It's the end of the year roundtable for the UCB and Trey and I are both participating. You can check out the other questions here. Here's my quesiton and the replies it got:
Most of the questions so far, due to the time of the year, have been front-office-esque--as they should be. Yet let's switch gears for a second and prognosticate. Do you believe next year's team will be better than this year's team? Why or why not?
Daniel from C70 at the Bat: That's such a tough question given the different variables involved. On the whole, though, I'd probably have to say no for one big reason--the pitching.
Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright put up ridiculous numbers this year. I can't imagine them improving on those results in 2010. They may get close, they may do well (and I figure they will) but two top Cy Young-worthy contributions is pretty hard.
Then you have to replace Joel Pineiro's stellar season. Kyle Lohse will hopefully be better, but he can't improve so much as to fill Pineiro's 2009 shoes. You will get a boost from not having Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation, hopefully replacing him with John Smoltz, but all in all the pitching numbers will probably come back to earth somewhat next year.
The offense could improve, especially if Matt Holliday or someone of that ilk is out there in the outfield instead of Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel, and I still expect the Cards to contend for October, but to expect them to do better than this year is a stretch in my book.
Our own Trey: I have to agree with Daniel on this one. While you'd expect that if we can get consistent contributions at 3B, SS, and LF for the entire season, we may have a better everyday line-up than last year, our pitching almost certainly has to take a step backwards. Daniel mentioned already the high levels of the starting pitching that will be tough to sustain, but you'd have to say the bullpen was much better than expected as well this year. That was a huge question mark coming into the season, and it was actually pretty solid for the most part. Maybe Hawksworth will stay there and continue be that solid set-up guy for Franklin, but I think there's a good chance there could be some issues in the mid-innings there next year. So overall, I'd expect us to contend in the central again, but not run away with it.
Mike from Stan Musial's Stance: One of my favorite non-Cardinal blogs is USS Mariner. Dave Cameron has repeatedly stated, in posts there over the last 3 years, the relative difficulty in taking an 85-team to a 90-win team, because of the amount of money that would need to be spent on players with a high enough WAR to affect the club's won/loss record.
Obviously we're not an 85-win team, having won 91 games in 2009. But I think the philosophy applies, especially when we consider what positions are question marks for 2010 (3B, LF, starting pitching), and the value of the players that manned those spots in 2009 who most likely won't be back in 2010 (specifically Holliday and Pineiro). The Cardinals probably don't have the money to put a Type A free-agent at 3B, in LF, and in the rotation - the kind of player that would provide a high enough WAR to push this team past 91 wins.
And as was already mentioned, improving on this year's team assumes returning players perform at least as well as they did this year. Reasonable for AP, and I would argue plausible for Wainwright, but probably not realistic for Carpenter given his injury history, Franklin given his regression to the mean in Aug/Sept, Ryan given a possible 'sophomore slump', etc.
So no, I don't think they'll be better. I'm hopeful Mozeliak will construct his roster so the team is AS good as they were this year - 91 wins will make us competitive for the NL Central and the Wild Card in 2010, if not the winner of one of those positions.
Michael from Whiteyball: The cause for optimism is the hitting, right handed middle relief, bottom of the rotation and defense. They almost have to have a better bench than last year (full season of Lugo, couple of guys hitting above .220).
The first half of the season, the Cardinals were weighed down by huge drop offs in expectations from the hitters. This is a list of batters by positions that were doing worse than their counterparts from the year before ( first half): LF, CF, RF, 3B, C, SS, P. That’s virtually everyone. Only second baseman Skip Schumaker, who was a huge drop off in defense from Adam Kennedy, and Albert Pujols (who was having a career best first half) were hitting above the positions from the previous year.
If they sign Holliday or someone of the Abreu ilk, the team will see massive improvements over a full season from LF, CF, 3B, SS and some improvement from 2B (especially backup) and RF (Ludwick could be in between 2008 and 2009).
The Cause for pessimism is top 3 starting pitchers and closer. The question isn’t will they drop off but by how much. The team could be a little better next year (with a good left fielder) or it could be slightly worse. 90 wins is a good guess at this early stage of the off-season.