The St. Louis Cardinals are in no-man’s land heading into the 2018 season. They finished last year with a record of 83–79 and missed the playoffs for the 2nd straight season. Although they improved slightly over the offseason, they did not make enough moves to firmly place themselves among the NL’s elite ball clubs. They have mounds of mid-level talent, but lack the high end caliber players to compete with those in championship contention. Let’s take a deep dive into what their 25-man roster will look like:
- Dexter Fowler — RF
- Tommy Pham — CF
- Matt Carpenter — 1B
- Marcell Ozuna — LF
- Jedd Gyorko — 3B
- Paul DeJong — SS
- Yadier Molina — C
- Kolten Wong — 2B
- Carson Kelly — C
- Luke Voit — 1B
- Jose Martinez — 1B/LF/RF
- Greg Garcia — 2B/SS/3B
- Harrison Bader — OF
Starting Pitching Rotation
- Carlos Martinez — RHP
- Michael Wacha — RHP
- Luke Weaver — RHP
- Adam Wainwright — RHP
- Miles Mikolas — RHP
- Matt Bowman — RHP
- John Brebbia — RHP
- Brett Cecil — LHP
- Dominic Leone — RHP
- Tyler Lyons — LHP
- Bud Norris — RHP
- Luke Gregerson — RHP (CL)
Yadier Molina is the iron man of today’s MLB. He’s caught over 14,000 innings behind the plate over his career, and was 2nd in the MLB in innings caught last season. He showed a resurgence of home run power last season, clubbing 18 home runs, his highest total since 2012. His defense, along with with other aspects of his game, have begun to fall off in recent years, but he still provides well above average defense behind the plate. As mother nature plays her part, so does the wear and tear of all those innings caught. He had 7 DRS last season behind the plate, while still showing off his cannon by throwing out 36% of would be base stealers. Along with his above average on-field performance, the intangibles he brings to the team are beyond statistics. Molina is constantly praised by current and former teammates for always being a team player, a great presence in the clubhouse, along with his innate ability to handle pitchers and call games. Molina is the face of the franchise and look for him to produce again in 2018.
Matt Carpenter is an enigma for the Cardinal front office right now. He is currently dealing with a back issue again, beginning Spring Training with the same nagging ailment he suffered through for most of last season. It remains to be seen how serious it currently is, or if it will continue affect him later in the season. When he is on the field, he still produces like his usual self. His plate vision still stands up there with the MLB’s elite, garnering a .384 OBP, despite only hitting .241 in 2017, and putting up a 2.4 WAR. Over the last 5 seasons, he has scored 498 runs, 2nd in the entire MLB, behind only Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt. Mike Matheny persists on Carpenter hitting 3rd, but for some reason, he hits far better from the leadoff spot. Last season, he slashed .268/.418/.497 from the leadoff spot, while only putting up .221/.353/.429 from the 3rd slot. Some fans chalk this up to a mental block, thinking he just feels more comfortable batting 1st, but it seems it’s more just plain bad luck. Last season, his BABIP was .309 from the leadoff spot, while suffering to just a .239 at the 3rd spot. He is nothing spectacular in the field, but he can play 1st, 2nd, or 3rd base. His versatility is what gives the front office the flexibility to work with their lineup. Expect Carpenter to get on base a lot, hit the occasional timely homer, and move all around the diamond on defense throughout the season.
Contrary to last season, the 2nd base spot is all Kolten Wong heading into Spring Training. Every Cardinals fan remembers his comments last season after signing a 5 year extension, but he was told he still had to compete for at bats, and could potentially platoon to start the season. He proved all of the doubters wrong last season, hitting well, while battling injuries which limited him to only 411 PA. Over the season, he slashed .285/.376/.412. His once promising power potential seemed to disappear last season as he only hit 4 home runs. On defense, he seems to botch routine plays far too often, but then make challenging plays look routine with relative ease. The addition of Ozzie Smith, and getting the “secret weapon” Jose Oquendo back on the coaching staff is sure to help the whole infield overall. If Wong had an ideal season, he would hit closer to 20 home runs, but it seems his approach has gone more conservative. A season very similar to this past season, where he hovered around .300 for most of the season, should be on par for Wong. His once promising hitting potential may be gone, but he still looks like a strong 2B option that could provide offense at a position that typically lacks production.
