The biggest question mark during this off-season has been the St. Louis Cardinals. They wrapped up the 2017 season fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2018 season. As for strengths, they have a long list of starting pitching prospects; as well as a packed outfield both in the majors and minors. Their weaknesses are pretty obvious--if you followed the club during the 2017 season. Relief pitchers have become one of, if not the most, wanted players across baseball. Left and right, teams are stacking their bullpens to provide as many options as possible for the upcoming season. This causes a concern for the Cardinals considering their lack of reliable relief pitching options. In addition, the team continued to struggle to create runs when it mattered the most. Rumors of adding a middle of the order bat appeared a few times between the last off-season to the July trade deadline--ending in only smoke. Finally, defense was another continued flaw. The amount of moving parts in 2017 seemed to leave the team clueless to what player played best at a certain position. Versatility in a player never was a bad characteristic to have in baseball--until the Cardinals. Constantly moving players from position to position caused them to never really settle into said position. Now--no acquisition has to be made to fix this problem; which is why I can only hope that the coaching staff can set their lineup and stick to it. The new year has arrived. Some moves have been made for better, or for worse, while many options remain available. The following article will provide content regarding the current roster for the St. Louis Cardinals. Questions may or may not be answered, but this is what we are all currently looking at for the 2018 season.
With the Winter Meetings long behind us, a few mediocre moves and one big move have occurred in the previous month. To kick-off the off-season, the Cardinals' first move involved trading their 2016 All-Star SS, and rookie, Aledmys Diaz to Toronto for minor-league OF J.B. Woodman. The current minor league outfielder was not added to the 40-man roster, but he is now the 30th ranked prospect in the organization. Shortly after, they signed 29-year-old starting pitcher Miles Mikolas. The 2009 7th round pick has pitched in Japan the previous three years and showed decent success as a starter. If he picks up where he left off, Mikolas may find himself apart of the bullpen crew--where he could be more successful. After the Cardinals lost out on adding Giancarlo
Stanton, they continued talks with Miami about another big off-season move. Talks quickly led to acquiring a middle of the order bat and Gold Glove OF Marcell Ozuna. By adding Ozuna, the coaching staff can now piece together a solid lineup that may surprise everyone come April. In hopes to help with off-the-field personal matters, the Cardinals sent Stephen Piscotty to his hometown of Oakland to be closer to his mother; who was diagnosed with ALS during last season. In return, St. Louis received two solid infield prospects and slimmed down their OF options. Best of luck to Piscotty and his family. As their final act, the club signed right-handed RP Luke Gregerson. Though he does add a veteran arm out of the bullpen with previous closing experience, Gregerson is on the decline due to age. He shouldn't be the answer the Cardinals are looking for in the 9th, but could help if their "real" closer finds the DL. All in all, the front office has done an average job, to-date, improving the club. If anything, they have created more questions and undetermined current roles for their players. For now--the Cardinals roster doesn't look much different than 2017; but here is what we know and can expect for 2018.
The catcher position is one of the few etched in stone spots on the depth chart. Yadier Molina, if healthy, will remain at the helm for majority of the 2018 season. I would agree that the Cardinals #2 prospect, Carson Kelly, is not major league ready. His offensive numbers haven’t shined and has found minimal time to gain experience in the majors. Depending on the amount of time Kelly receives in 2018 may determine the years remaining on his growth. It remains a mystery as to what will happen in 2019, or 2020, if Kelly is ready for the everyday role. Last season, Molina signed an extension until 2021, presumably making him the starter until then. Currently, the Cardinals list Kelly as the back-up to Molina. Personally, I would sign a back-up catcher and let Kelly play everyday in Memphis. Highly unlikely to happen, the other option would be to trade the #2 catching prospect to give him a better opportunity else where to succeed. Likely packaged with 1-2 others would bring in a decent haul. Either way, I’m not sure keeping Kelly on the bench as a back-up will benefit him or the Cardinals.
