates for the sixth infield spot. Robinson, Chambers and Komatsu will compete for one gig in the outfield. I don’t have much faith in anyone from that group, but that’ll be Craig’s spot eventually.

My guess is that the Cardinals start strong, but that injuries take a toll as the year goes on. There may be enough pitching depth to get them back to 90 wins anyway, but the NL Central crown could come down to whether Furcal, Beltran and others are close to 100 percent come September.

Rob Manfred says Tampa Bay must pick up pace on new stadium

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wants Tampa Bay to work a little quicker on getting the Rays a new ballpark.

Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg has been working for nearly a decade to get a new stadium for the club and signed a three-year agreement with the City of St. Petersburg early in 2016 to search for a site in the Tampa Bay area. Manfred wants that search to pick up some steam.

“I think it’s fair to say we want the process to take on a better pace moving forward,” Manfred said Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, home of the Rays since their first season in 1998.

The Rays were averaging 15,815 fans per game before Wednesday night’s contest against the Toronto Blue Jays. That is just over half the major league average of 30,470. Tropicana Field and its location have been almost universally blamed as the reason for the poor attendance.

“I’ve been pretty clear that they need a new facility here, a major league quality facility in an A-plus location,” Manfred said. “It is time to move that decision to the front burner here in Tampa.”

The matter of how a stadium would be financed has been tabled until a site is determined, but Sternberg continued to express confidence in the Tampa Bay market.

“I’ve had the opportunity to bail on it many times over the years,” he said. “I won’t say this is a slam dunk, it’s certainly not. But I think we can do something that’ll at least double our attendance. That’s a lot to ask for.”

Manfred said Major League Baseball “doesn’t have a firm timetable” for what steps to take if the Rays fail to get an agreement to build a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, but but added that “it is a topic of discussion in the industry, the lack of progress.”

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Robinson Cano leaves game with hamstring tightness

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Bad news for the Mariners this evening: Robinson Cano left Seattle’s game against the Atlanta Braves with tightness in his left hamstring.

Cano walked off the field after legging out a double — his second of the game — in the third inning. He pulled up as he approached second base and walked off the field, accompanied by a trainer. There was no immediate word on the severity of the injury. The Mariners have a day off Thursday before opening a series at the Yankees on Friday night, so they have some time to evaluate him.

Cano is hitting .277/.377/.460 with 19 homers and 78 RBI on the year.