All Cardinals fans should be praying to the baseball gods that Paul DeJong isn’t a flash in the pan, like his former teammate Aledmys Diaz was in 2016. Both finished in the top 5 in Rookie of the Year voting after coming out of nowhere to replace the incumbent shortstop. Their seasons went eerily similar, almost enough to scare Cardinals fans. They both showed surprising power in their first season, while lacking disciplined plate vision. DeJong is more of a free swinger than Diaz was, but he also hits for slightly more power. Diaz, meanwhile, put up a higher average. They both struggled defensively to start the season, but seemed to gain more confidence as the season went on. Last season, DeJong slashed .285/.325/.532 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs, and putting it all together to stay at league average defensively, all together putting up a 2.7 WAR. He had a wonderful .349 BABIP last season, and 124 Ks, which leaves him amongst a group that is primed for regression this season. With his wreckless plate approach, fans should expect him to hit more in the ballpark of .260, but hit more home runs in the process. The shortstop spot is locked down by DeJong and hopefully he can replicate his success from last season.
Jedd Gyorko is the Cardinals starting 3B heading into 2018 almost by default. It was rumored for all of the offseason that the Cardinals would trade for a big name like Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado, or even diving into the free agent pool and signing former Royals’ 3B Mike Moustakas. No moves were made, and so here they are in Spring Training with him still slotted in the starting lineup. That isn’t a slight on Gyorko. He is still an above average option at the hot corner. Gyorko slashed .272/.341/.472 in 2017, along with 20 HRs and 67 RBIs. He seems to have a knack for only hitting solo home runs, resulting in lower RBI totals. Perhaps the most surprising part about his season, was his 16 DRS last season at 3rd base. Despite having the reputation of a average to below average defender, Gyorko was a pleasant surprise for the Cards. Gyorko’s ceiling at the plate is right around where he was last season, except add a few dingers as a result of everyday at bats. Only time will tell if he can sustain his level of play in the field. For the time being, Gyorko will be the everyday 3rd baseman, and expect him to hit a whole lot of homers come May 10th, when they play the Padres, his former team, at their home ballpark. If the Blue Jays or Orioles fall out of contention in the AL East, look for the Cardinals to trade for a big name rental.
Marcell Ozuna is the biggest offseason acquisition for the St. Louis Cardinals since Matt Holliday signed with the Redbirds all the way back in 2009. They gave up a number of prospects ranked in the top 15 in the organization to acquire Ozuna from the Marlins, but none seemed to be essential to the future of the team. If Ozuna can produce as he did last season, or at least close to it, the Cardinals straight up robbed the Marlins. Last season, Ozuna slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 HRs and 124 RBIs. To add onto that, he also won a gold glove after transitioning to left field last season as he put up 11 DRS. Although he thrives in left field, he still can play all 3 outfield spots. He had a spectacular all around year, amassing a 5.8 WAR, and he is just entering his prime, starting this season at 27 years old. This was his “breakout” season where he fulfilled his potential, so it’s always interesting to see if a player can repeat his success. The Cardinals went into the offseason in desperate need of a middle of the order bat to wreak havoc with players on base, and Ozuna precisely fills that need. Ozuna is the biggest bat they’ve had in their lineup since a prime Holliday joined the Cardinals 9 years ago. Expect a whole lot of dingers like this from him coming to Busch Stadium in 2018.
