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Old 04-22-2012, 02:38 PM   #164
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Joe Strauss on the Cardinals' farm system. Complete with a picture of jackass Keith Law.

PITTSBURGH * The Cardinals' immediate goal is to contend, reach the postseason and ultimately emerge from the ensuing crapshoot as World Series champions.
Their long-term aim is to achieve organizational self-sufficiency by constructing a talent pipeline that can offset the game's escalating pay scale for elite, established talent.

Regarding self-sufficiency, general manager John Mozeliak suggests without little hesitation, "I think we're there."

Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak share a belief that the franchise's player development system never has been stronger under current ownership. It's an opinion supported by numerous trade publications as well as rival organizations that see legitimacy where once they perceived false hope.

"I believe we were very strong three years ago, whether media, other clubs or whoever disagreed," Mozeliak said. "I think we're in an even stronger position now, which does seem to be a commonly held opinion."

The Cardinals have three- and five-year projections that Mozeliak prefers not to divulge. Indeed, as far back as 2009, the club began to construct contingencies should Albert Pujols exit as a free agent. They now can project based on several deals already in place in addition to the expanded pipeline.

For example, the Cardinals approach to negotiations with Adam Wainwright, who will reach free agency after the 2013 season. To what degree does the presence of prospects Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal influence negotiations with a two-time Cy Young Award contender? Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and Chris Carpenter also reach free agency in the next two years. Jaime Garcia is under club control through 2017.

The Cardinals acknowledge a need for more lefthanded pitching and development of another impact position player. Currently at Class AA Springfield, 19-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras is the organization's top position prospect and could conceivably start the 2014 season in St. Louis.

"It's not perfect. I dare say no club believes its player development system perfect," Mozeliak said. "I do, however, believe we're in a very strong position."

That position allows the defending World Series champions to project players at almost every position while preparing to exercise five of the first 59 selections in the upcoming amateur draft.

Where once the Cardinals were considered rife with relief pitchers and complementary position players, they now possess several hurlers who could join the parent club's rotation in the next two seasons.

DeWitt long seethed over the system's low ranking and gradually consolidated responsibility for reversing the trend in former vice-president of scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow.

Perceptions have taken a decided upturn in the past two years - analysts for ESPN and Baseball Prospectus listed the Cardinals among their top five this spring.

ESPN's , a sparring partner of Luhnow's after ranking the system 29th in 2010, placed the Cardinals 14th before the 2011 season and fourth this year.

Baseball Prospectus analyst Kevin Goldstein placed the Cardinals No. 3 this spring and attached a five-star ranking to Miller, Taveras and Martinez while granting four-star status to two others.

A year ago, Baseball Prospectus classified only Miller as a five-star talent and no one as a four-star.

Baseball American accorded the Cardinals recognition as its organization of the year for 2011, partly because of its World Series success but also because of the depth of its minor-league system.

"We've had a strong sense of our direction the last number of years,"
Mozeliak said. "But I dare say when every respected industry publication sees the same thing it tends to support what we've said about our organizational strength."

In the last decade the Cardinals have projected Anthony Reyes as a fixture in their starting rotation and insisted that Brett Wallace fit as a major-league third baseman despite significant draft-room debate.
The front office also glossed over former manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan's reluctance to play defensively challenged catcher Bryan Anderson.

The Cardinals ultimately dumped Reyes to the Cleveland Indians for long-forgotten reliever Luis Perdomo, a minor-league pitcher subsequently lost in the Rule 5 draft.
The club dealt Wallace in a July 2009 package for Matt Holliday barely a year after Wallace's first-round selection. Traded twice since, Wallace failed to make the Houston Astros' opening day roster under their first-year general manager, Jeff Luhnow. Anderson, now 25, enjoys significantly more support from manager Mike
Matheny but is in his fourth tour at Class AAA Memphis and out of options after this season.

The Cardinals can go around the diamond and see alternatives.

The organization believes Matt Adams to be a viable option at first base next season, while also contemplating Allen Craig as an everyday presence.

After skipping a grade to open this season at Class AA, second baseman Kolten Wong is considered a probable presence on the parent club by 2014. David Freese, arbitration-eligible after this season, could be available but also could merit consideration for a multiyear extension, delaying his free agency by at least one year.

Memphis shortstop Ryan Jackson enjoys support within the system because of a plus glove, though his bat elicits questions at the next level.

Shortstop remains a position the club may attempt to fortify at the upcoming prep-heavy draft.

With Matt Holliday signed through at least 2016, the outfield opens for
players such as Craig and Taveras, who also projects as a flank
defender. Center field remains an area of interest for greater depth.

Catcher Yadier Molina's contract extension, signed this spring, placed him under contract through 2017.

Then there's center fielder Colby Rasmus' standing as poster boy for player development under Luhnow. Rasmus flamed out amid a firestorm of clubhouse intrigue, parental involvement and back-channel communication.
But it's fair to say the Cardinals would not have reached the postseason, forget the World Series, without making the Rasmus trade.

The Cardinals believe it an accomplishment that they retain one lefthanded reliever, Marc Rzepczynski, and several resulting draft selections as a dividend from the three-team trade that sent Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays last summer. It is a strange metamorphosis regarding a player who moved numerous analysts to write highly of him before and during his first two major-league seasons.

The Cardinals projected Mitchell Boggs as a starting pitcher until La Russa and Duncan correctly diagnosed his hard assortment was more appropriate for a relief role.

Though they retained only two first-round draft picks - Tyler Greene and Class AAA infielder Pete Kozma - from before 2009, the Cardinals have also enjoyed high return from lower selections. Last season's club featured Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso and Craig in prominent roles.

Jay, a second-round selection in 2006, emerged from Rasmus' shadow. Descalso, a third-rounder in 2007, became a fixture after replacing injured utility man Nick Punto last spring and outperforming Greene during the season's first month.

Craig, selected in the eighth round in 2006, has yet to play 100 games in a major league season because of injuries but is seen as a force-in-waiting, especially after generating three game-winning RBIs during last October's World Series.
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