The Cardinals are coming off a 2021 where the team made an incredible late season run to end the year with a 90-72 record, ultimately losing the NL Wild Card game vs the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Obviously one of the key moves that St. Louis made last off-season was trading for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado. Acquiring that kind of talent, with as much mind for the game as skill, parlayed into a successful season that helped this club tremendously.
But what has been one of the more forgettable off-seasons so far due to the MLB lockout, the St. Louis Cardinals have seemingly underwhelmed their fanbase in the lack of moves made over this winter.
I’ll be the first to admit, that we as Cardinals fans are spoiled. Year in and year out, our team is always competing and in the mix to make the playoffs. There are a lot of fanbases out there that would love the opportunity to see their team in that kind of position. However, making the playoffs and failing to be a true threat in said playoffs has unfortunately been a trend of ours as of late.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., and President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak catch a lot of heat from Cardinals Nation on social media. Some of that I believe is warranted, some of it not so much. Fielding a team that positions themselves often as a playoff team, is no easy feat and the front office should get credit for that consistency.
On the flip side, at some point, this organization needs to shoot those expectations higher than just making the playoffs. Sure they will tell you that a World Series is always the goal, but that in order to do that, you have to make the playoffs first. I think we all know that. But once making the playoffs, are the Cardinals ever truly considered the favorite to win?
There’s no doubt that last season’s team of having a record breaking five Gold Glovers, proves that this team has talent. When you have two future Hall of Famers at the infield corners, a lock for the Hall of Fame behind the plate, an aging stud on the mound that led the pitching staff and has a red jacket awaiting him after retirement, along with a young exciting outfield and a player that took second base over like a champ, well… there’s a lot of good to look forward to for 2022.
You also have to look at some of the areas that hurt this club a season ago.
On the pitching side of things, the Cardinals ranked dead last in the National League for team strikeouts on the year with 1,225, and ranked second most in walks with 608. Things turned around once the team brought in veteran pitchers Wade LeBlanc, Jon Lester & JA Happ but none of those three are returning, and wouldn’t have been ideal targets to better the pitching staff again this season.
As far as the offense goes, only the Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs & New York Mets scored less runs than the Cardinals in the National League. League average was 722, with St. Louis having 706. The Cardinals were also second to last in the NL in team walks with 478. I’m not sure how much of this falls on Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert and his analytical approach, but given Mike Shildt losing his manager position over philosophical differences, it seems the Cardinals FO still believes in Albert and trusts the process.
Going back to the pitching, as mentioned the Cardinals aren’t bringing back LeBlanc , Lester or Happ. They also parted ways with Carlos Martinez, Daniel Ponce de Leon & Luis Garcia.
So far this off-season, St. Louis has signed LHP Steven Matz to slot into the rotation, RHP Drew VerHagen & RHP Nick Wittgren for bullpen depth, and RHP Aaron Brooks & RHP Zach McAllister to minor league contracts.
A quick look at what else the Cardinals currently have in their rotation is a 40-year old Wainwright to head the pitching staff, Jack Flaherty who missed a majority of last season pitching 78 1/3 innings and dealing with shoulder issues already this spring, Miles Mikolas who has pitched a combined 44 2/3 innings the past two seasons, and Dakota Hudson a combined 47 2/3 innings the past two seasons.
Any chance that the Cardinals had of Alex Reyes vying for a spot in the rotation looks slim to none, as Reyes is already expected to be out until late May/early June with an ailing shoulder.
The Cardinals also hope they can get more than the 38.2 combined innings the past three seasons that they’ve gotten out of reliever Jordan Hicks.
A lot of names the Cardinals could have went after in free agency could have deepened the bullpen or stronger solidified the rotation, but thus far it looks like we have what we have, with Jake Woodford, Matthew Liberatore or Johan Oviedo to plug into start if need be.
I am still holding out hope that the rumor mill of St. Louis having talks with the Oakland A’s about pitchers Sean Manaea & Frankie Montas is something happening behind the scenes, because there are some big time question marks for the Cardinals pitching staff.
Looking back at the offensive side of things, the Cardinals obviously have an opportunity to improve the lineup with the NL’s addition of the DH. However, the only bat acquired so far is OF Corey Dickerson, and it’s not certain if that’s the role he will be slotted into, or if a prospect like Juan Yepez/Nolan Gorman could find spots on this team and DH. Albert Pujols’ name is still out there as an available free agent, but even in that would be more of a nostalgia move than for production.
Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa must be enough at shortstop for the Cardinals not to have truly considered a Carlos Correa or Trevor Story. Aside from that, every other position is filled with young Cardinals talent trying to improve upon their 2021 seasons and your veterans in Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado & Yadier Molina.
Most media outlets have the Cardinals predicted to finish 2nd in the NL Central (behind the Milwaukee Brewers), as the Reds and Pirates look to be rebuilding and the Cubs somewhere in between.
Having said that, teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and others have loaded up this off-season and plenty of other teams like the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants still forces to be reckoned with in the NL.
Where this leaves the Cardinals, is a team that has talent, will definitely compete but will again be having to play it’s best baseball to be a playoff team and will unlikely be considered a favorite as things stand right now.
I’ll finish with this… I’m not going to say that the St. Louis Cardinals ownership is cheap, or that John Mozeliak is not good at his job. I think there are things this front office should improve on with their aggressiveness with both the payroll and in acquiring talent. I often times get called a “Mo-apologist” because I try to play devil’s advocate saying that we don’t know if Mozeliak goes to DeWitt and says “We need player X, Y & Z”, and DeWitt shoots him down because he doesn’t want to go over a certain threshold.
Regardless, at some point this organization needs to go above and beyond in putting a championship product on the field. As fellow Cardinals Nation 24/7 writer Brad Kehl often says, “prospects are cool… but World Series parades are cooler.”
What’s your thoughts or concerns on the current makeup of the Cardinals roster? We’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for reading and Go Cards!