If you are a baseball fan, and don’t like Tommy Pham, then you don’t actually like baseball. He is one of the best teammates a club could ask for. He is one of, if not the, hardest worker on the team. As a former top prospect in the Cardinals organization, he battled through injuries to start his career, and he didn’t make his MLB debut until age 26. To throw salt on the wound, he also has a degenerative eye disease, that greatly impairs his vision. In an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, a Beverly Hills, California-based surgeon and ophthalmologist said of Pham’s eye disease: “It’s like driving a car with someone who is holding a jar of Vaseline, and then they smear it all over your windshield.” Despite all of obstacles holding him back, Pham had a career year in 2017, finishing 11th in the NL MVP voting despite spending all of April in AAA. Pham slashed .306/.411/.520 in just 128 games last season. He was 1 of only 9 players in the MLB with 20 HRs and 20 SB last season, joined by some elite company like Mike Trout and Jose Altuve. On defense, he was primarily the left fielder, but also played about ¼ of his innings in center, and all together, he had 13 DRS last season. He will slide into CF this season, one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond, hopefully carrying over his success from last season. He will start the 2018 campaign at 30 years old, so he is definitely a candidate for regression. With his work ethic and team first attitude, I have no doubt that he can replicate his 2017 season again this year.
Dexter Fowler is an interesting case for the front office. He had a career year in the power department last season, putting up a career highs with 18 HRs and slugged .488. The down side is he battled injuries all season, limiting him to 118 games. Metrics hate Fowler in the field, as he put up a terrible -18 DRS last season in center field. He also turns 32 a week before the season starts. With his declining athleticism, he will move over to right field this season in hopes his metrics go up, similar to how his now-teammate Marcell Ozuna’s did when he made the transition to the corner. If Fowler can stay healthy, he will still be able to be a strong contributor at the top of the lineup this season. He is always a great teammate in the clubhouse, and a good influence on younger players.
The bench has the potential to be a difference maker down the stretch. Top catching prospect Carson Kelly figures to start the year as Molina’s backup, most likely catching once, maybe twice a week to keep Yadi fresh and get the kid some at bats. If Matheny isn’t getting him enough at bats, and the front office sees that he isn’t progressing, don’t be surprised to see him get sent to AAA just to get playing time. Luke Voit is the only position player who is still fighting for his spot on the major league roster this spring. He showed flashes of potential last year as a pinch hitter, while filling in for the injured Carpenter at times, and hopefully can bring some pop off the bench this season. Jose Martinez can flat out hit. After spending almost 10 years in the minor leagues, hitting .294 for his career, he was brought up in late 2016, and won a roster spot over Tommy Pham to start the 2017 season. He hit .309 over 272 ABs and proved his worth playing 1B and the corner outfield spots. I would expect Martinez to take some of the pressure off Carpenter this season if he is having back issues. Greg Garcia is the ideal bench player for any Major League team. He is very versatile, showing he can play 2B, SS, and 3B, and he gets on base when called upon. What more can you ask for? If there is a major injury, look for the Cardinals to bring up a prospect to get some playing time, but Garcia is good for a few starts on occasion. Harrison Bader has nothing left to prove in AAA Memphis, and with the incumbent 4th outfielder, Randal Grichuk, getting sent to Toronto, the last roster spot is Bader’s to lose. He can play all 3 outfield spots and could provide a solid bat off the bench.
The Cardinals starting rotation has a very high ceiling this year, but also a very low floor. They were reportedly looking to add another high end arm to pair with Martinez, but went more for back end help. Carlos Martinez is a very frustrating pitcher to watch on a weekly basis. Fans see over and over his electric pitch arsenal. He has a fastball that can touch 100, a wipeout slider, a changeup that gets hitters to swing out of their shoes, and a sinker that saws off hitters every time he takes the mound. He had his first year amassing 200 Ks last year, finishing with 217. That said, he only pitched to the tune of a 3.64 ERA last season. He struggles with consistency. Sometimes he looks like he can mow down the best of lineups, like opening day last year against the Cubs. Then some days, he can’t locate anything and gets rattled on the mound. He has the stuff to be a truly elite ace, but he has to put everything together for a full season. For the time being, he still stands as a strong #1 starter for the rotation.
