Cardinals' bench has good mix of veterans, versatility
Infielders Wigginton, Cedeno among leaders who will play reserve roles
JUPITER, Fla. -- This is the final piece in a seven-part Around the Horn series that has taken a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' roster situation heading into the 2013 season. Up next: the bench.
The Cardinals' winter activity, though minimal, positioned the club to enter Spring Training with little left to determine when it comes to filling out the team's bench.
Of the five extra position players the Cardinals will carry, one will be a second catcher, a job Tony Cruz has the handle on. Cruz served as Yadier Molina's backup in 2012 and was complimented for the work he did with the team's pitching staff.
Though non-roster invitees Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles remain in big-league camp, manager Mike Matheny has already suggested that Cruz remains the favorite to retain his spot on the Major League roster.
In the infield, versatility and veteran presence took precedent. Ty Wigginton, who was signed to a two-year deal over the winter, can step in at the corner spots, though the Cardinals' pursuit of him was driven more by his bat and experience than his defensive potential.
"He's done a lot of things right that can help our young players develop," Matheny said. "There is a whole lot more that goes into that bench role than what people think."
How the second base competition shakes out will further define the Cardinals' bench, as Matt Carpenter or Daniel Descalso will become a reserve for Matheny. Descalso can play across the infield, while Carpenter has made second base his fifth defensive position. Carpenter's ability to play the corner outfield spots will certainly add to his playing time, as the Cardinals have expressed an interest in being more proactive with rest for Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.
The fourth bench spot will be assumed by Ronny Cedeno. He was signed in late January to give the Cardinals depth at short stop, which will be in flux until there is additional clarity with Rafael Furcal's injury situation.
"I'm going to be ready for any situation," said Cedeno, who was a starting shortstop as recently as 2011. "The big thing for me is I want to be healthy. That's it. I want to be a help offensively, defensively."
Cedeno's roster security, though, isn't assured with his Major League contract. Pete Kozma, the surprise of last year's second half, has a legitimate opportunity to push himself into consideration.
The biggest point of bench intrigue, though, seems to lie in the competition for the fourth outfield spot. Matheny confirmed on Sunday the Cardinals don't have any intention of pushing Beltran to play center field this season. That means the club will have to reserve a place on the bench for someone to back up Jon Jay.
Shane Robinson held that job for much of 2012. This spring, Adron Chambers and non-roster invitee Justin Christian join Robinson in pursuit of the job.
"I think about it because I want to be [the man for the job]," Chambers said when asked about the competition. "It just gives me something to reach toward. I always need something to reach toward. I didn't make the team [on Opening Day] last year, so I want to be there this year. It gives me a motivation to help me do what I need to do."
Chambers would add an element of speed to the Cardinals, who benefited from Chambers' pinch-running ability when he was with the club late last season. He'd also offer a left-handed option off the bench. Defensively, though, Chambers doesn't provide the same assurances in center Robinson would.
Already a steady defender, Robinson has focused this spring on improving his basestealing technique so that he can be more of a threat when he reaches. He is also taking the lessons learned from 2012 -- a season in which he went 11-for-50 as a pinch-hitter -- in hopes of improving his success in a part-time playing role.
"When it comes down to decision time, I don't want them to have any question marks about me," Robinson said. "I want them to know I'm their guy. That's what I'm trying to earn in spring. I've had some bad injuries and have learned not to take things for granted. I know things aren't set in stone. I've learned some tough lessons through that. You never know what's going to happen, so I just come out here and try to bust my tail."
Christian has appeared in 76 Major League games since '08, including 34 with the Giants last season. That was enough exposure to earn Christian a World Series ring. He's jumped between independent ball and the pros since 2003.
"He covers good ground," Matheny said. "He has had a pretty reliable bat. He has good athletic movements and knows the game and goes around it the right way. It's just a matter of him doing it on a consistent basis at the big league level, but you have to be given the opportunity to do that."
The need to keep a center fielder would seem to squeeze Matt Adams out of a chance to find a place on the Major League roster. With Wigginton and Carpenter already able to play first, the Cardinals don't seem to have a place for Adams, even though he hit .329 with 22 doubles, 18 homers and 50 RBIs in 67 Triple-A games last year.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.