One of the questionable positions is 1B. Matt Carpenter seems to be the Cardinals starting first-baseman for the 2018 season. In 2017, Matheny started Carpenter at 1B on 110 occasions and attempted to bat him third in the lineup; which quickly proved to be inefficient. Young, right-handed hitting 1B, Luke Voit, will likely spend most of the season in Memphis. However, his ability to be a gap-to-gap hitter could help the club in a bench role at times this season. With Voit in Memphis, Jose Martinez will serve as a decent off-the-bench bat and back-up at 1B. Some believe Martinez may have a chance at an everyday role at 1B, if the Cardinals decide to start Carpenter elsewhere (likely 3B).
At 2B, the Cardinals have multiple options; which could mean a revolving door. Mainly due to the combination of being a left-handed bat, above-average speed, and good fielding, Kolten Wong is penciled in at second base. At times, Wong shows he can play everyday at the major league level. However, his mentality gets in the way causing a headache for the coaching staff. Both offensively and defensively, Wong has the potential to be an All-Star 2B in the National League—in my opinion. When he’s right, the 27-year-old gives the Cardinals a great fielder, decent left-handed power, and above-average speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wong has a breakout year in 2018. For now, Greg Garcia, Jedd Gyorko, and Matt Carpenter provide options at second if Wong finds the DL or a long-term cold streak. Newly acquired Cardinal, Yairo Munoz, is a primary shortstop with the ability to play second. It may be hard for him to see time in St. Louis this season, but I like his chances to produce in the near future.
After a breakout rookie season, Paul DeJong will be the opening day starter at shortstop. In 2017, he demonstrated a great glove and much needed help offensively. If DeJong bats third in the lineup, in front of Ozuna, his production may be more of a surprise than his 2017 season. If he can continue to produce offensively, the future is bright for him in St. Louis. I expect him to remain at SS this year and possibly next, but will shift to 3B in the future. The versatile back-up, Greg Garcia, wil provide relief at shortstop on DeJong's off-days; but won't take over the starting role in the event of an injury. Minor-league options as the everyday SS will include: Edmundo Sosa and Yairo Munoz. If neither can produce offensively, the front office will likely be buyers at the trade deadline. Although it's not the best fit, Jedd Gyorko does have the ability to move to SS as well.
Still uncertain as to who will start at 3B for the Cardinals, Jedd Gyorko is the likely candidate. In my opinion, I am not sure why they are looking at options to replace Gyorko. Last season, he was statistically a top-5 defender at third--2nd in baseball in defensive runs saved behind Arenado. He also provides an experienced, right-handed bat at the bottom of the lineup. With Donaldson rumors still around, Gyorko would be the ultimate utility player if the transaction were to happen. Past reports have mentioned t
he Blue Jays asking for major league ready talent. In my opinion, the Cardinals could benefit by cutting ties with either Fowler or Carpenter to resolve the lead-off controversy. Fowler would likely be the better fit for Toronto though. Prior to the 40-man roster due date, I presumed Patrick Wisdom would be given the opportunity to find time in St. Louis in 2018; especially after hitting 31 HR in 2017. The Cardinals lucked out and Wisdom was not taken in the Rule 5 Draft; which means he remains in the Cardinals’ farm system. Although he has no experience in the majors, he is an interesting option for the Cardinals' lineup. More than likely, Donaldson will remain with Toronto. This leaves Garcia and Carpenter as the back-up options on the 25-man.
The Cardinals’ outfield seems to be locked after the blockbuster deal with the Marlins involving Marcell Ozuna. With Ozuna added, the outfield is projected to look like him in left, Pham to center, and Fowler in right. Considering the Cardinals signed Fowler as a lead-off CF last season, neither of the two are likely to occur in 2018. After a breaking out last season, Tommy Pham may have found his way out of the minors. An interesting story last season, Pham had successful eye surgery that could be the contributing factor to his success—only time will tell though. Offensively, Ozuna brings the All-Star pop that St. Louis needed. As for Fowler, some analysts believe that he will bat third in front of Ozuna; and behind Pham. I really hope that is not the case. The switch-hitting Fowler has never been one to create runs. He would be decent fit for either the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup. If Pham continues to produce, he has the potential to be one of the best 2-hole hitters in baseball. Even after the departure of Piscotty, the club still has depth in the outfield. Randal Grichuk will be the fourth outfielder on the roster after a rough 2017 season. Jose Martinez can play a corner outfield spot, but I feel the team will have him concentrate improving his skills at 1B. Remaining outfielders as potential replacements include: Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. Both provide different skill sets for the Cardinals; which will be greatly utilized in the case of injuries to a certain starting OF.