Michael Wacha’s shoulder is the only thing holding him back from being a sure thing in the rotation. He made waves after coming up and making a huge impact during the 2013 playoffs, but in 2014–2015, he dealt with stress injuries in his throwing shoulder that really held him back. He is very talented, and although he might not have the ace potential he once had, he still can be a very solid middle of the rotation starter. His repertoire consists of a fastball that tops out at around 98 MPH, but comfortably sits at 95 MPH. He has a changeup that rivals the best in the MLB, just ask Bryce Harper who said; “that’s one of the most devastating pitches in the game” in reference to Wacha’s changeup. He also features a cutter that can be used as an out pitch on good days, and a curveball that he uses more to get ahead in counts, rather than to strikeout batters. If Wacha can stay healthy, he will be a nice #2 for the rotation.
Luke Weaver showed exceptional flashes of potential towards the end of the season in 2017. Over 21 innings pitched in the month of August, he pitched to a 1.71 ERA with 12.42 K/9. If that pace were sustained over the course of a season, he would be the best pitcher in baseball, although the chances of that happening are slim to none. Nonetheless, he has showed the front office enough to guarantee him a spot in the rotation to start the 2018 season. He will pitch the majority of this season at only 24 years old, so don’t expect 200 innings from him in his first full season in the majors. Fans should look for him to be much closer to 150–175 innings. He features very similar dealings to Wacha. Weaver’s fastball sits in the mid to low 90’s, but he controls very well. He compliments that with a changeup that he throws very effectively, a cutter that he attacks the strike zone with, and sometimes starts hitters with a big looping curveball. Weaver will most likely look sharp to start the season, similar to Mike Leake last season, but the true test will be how he performs in the dog days of summer in his first full season.
Adam Wainwright is in line to win some hardware in 2018 as it seems like it will all come together for him… for the Silver Slugger. Wainwright is under-appreciated at the plate because of other pitchers like Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta. Bumgarner and Arrieta get more attention, but Wainwright gives a dynamic to the lineup that no pitcher can take lightly. On the mound, that’s a different story. Last year, he threw 123.1 innings with a 5.11 ERA. On the surface, it looks like he may be finished, but if you dig deeper, it tells a different story. In May, he started 5 games and had a 2.64 ERA, so he at least has something left in the tank. A few atrocious starts really ruined his stats for the year, but he isn’t as washed up as some 36 year-olds with almost 1900 innings pitched over their career. His velocity dipped on his sinker last season, some games struggling to hit 90 MPH on it, compared to the 92–93 MPH he hit in 2016. His curveball lacked the normal bite it usually has, but still remains his best secondary offering. He also includes a changeup and a cutter, both he uses to replace his curveball on bad days. There is a distinct chance that Wainwright may get bumped to the bullpen this season if he struggles out of the gate, but as a fan favorite, and a clubhouse leader, everyone wishes the best for him.
Miles Mikolas will be closely monitored over the first few months of the year. After being a mediocre pitcher in the MLB from 2012–2014, he moved to pitch in Japan to try and revive his career, and he did exactly that. Over a span of 3 years in the world’s second most competitive baseball league, he posted a 2.18 ERA over 442.2 innings pitched. Obviously, the talent there isn’t as high as it is in the MLB, but those stats still have to mean something, and they meant enough to the Cardinals front office to hand him a 2 year contract. In his final season in the MLB, he threw a fastball that sat around 93 MPH, but topped out around 97 MPH. He also features a sinker with great arm side run, and a curveball that falls all the way down to the mid 70s to throw hitters off. On occasion, he will also throw a slider, along with a changeup, more as backup options if his primary pitches aren’t working. Expectations for Mikolas are all over the place this season. Some predictions are going as far as saying he will be out of the rotation by the All-Star break, while others say his skills will translate and he will turn out to be a solid mid rotation starter, and a bargain for his price. Mikolas will be one of the most intriguing players on the roster this season.
