Ryan Franklin, closer ordinaire, is in his late thirties and likely nearing retirement. While Franklin certainly isn't vital to the team the way Carpenter or Wainwright have been, he has offered stability at the back of a bullpen that saw much confusion as Jason Isringhausen came to the end of his own road.

So that's the offensive cornerstone, the co-aces of the starting staff and the closer, all questionable as to their future in St. Louis beyond 2011. You can't assume any or all of them absolutely won't be back, of course, but you also can't assume any of them absolutely will. Against that backdrop, is it any wonder John Mozeliak and his posse went searching for one-year bandages? That's not even taking into consideration the fact that the manager and the pitching coach — hell, all members of the coaching staff, really — are essentially on a year-to-year basis. Tony La Russa's current contract has a mutual option for 2012, but "mutual option" is really just contractspeak for "just in case we all still want to keep the current situation intact but don't feel like negotiating again." No binding power whatsoever.

To be fair, the Jim Edmonds signing was as much about a possible victory lap as it was hoping for old-man magic. Edmonds was looking to hold on for one more season, maybe reach a milestone number or two, and there was no better scenario for that than doing it while wearing the Birds on the Bat, the uniform that saw his glory days. Sadly, Jimmy Baseball just didn't have another lap in him and retired shortly after being signed. At least he went out a Cardinal.

Lance Berkman: Looking to recapture the magic before he rides off into the sunset.
Romeo Guzman/Cal Sport Media
Lance Berkman: Looking to recapture the magic before he rides off into the sunset.
Ryan Theriot and Matt Carpenter during a spring-training game against the Astros.
Quinten Stevens/AiWire/Newscom
Ryan Theriot and Matt Carpenter during a spring-training game against the Astros.

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The other acquisitions, though, were all about limiting the time the team was committed to the players in question. Lance Berkman is looking to recapture the magic in his bat for maybe one last bite of the free-agent apple before he rides off into the sunset. Miguel Batista, published author, former closer for the Toronto Blue Jays and former starter for damned near everyone, has reached the age where he's most suitable for swingman-slash-injury-insurance duty or a sitcom with Scott Bakula. He has seen and done it all before on the baseball field, and you could do a whole lot worse as a single-season bulwark against disaster.

A House Divided — Or Maybe Just Confused
On the other hand, bringing in Nick Punto, the 33-year-old utility specialist, makes much less sense. Punto ostensibly represents a commitment to defense as a winning trait, but if that's the philosophy, then why was Brendan Ryan traded? Ryan Theriot, the man expected to take Ryan's place at shortstop, is a middling fielder, a far cry from Brendan's artistry. Berkman was not a good defensive outfielder when he last played there regularly, and that was six seasons ago. Skip Schumaker continues to be a liability at second base, yet any suggestion of moving him is met with a stony glare or outright disdain from the manager.

It's this Janus impression from on-field management that has so confounded many observers in recent years. Dave Duncan, the team's long-time pitching coach, puts his emphasis on ground-ball outs, but the team thinks nothing of downgrading the infield defense. Brendan Ryan is shipped out to improve the team, then Nick Punto — who offers essentially the same skill set, only older — is brought in to improve the team. The organization is focused on developing talent from within, going so far as to spend heavily on high-risk, high-reward players in recent drafts, but when push comes to shove the manager always falls back on grit and veteran-ness as the ultimate desirable qualities, and the team's possible last shot at a title for a while occasions the signing of players who have probably started receiving junk mail from the AARP.

Maybe there's still a disconnect in the organization. Or maybe it's all just the signs of a franchise trying to decide how to deal with a potentially historic string of defections. After all, if you take the core out of the team, it's kind of tough to see how it's going to hold together.

A Retro-Rock Revival, or the Broken-Down Blues?
This, then, is the portrait we have of the 2011 Cardinals. Lance Berkman is expected to play right field and rake in the middle of the order, but within the first week of trying to play the outfield in spring training, his elbow was presenting a problem, relegating him to DH duty. (Perhaps a cautionary tale on why it might be a bad idea for the Cards to offer their own aging slugger a monster contract covering the next decade? Only time will tell.) The Cards' aging, oft-injured ace might be playing his last days in St. Louis, and their in-his-prime, generally durable ace is on the shelf for the season. Nick Punto had surgery to repair a sports hernia and isn't expected to play until sometime in May.

Perhaps youth will be served once again in 2011. After all, someone has to fill in when the geriatric brigade needs time off due to doctor appointments or hard candy-related shopping trips. McClellan, an internal candidate and farm-system success story, is expected to take the rotation spot vacated by Wainwright, leaving Batista in the bullpen. Matt Carpenter has been the star of spring training and just might be first in line when David Freese's ankles go all Pontiac Fiero sometime in June.

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