(Image: Rarely seen Cardinals logo from 1949-1959 per SportsLogos.net)
(Editor's note: I participated in a "game of pepper" with Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the Bat, which is part of the Cards Conclave cluster of blogs. Click that link and check out what I had to say on the fortunes of the 2014 Brewers, along with Jaymes from Disciples of Uecker and Justin from Reviewing the Brew. Daniel also answered some questions on the 2014 St. Louis team, which are presented here; you can follow him on Twitter at @C70)
TBB: How would you grade the offseason?
C70: I think it'd be difficult to give it anything less than an A. John Mozeliak went out and shored up pretty much every major hole and did so without touching any of the young talent. If you'd told me after the Series that Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Matt Adams and Carlos Martinez would all still be Cardinals come spring training, I'd have thought Mo had fallen down on the job. Instead, he used the checkbook to get Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis (which will help a bench that was really lacking last year) and dealt David Freese for a center fielder. That's good GMing.
TBB: How excited are fans about the arrival of Jhonny Peralta? Will the Cardinals fans boo Braun and cheer Peralta with a clean conscience?
C70: To be fair, Cardinal fans have booed Braun for years, the steroid thing was just the icing on the cake, a great bit of schadenfreude on an already-disliked player. Your point is a legitimate one, though. To tie those two players together is a bit of a broad brush, but I don't think Peralta is ever going to be a huge fan favorite or the face of the franchise. He'll be cheered, for certain, because he's not Pete Kozma and has a chance to bring offense back to shortstop for the first time since Edgar Renteria made his ill-fated decision to head to Boston. Is there a bit of a double standard there? Probably some, but everyone knows you defend "your guys" more often than not. Ask Giants fans about their experience there.
TBB: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?
C70: I think the most interesting will be to see how the backup infield situation plays out. Do the Cards keep Daniel Descalso, since he can play second, third and short? Do they keep Kozma, who might be limited to shortstop but has a significantly better glove than Dirty Dan? Do they keep them both and send outfielder Shane Robinson down to Memphis?
There should also be a little bit of competition for the back end of the rotation, though it's probably going to be more to position in case of injury than actually getting the job. Martinez, Joe Kelly, Tyler Lyons–all of them will probably fall short of the rotation, so seeing who gets a bullpen role and who goes to the minors will be something to keep an eye on.
TBB: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?
C70: Most everyone lost their rookie status last year, though some just barely. I know Wacha did and I believe Martinez did as well. Which means, while there will be a lot of youngsters on the roster, there won't be any technical rookies. That is, until Oscar Taveras gets the call. That might be right out of spring training, though it seems more likely that a May or June arrival will be in the cards. Taveras is rated in the top three of all baseball prospects on almost any ranking list and will bring power and speed to the lineup when he's ready.
TBB: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
C70: I'm never good about predicting records. This team looks like a team that can win 100+ games, but injuries, slumps and the realities of the game will probably keep them from that. Let's say 96-66 and first in the NL Central.
TBB: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?
C70: There are a lot of guys that are a lot of fun to watch, but for me, it's gotta be Adam Wainwright. Seeing him drop one of those nasty curves on an unsuspecting batter is one of life's simple pleasures.
(Thanks again to Daniel for proposing a game of pepper again this year. It must be grand to be modest AND predict 96 wins and a NL Central title. -NM)