The bullpen, to large sums of fans, is the glaring weakness of this team. Most people were expecting the Cardinals to add a lockdown 9th inning arm, either via trade or free agency, and while that could still happen, it is getting very late and seems unlikely at this point. Matt Bowman received a huge workload last season, and was very streaky throughout the season. From the tail end of 2016, to start the 2017 season, he carried a 20 consecutive scoreless innings streak, then lost his gas in May by giving up 8 earned runs over 9.2 innings pitched. Bowman will be a key man in double play situations this year, and will most likely carry another heavy workload. John Brebbia had a surprisingly successful 2017 season. He went from a relatively unknown player outside of the organization, to a key arm in the bullpen down the stretch. Over 51.2 innings pitched, he pitched to a 2.44 ERA, and was very close to entering the discussion of being the team’s closer. Brebbia should look to build off a strong season in 2017. Brett Cecil better figure it out this year or there are gonna be people calling for his head. Last offseason, he signed a 4 year, 30.5 million dollar contract, and failed to live up to his hefty salary. He had one very hot stretch right in the middle of the season, but the rest of the year he was almost a liability out of the bullpen. He needs to regain the bite on his curveball and keep the ball in the ballpark this season if he wants to continue to be used. Dominic Leone just arrived in St. Louis as part of the return in the aforementioned Randal Grichuk trade. He had a very strong season last year for Toronto, throwing 70.1 innings with an ERA of 2.56. He will likely be a set up arm for the closer, and hopefully will be the bridge to the 9th inning that the Cardinals have lacked since Pat Neshek in 2013. Tyler Lyons should be the closer of the Cardinals in my opinion. After posting his best season to date in 2017, he looked like a strong candidate for the role. His slider seemingly defied gravity at times, and looked consistent as ever, but he will be regulated, at least to start, to a set up role. Bud Norris was just recently signed to a 1 year, major league contract with the Cardinals. I personally don’t like the singing, but he will start the year in the bullpen. He looked good last season until the injury bug hit him. I wish Sam Tuivailala was in this spot, and maybe he will be at some point, but for now he is stuck back in AAA. Luke Gregerson was signed this offseason to a team-friendly 2 year deal. It was announced in the weeks leading up to Spring Training that he would be the closer to start the year. He struggled last season with the Astros, throwing 61 innings with a 4.57 ERA. This resulted in him being used less and less in high leverage situations last year, which may not bode well for the Cardinals. Each of the last 7 World Series Champions have had a different closer in October than they did in April, so maybe that will be the case for the Cards this year. Again, if certain teams like the Rays fall out of contention early, look for the front office to explore options via trade if Gregerson struggles out of the gate.
The only player slated to start the start the season on the Disabled List is Alex Reyes. The Cardinals need to make sure they don’t rush him back, and let his arm heal. It is expected that he will return around the start of May, coming out of the bullpen. If he comes back at full strength, he could very well take over the closer role within a month or so of being back. Reyes’ stuff is just that electric. Cardinals fans shouldn’t bank on him starting any games in 2018, he’s too young and too talented to risk ruining his arm for some starts in August. 2019 will be the year for Reyes.
The Cardinals do not have a bad roster by any means, and Cardinals fans are some of the most hard to please in baseball. No matter what the front office does, fans will have you believe they should’ve done something else. St. Louis has a strong all around team, but definitely still could improve. There are other options for improvement still left available, it is a matter of the front office taking a risk that they haven’t taken in the past. Projections from multiple sites such as Fangraphs and Pecota have them at right around 84 wins, very similar to last year. Personally, I think those are a little low, as I see more around 88–90 wins this season. As long as they don’t get hit by injuries too bad, look for the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals to compete in the division and ultimately chase a Wild Card berth.