If you follow the Hot Stove League, like I do, you are probably quite aware of the Cardinals offseason moves (or lack thereof). A while back, Joe Strauss expressed his concerns about the lack of moves by the Cards and, with other teams making significant moves to improve their rosters, it begs the question as to whether the Cardinals have lost ground to the other contenders for the NL crown.
Here's a look at the contenders in the NL and their offseason moves (to date):
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals lost Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman (who missed most of the 2012 season) to free agency and recently lost Chris Carpenter to injury.
Carpenter also missed most of the 2012 season to injury, so that's a wash. Berkman was replaced at first by Allen Craig, who will be healthy to start the 2013 season. So the only real whole that the Cardinals need to fill is that of Lohse, who will be replaced in the rotation by one of Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly or Trevor Rosenthal. You can expect a bit of a downgrade there, but otherwise, they are not losing much.
As for the offense, it should be clicking on all cylinders and I can easily see it surpassing last year's run total of 765 (2nd in the NL).
Overall, the Cardinals should be just as good, if not slightly better than last year's team.
The Cardinals Wild Card opponent brought in the Upton brothers to replace Michael Bourn and Martin Prado in the outfield and will use a platoon of recently acquired Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco to replace the retired Chipper Jones. Overall, the Uptons should be an upgrade in the outfield and help make up for the loss of Jones.
On the pitching side, the Braves improved their bullpen by trading Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden. Their starting rotation is strong at the top, with Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson and Mike Minor leading the way, but questions abound after that. Will top prospect Julio Teheran be able to fill the void left by Hanson? Who will fill Brandon Beachy's spot while he recovers from Tommy John surgery?
The Braves may have improved their offense, but their pitching is still suspect.
The 2012 NL Central champs upgraded their offense by trading Drew Stubbs (and others) for Shin-Soo Choo. However, their defense may take a little hit as they are asking Choo to play center, a position he's only played 10 times in his major league career.
On the pitching side, the Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to be the closer and allow them to move Aroldis Chapman into the rotation. As a Cardinal fan, I much prefer Chapman as the closer, as then we only would see him for at most one inning per game. In any case, adding Chapman to the rotation (to replace Mike Leake) is a definite upgrade, which would offset the downgrade at the closer position.
Overall, the Reds have improved, but not significantly.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers actually started their rebuilding last summer when they acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox, as well as Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins. Having a full season of those players should give the Dodgers offense a boost.
On the pitching side, the Dodgers made a big splash by signing Zack Greinke as well as Korean starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. Along with holdovers Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett (acquired last summer from the Red Sox), Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang, the Dodgers certainly have pitching depth and will likely trade 1-2 of their starters to fill other needs. In addition, the Dodgers signed Brandon League to serve as their closer, with last year's close, Kenley Jansen serving as his set up man.
Overall, the Dodgers have spent freely since new ownership took over and should be an improved team (on paper at least).
The Nats had the best record in the NL last year before falling to the Cardinals in the NLDS. If any team could stand pat, the Nats certainly could. However, they went out and traded for Denard Span to play center field, while parting with Michael Morse (for a prospect). This should improve their outfield defense while having minimal impact on their offense.
On the pitching side, Washington parted ways with free agent Edwin Jackson but replaced him with Dan Haren. Then, never satisfied, they signed closer Rafael Soriano to improve an already excellent bullpen. However, the most important change on the pitching side is that Stephen Strasburg will not be on an innings limit this year.
Overall, the Nats made a really good team even better this offseason and will likely be the team to beat in the NL.
San Francisco Giants
The reigning World Series champions resigned Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro on offense, but let Melky Cabrera (and his PEDs) walk. Cabrera will be hard to replace for a team that has struggled on offense in the past.
On the pitching side, the Giants didn't do much, bringing back reliever Jeremy Affeldt, while letting Brian Wilson (and his beard) leave via free agency after his missed nearly all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery. However, when you already have one of the best pitching staffs in the NL, you don't need to do much.
Overall, the Giants will continue to contend, if only because of their pitching.
Looking at the NL as a whole, the Cardinals may have lost some ground against the Nationals and the Dodgers, while the other contenders have stayed about the same. Could the Cardinals have done more to improve their team. Yes, probably. But with the majors top farm system and a new philosophy of building from within, the Cardinals chose to stand pat.