JUPITER, Fla. - When news reached the Cardinals' spring training complex last week that veteran pitcher Chris Carpenter would not be reporting because of a shoulder injury, it prompted a reassignment of some prime real estate in the major-league clubhouse.
For years, Carpenter has owned the locker closest to the coaches' room, not too far from the manager's office and a perfect place to monitor the clubhouse or escape it. His was a location earned by status and seniority. After the announcement that the club expects him to miss the coming season, a club official went to the locker and removed its No. 29 placard.
Up went No. 50.
That's the number worn by the Cardinals' top pitcher, Carpenter's protege, and the heir to his role as ace, Adam Wainwright.
"I think it was, 'Hey, Adam, we want to make a shrine out of this locker, but somebody needs to fill it so it doesn't look weird,'" Wainwright said. "Apparently now I'm one of the older guys. I don't have to be like Carp. I just have to be like me, and he taught me very well."
On Tuesday, Cardinals pitchers and catchers were to hold their first workout on the team's grounds at Roger Dean Stadium, and on Friday the full squad will follow manager Mike Matheny out for its first practice. Spring has sprung. The pops of gloves, the cracks of bats, and the sizzles of sunburn are only a few days away. As general manager John Mozeliak said, "There's always something special about the first day of camp and the sounds of spring."
Usually around Major League Baseball the migration to warmer weather is on wings of optimism. Every team is tied in the standings, and every roster has an opening for hope. At this time of year, teams are talking about a new start, new opportunities and new additions.
For the third consecutive spring, the Cardinals start with an unexpected subtraction.
Two years ago Wainwright's elbow came undone during spring training, and he missed the entire 2011 season. A year ago, during the club's first spring after three-time Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels, Carpenter struggled to throw and missed all but three starts in the 2012 season. This year, Carpenter didn't get to Florida before his shoulder rebelled with nerve issues that will put him on the disabled list to start this regular season. And yet, such spring losses have not kept the Cardinals from summer wins.
Despite Wainwright's absence, the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011. Without Carpenter last year, the Cardinals won 88 games and added him to a team that came one win shy of a second consecutive National League pennant.
"I missed 2011, and (Kyle) Lohse stepped up, (Jake) Westbrook stepped up, Carp stepped up, Kyle McClellan stepped up," Wainwright said, listing pitchers on the World Series team. "Carp goes down last year, and Lance Lynn wins 18 games when he wasn't even going to be in the rotation. This year, we lose Carp again and we don't have Lohse. Guess what has to happen. Somebody has to step up. But, and here's the main point, the guys you're asking to step up have the ability and they have the makeup. That's why it's not a panic attack for the organization."
As in previous seasons, the Cardinals have options on hand to fill the innings abandoned by Carpenter and by free agent Lohse. One of this spring's most competitive situations is the derby for the fifth spot in the rotation. Young hotshot arms Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller will compete for the opening starting . now. All of them appeared in the Cardinals' postseason run last October. Kelly is the oldest at 24. The other two are 22.
Such youth will be a recurring theme this spring for the Cardinals as they look to graduate some of their minor-league prospects into the majors. Two media outlets, including Baseball America, have ranked the Cardinals' minor-league system No. 1 in baseball because of its forthcoming talent. The team made subtle additions to its $115 million roster this winter - adding lefty specialist Randy Choate, utility fielder Ty Wigginton and infielder Ronny Cedeno - and avoided big splashes because of ascending talent and All-Stars such as Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran already under contract.
"We didn't add the big guys because we have the big guys," pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said.
"We have made some adjustments to our club," Matheny elaborated last month. "Some of our younger players are different players now with the experience they've had, and I think we have a chance to be much better than 88 (wins). It's just a matter of execution. It does come back to those fundamentals that we've talked about before. You look at how many close games that we just came short of, and what was it that kept us from winning those games? I believe it is a lot of minor things.
"Going in (we didn't need) an overhaul," he concluded. "We have the potential to win our division. We want to get to the postseason."
That certainly is the trend.
Despite the absences that have started recent seasons for the Cardinals, they've ended each of them in the playoffs.
Throughout baseball, spring training is expanded this year to allow for the World Baseball Classic, a tournament of international teams. The Cardinals will start exhibition games Feb. 23. They will play 32 games in the Grapefruit League before leaving Florida on March 29. Opening day is April 1 in Arizona. By then, Wainwright will have plenty of time to sit in front of his new locker, see the clubhouse as Carpenter did, and know who is going north with him. He already has a feel for the type of team it will be.
"There are voids that need to be filled where someone steps up because Carp is not here, and there are other voids that can't be filled because Carp is Carp," Wainwright said. "You can say the same thing about losing (David) Eckstein, (Jim) Edmonds, (Scott) Rolen, but yet you keep going and finding a way to win. That is the organization that the Cardinals have built. All of that is instilled in us. That's why we can continue to go out there and win ballgames.
"That is what's expected."