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A change in the cards for champions

ST. LOUIS -- If Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman tried to parade a roster like the Cardinals' onto the field in Boston or New York, they'd probably be run out of town.

It would be hard to justify Preston Wilson in left field or Chris Duncan in right or a pudgy Ronnie Belliard at second base. Or carrying a catcher who batted .216. Or having Jeff Weaver or Jeff Suppan at the front of your rotation.

Yet the Cardinals are the World Series champions.

Everything aligned. Their pitching got hot. They deserved to beat the far more talented Tigers, though in an honest moment, Tony La Russa and Walt Jocketty might admit they stole one.

What's also interesting is what happens from here.

The Cardinals' roster will need major work, even with their championship. Conversely, the Tigers likely will stay the course, add a bat or two to their good young pitching, and probably be very good next season.

The Cardinals do have anchor players in Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter, David Eckstein, and to some degree Yadier Molina, a fantastic defensive catcher who found his stroke in the postseason.

The good news is that Carpenter, one of the elite pitchers in baseball, is returning. Whom better to build around than Carpenter, who could win his second Cy Young? Suppan, Weaver, and Mark Mulder are all free agents.

Suppan loves playing in St. Louis and he's smart enough to realize he's a National League pitcher. He clicks with pitching coach Dave Duncan, and although there'll be a strong market for pitchers, Suppan likely will take less to stay where he's comfortable.

Weaver is a risk, even though he had a 2.77 ERA in the Series, and American League teams probably won't touch him. Traded by the Angels to the Cardinals July 5 after a 3-10 start, he, too, might be best suited to stay in St. Louis.

Mulder was injured much of the season and underwent major shoulder surgery, but his prognosis is good and he's expected to move on. The Red Sox are one of the teams said to have interest, and Mulder is a proven commodity in the AL.

The Cardinals surely could plug in Anthony Reyes behind Carpenter and perhaps Suppan, but the rest of the rotation will be a major project. The bullpen was also very good in the postseason, and while there's a movement to make Adam Wainwright the closer, there's the feeling he needs another pitch to go with his curve and fastball, and the Cardinals still have Jason Isringhausen.

Belliard, who filled the bill at second base, also is a free agent, but his weight is becoming a concern.

Rolen had some injuries, and there are personal issues with La Russa that have to be worked out or Rolen, who has a no-trade clause, could ask out.

Jim Edmonds, a potential free agent (the team holds a $10 million option), is a leader who would be best served by staying, but there probably would be some interest if the Cardinals let him go. Center fielders who can go get it and hit are in demand, even if he is 36 with a body that's been beaten up over the years.

It's obvious Chris Duncan is more a designated hitter-type than an NL outfielder. Wilson's best days are behind him. The Cardinals need a hitter to protect Pujols, who could be even scarier if he gets more solid backing.

The Tigers have more pieces in place.

They have great arms in the rotation and in the bullpen, with the likelihood they'll add injured lefty Mike Maroth back into the mix. With Humberto Sanchez and Andrew Miller waiting in the wings, it could be tempting for GM Dave Dombrowski to trade pitching for a hitter.

In the Series, the Tigers' offense got very quiet, with horrible performances by Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Placido Polanco. But they're all very good players. An AL team almost needs to have an All-Star on offense at virtually every spot. The one place the Tigers could use an upgrade is DH, where a veteran bat like Moises Alou or Luis Gonzalez could go far.

At some point shortstop needs to be addressed because Carlos Guillen, a leader and vital player in '06, is starting to lose his range, though he made a spectacular play on a ball hit up the middle in Game 5. There'll always be a spot for Guillen, but the Tigers will have to decide whether Ramon Santiago, a good defensive shortstop, is the answer, or will they attempt to secure a Miguel Tejada and move Guillen to DH?

At some point, the Tigers will give the closer role to Joel Zumaya. Todd Jones is under contract for another year, and manager Jim Leyland prefers Jones now because he throws strikes and adds a veteran presence at the end of games. But you can't ignore Zumaya's 103 miles per hour at the end of a game. Nor can you ignore the incredible stuff of Fernando Rodney, who throws 97 with a Pedro Martínez-like changeup.

The World Series was an eye-opener for the Tigers' younger players. It's an experience they'll be able to learn from. The mistakes they made cost them their Cinderella ending.

But the Tigers probably don't need to do much tinkering, while the Cardinals need to do a lot.

It's not often a team that won it all is so flawed, and you're not going to see many teams copying the Cardinals' blueprint -- start fast, then slump, finish slightly over .500 in the regular season, just make it to the playoffs, then kick butt in the postseason.

But their players, some of whom learned from their horrible World Series against the Red Sox in '04, somehow got it done.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at

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