2022 Cardinals Preview
2021 Finish: 90-72 (lost to Dodgers in NLWC)
Key additions: LHP Steven Matz (FA/Blue Jays), RHP Nick Wittgren (FA/Guardians), OF/DH Corey Dickerson (FA/Blue Jays), RHP Drew VerHagen (FA/Japan), RHP Aaron Brooks (FA*/Korea), Manager Oliver Marmol
Key subtractions: LHP Andrew Miller (retirement), 3B Matt Carpenter (FA/Rangers), RHP Luis Garcia (FA/Padres), RHP Carlos Martinez (FA*/Giants), LHP Jon Lester (retirement), LHP JA Happ (FA), LHP KK Kim (FA/Korea), Manager Mike Shildt (fired/SD)
*denotes minor league deal
2021 was a roller coaster of a season to say the least for the Cardinals. One of the biggest highs was before the season began when the Cardinals traded for one of the best 3B in the game in Nolan Arenado. One low point was when the Cardinals were without 4 of their 5 starting pitchers due to injury. It was during that time the Cardinals were scuffling. Not many teams can do well when they are without 4 of their starting pitchers. Once everyone started to get healthy, the Cardinals rattled off a team record 17 straight wins in September, which helped them clinch the 2nd Wild Card in the National League. One of the major bright spots was the emergence of OF Tyler O'Neill. O'Neill finished 8th in the NL MVP race after slashing .286/.352/.560. Another bright spot was actually a golden one. The Cardinals had 5 players earn a gold glove: Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Nolan Arenado, Tyler O'Neill, & Harrison Bader. It was the first time in the award's history that 5 players from the same team won. Yadier Molina was also a top 3 finisher. After the season though, the Cardinals fired manager Mike Shildt over philosophical differences.
Cardinals wound up hiring bench coach Oli Marmol, making him the youngest manager in MLB at the age of 35. As the offseason started, the Cardinals wanted to make sure they addressed pitching. Prior to the lockout, they were able to sign LHP Steven Matz to a 4 year deal. While not a big named guy like some of the free agents that were out there, he should be able to give the Cardinals good, quality innings. Then the lockout happened. 99 days of no baseball moves to the big league club. During that time, the Cardinals were able to sign Aaron Brooks to a minor league deal. Brooks was recently added to the 40 man roster as an injury replacement. After 99 days, MLB owners and MLBPA finally agreed to a new deal. After that, they signed a few more guys, focusing on relief pitching, and depth.
So how does 2022 look? Will the right cards be dealt? Here's how I see the team.
Tommy Edman 4
Paul Goldschmidt 3
Tyler O'Neill 7
Nolan Arenado 5
Dylan Carlson 9
Yadier Molina 2
Corey Dickerson DH
Paul DeJong 6
Harrison Bader 8
Edmundo Sosa IF
Lars Nootbaar OF/DH
Andrew Knizner C
Juan Yepez 1B/DH
Brendan Donovan UTIL
The Cardinals return all of their starters from 2021. They also get to include an additional bat into their lineup now that we have universal DH. I feel Dickerson & Yepez will split time there with Yepez seeing more ABs vs lefties. The Cardinals have tinikered with their lineup this spring with Carlson seeing some time in the leadoff spot. Ultimately, I think they'll keep Edman in that spot. The Cardinals are hoping that O'Neill can continue his progression and become a legitimate MVP candidate. There are some experts that are calling him a darkhorse for the award. Goldschmidt has traditionally started his season cold, but really comes on strong as the season wears on. 2021 was arguably his best season as a Cardinal. Getting some protection behind him in O'Neill and Arenado certainly helps. I really like him hitting in the 2 spot because you can't pitch around him since they'll have 2 very strong hitters behind him.
One big question mark is at shortstop. Paul DeJong had a season to forget. Edmundo Sosa took advantage of that and started to make a name for himself. However, he committed some costly errors in the Wild Card loss to the Dodgers, which begs the question, can he handle being a starting shortstop full time? I think you'll see Marmol ride the hot hand, giving DeJong the chance to begin with. Should both falter, don't be surprised to see Edman shift over to his natural shortstop position, and the Cardinals call up their #2 prospect in Nolan Gorman. Gorman was drafted as a 3B but shifted to 2B once the Cardinals traded for Arenado. Gorman is knocking on the door for his big league debut however, with his slow start, he's likely to start the year in Memphis, but could be the first guy called up if an injury occurs.
The Cardinals could arguably have one of the best outfields in baseball. As mentioned earlier, the Cardinals are hoping that Tyler O'Neill can continue to improve. He could legitimately hit 40 home runs provided he can stay healthy. He has proved to be a defensive star as well with back to back Gold Gloves. Speaking of defensive stars, Harrison Bader continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game by earning his first Gold Glove. Bader arguably had his best offsensive season to date, which was a welcome surprise. However, he is still an extremely streaky hitter. He gets red hot and ice cold for stretches. The Cardinals are hoping he can be a more consistent hitter in 2022. Over in right field, Dylan Carlson is entering his 2nd full season (3rd overall). Carlson finished 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting last season. The future certainly is bright for Carlson. I had a comparison that I really liked about him this offseason: former Cardinal Lance Berkman. Carlson had a very similar first full season as Berkman's. If Carlson could be a producer like Berkman was with the Astros, the Cardinals could have one of the toughest lineups in the National League.