The backbone for St. Louis over the years has been their starting pitching. The projected rotation for opening day consists of: Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Adam Wainwright, and Miles Mikolas. Top-prospect, Alex Reyes, is coming back from Tommy John and will be eased back into the major league level. I’ve heard whispers about Reyes possibly being a relief option or attempt the closing role for 2018. Although I am not opposed to either option, the young righty will add a dominant arm to the staff in any role—if all goes well. The Cardinals' ace, Carlos Martinez, is a reliable starter who continues to improve every season. It would be to no surprise if he helps the team win close to 20 games. The rest of the rotation remains questionable. Wainwright has not bounced back well after his 2015 injury; and the aging process doesn't help. With experience in the closing role and his competitive nature, Wainwright and the Cardinals may benefit by a move back to the bullpen. If the front office doesn't acquire another SP, Wacha and Mikolas are likely to battle for a starting role--if Reyes is entered into the rotation at any point. Wacha never really found success in the bullpen in the few opportunities he had there. Starting him would be the ideal role for him in 2018. Young righty, Luke Weaver, seems to be ready for his first full season in the majors this season. He has shown the ability to throw strikes and maintain a solid K/9; making him a dark horse to succeed this season. Personally, I would’ve liked to see the addition of Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer. However, President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, mentioned that he is content with the rotation options. Surprisingly, a more recent rumor mentions the Cardinals apparently talking to free agent Jake Arrieta—which would be a huge move for the club. Arrieta is asking for a deal roughly 6 years and about $25 million per year. I am not a fan of the contract length or his asking price. If Arrieta would drop the length, Mozeliak should absolutely work on signing him. The likelihood of a big acquisition like this is slim to none at this point—but what do I know. Assuming the Cardinals are done, here are the remaining starting pitching options: Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, and possibly John Gant. Flaherty and Gant both have experience at the major league level with little success. Most notably, I believe Flaherty will have a similar role as he did in 2017. He will start in AAA and be the first to get the call-up in the case of an injury.
In 2017, it’s no surprise the Cardinals’ bullpen did not do their job, which led to many losses on the year. The front office and coaching staff seemed very aware that they needed to make moves this off-season to improve their bullpen. So far, the club has added veteran-reliever Luke Gregerson—and that is all. I like the signing of a veteran-reliever with closer experience, but that’s a disappointing improvement for a lack-luster bullpen. For now, the closer role is wide-open for anyone in the bullpen. With Gregerson, the Cardinals bullpens seems to include: Tuivailala, Cecil, Bowman, Brebbia, and Lyons. All of these relievers have saved a game before and have experienced high-leverage situations—in spurts, not for an entire season. A 40-man roster reliever not expected to make the 25-man by opening day is Josh Lucas. Lucas has shut the door on 49 of 60 minor league games in his 7-year career. With only pitching in 5 games at the major league level, Lucas doesn’t jump off the page—but I like his experience closing out games. If the Cardinals settle for the relief options they currently have I assume Gregerson is the 9th inning-man, Cecil/Lyons in the 8th inning, and Tuivailala/Bowman as first out of the pen. All predictions are too early to tell and Spring Training should provide more clarity to this mess of a bullpen.
Overall, the Cardinals did accomplish one of their objectives during this off-season in acquiring Ozuna from the Marlins. They added a decent reliever in Gregerson and a potential dark horse in Mikolas. The deal that sent Stephen Piscotty home to Oakland ended with a nice return for St. Louis. They added infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock who are close to major league ready. I look forward to seeing both contribute to the Cardinals in 2018 and in the future.
The few acquisitions made this off-season and the growth of some players will prove to be enough to compete, but not win a World Series. With that being said—the St. Louis Cardinals and I have Ballpark Beef. Thanks for reading.