Jack Flaherty (injured)
Johan Oviedo (replaces Flaherty)
Alex Reyes (injured)
The Cardinals received two big blows to their pitching staff once players reported to camp. This was a major downfall of having the lockout. The injuries to Jack Flaherty & Alex Reyes likely happened while no contact could be made with the team. Alex Reyes was just placed on the 60-day injured list due to a frayed labrum. Initial prognosis said don't expect him back before Memorial Day but I would be surprised if we see him before the All Star Break. Reyes has a long list of injuries he has recovered from. Last season was really his first healthy season. We can see what he can do when healthy. He took over the closer role and set a record for consecutive saves to begin one's career and made the All Star team. However, after the break, he wasn't as dominate. I would probably chalk that up to fatigue. He had always been a starter, but was being heavily relied upon in Mike Shildt's bullpen. Another big blow comes to Jack Flaherty. Last season, Flaherty was out for some time with a strained oblique. Early reports this spring said that the team was looking at his shoulder and reported that he had a SLAP tear in his labrum. Flaherty was disgruntled with the report as this was something he has been pitching with for several seasons. He is also suffering from inflammation in his oblique. I would think he's back sooner than most people think, possibly by the end of April.
The rest of the Cardinals rotation have their own question marks. Adam Wainwright is entering his age 40 season, and most likely his last. He refound himself the past 2 seasons after struggling most of the previous 3 to 4 seasons. Can he continue his new found success? The Cardinals are going to be in big trouble if he can't. How will Flaherty pitch when he comes back. He certainly has the stuff and the make up to be a team ace. He had the historic 2nd half of 2019, he started off 2021 8-0 and was eventually 8-1 with a 2.90 ERA prior to his injury. One thing he really needs to improve on is his walk rate. If he can get that back down, you very well might see Flaherty take control of being the staff ace. Miles Mikolas dealt with his own set of injuries last year only pitching in 9 games. He was servicable but he wasn't the same. He looks healthy entering 2022 and the Cardinals are hoping he can bounce back to his 2018 All Star form. Dakota Hudson underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020 and came back at the end of 2021. Most pitchers have a slow start in return from Tommy John, so I think expectations for him need to be tempered a bit. That's not to say he won't be servicable, because I think he most certainly will be, but I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes with an ERA around 4. Then there is newcomer Steven Matz. Matz comes over after spending a season with the Blue Jays. Matz was rejuvinated after struggling the past few seasons with the Mets. A big reason for his success was improving his ground ball rate, reducing his walk rate, and he dramatically decreased his home run rate. I think pitching in a pitcher friendly Busch Stadium, coupled with the best defense in the league, Matz should fare quite well.
BABY BIRDS TO LOOK FOWARD TO
Some of you might be wondering, what prospects do the Cardinals have. Overall, I have the Cardinals farm system in the upper middle third of the league. They have three Top 100 Prospects. I'll highlight them below as well as a couple others I like.
Jordan Walker, 3B
Walker was drafted in the 2020 draft and has exploded on the scene. He has quickly become of the the top 3B prospects in the game. He has a lot of pop and could very easily wind up with 30+ home runs year in and year out. Obviously blocked by Arenado, he may have to change position or DH to get his bat in the lineup. I think he's the Cardinals best hitting prospect in a long time! Don't expect him up until 2023.
Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B
As stated above, Gorman is ready. There was talks that he would make the Opening Day roster, but I think he will start in Memphis. Can play 3B or 2B and is a slightly above average defender at both. It's his bat that everyone is excited about. 20-30 home runs each year is likely.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP
The last of the Top 100 Cardinals, Liberatore was acquired from Tampa Bay for Randy Arozarena. With Arozarena's success with the Rays, many are expecting big things from Liberatore. At one point, he was drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw. While that would be great, I don't think he will be as good as Kershaw. He should be a top of the rotation starter though. Strong chance he debuts this season.
Some other prospects I'm excited to watch:
Tink Hence, RHP
Alec Burelson, OF
Edwin Nunez, RHP
My prediction for 2022
So how will the Cardinals fare this year coming off a playoff appearance? The Cardinals may benefit from the playoffs expanding from 5 to 6 playoff teams. Unfortunately, this is the Brewers division to lose and I think they clinch before we get to the last week of the season. That means the Cardinals will have to fight for 3 wild card spots with the Braves, Mets, Phillies (one of them wins the NL East), as well as the 3 NL West teams of the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants. I think they will have just enough to make the playoffs as the 6 seed, but a Wild Card Series appearance would be it.
87-75, 2nd in NL Central, 6 seed in NL Playoffs