The Cardinals, under John Mozeliak, have consistently held a mentality of winning right now, while still preparing for the future. The team rarely ever makes a move which will jeopardize the future success of the team. So, let’s look at what that mentality could bring for the Cardinals in five years from now.
WHO WILL STILL BE HERE?
As of right now, the only current players on the MLB roster who will still be under their current contracts or arbitration for Opening Day in 2025 are Paul DeJong, Rangel Ravelo, Ryan Helsley, Tommy Edman, and Lane Thomas. While I can’t see the Cardinals being convinced to part ways with DeJong, Edman, or Thomas, I think its possible we see Helsley and/or Ravelo used as a trade piece at some point in the next five years. Also, Ravelo is already 27 years old, and seems to have earned himself the label of “Quadruple-A,” where he just can’t hold on to a spot on the 26-man roster.
That being said, it’s hard to imagine that the Redbirds won’t make considerable efforts to keep around many other players, including Jack Flaherty, Kolten Wong, Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks, John Gant, John Brebbia, and Giovanny Gallegos — these are guys who I think are all valued extremely-highly by the organization, and won’t be seen in any uniform besides the Cardinals anytime soon.
Flaherty and Wong have quickly become two of the most-pivotal pieces on the team. Flaherty is the ace and core of the Cardinal rotation for the foreseeable future, and hopefully the rest of his career. Hudson will remain in the rotation with him, if he can continue to improve on his impressive showing from 2019. Wong answered any doubts about his abilities over the last two years, as he’s finally started to figure out how to hit major league pitching (finishing with a wRC+ of 108, 99, and 108 in the past three seasons, respectively), and somehow has gotten even better defensively — he finished with a UZR of 28.8 last season, a career-high by more than double.
As for Hicks, Gant, Brebbia, and Gallegos, the four of them have completely locked down the Redbirds’ bullpen. Going into 2019, there seemed to be a lot of questions about the quality of relievers in St. Louis, but the year ended with the Cardinals being one of the best in baseball finishing sixth in bullpen ERA (3.88) and fifth in bullpen FIP (4.00). Even after Hicks’ injury, the rest of the brigade was able to continue locking down opposing teams late in the game. Its hard to see these four relievers going anywhere, anytime soon — unless Gant is moved back to the rotation.
WHO WILL BE GONE?
For the obvious answers, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Andrew Miller, and Dexter Fowler will all be gone, likely long before 2025. Molina, Wainwright, and Carpenter will have all likely retired, and potentially could even be working on the Cardinals’ coaching staff. Miller’s contract has been disappointing, and now there are reports saying he’s got the “yips” and can’t even find the strike zone anymore. Fowler, well, you can figure that one out for yourself.
Miles Mikolas and Carlos Martinez are both question marks in my opinion. They will both be Free Agents after the 2024 season, with Mikolas going into his age-35 season, and Martinez going into his age-32 year. Unless Mikolas is able to maintain a solid level of production, and Martinez is able to get back to his old self (and stay healthy), it seems unlikely that either would receive extensions past 2024, rather than passing the torch to one of the Cardinals’ many pitching prospects.
Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill are each interesting cases. Bader can easily find himself on the list of players who will definitely stay, if he can put together his hitting. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball right now, and will be nearly irreplaceable if he can perform with the bat. O’Neill seems almost stuck. He’s found himself as the “number four” guy in the Cardinals’ outfield, with a massive load of talent coming up behind him in the minors. I think it seems likely that he’s ultimately traded away, similar to a Jose Martinez with better fielding.
Daniel Ponce de Leon is just in a tough spot. He’s good enough to be pitching in the Major Leagues, but hasn’t been able to break into the Cardinals’ pitching staff on a permanent basis, thanks to the pitching staff’s depth. In his 81.2 innings of Major League work, he’s put up fantastic numbers, and he’s forced himself to be one of the first players who gets called to fill in for an injury on the pitching staff. However, I think he will eventually be traded to another team where he’ll be able to fully demonstrate his capabilities as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues.
That leaves Paul Goldschmidt. The 130-million-dollar man will be a free agent heading into the 2025 season, a year which would be his age-37 season. It’s hard to speculate, but it seems somewhat likely that Goldy retires at the conclusion of his current deal. I find it hard to see him playing in 2025; even if he does, it’s all the more likely that his production is limited to say the least.
Andrew Knizner (2019: AAA/MLB) or Ivan Herrera (2019: A/A+)
Despite his struggles last year hitting MLB pitchers, Knizner has consistently raked at the plate coming up through the minors. Beyond that, he’s had a decent amount of time over the last couple years to learn the mental side of catching from Yadi, and has become a much better catcher. He still has some work to do with his framing, but is still growing, even at 25 years old.
Ivan Herrera, a 19 year-old catcher ranked as the Cardinals’ fourth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, has quickly worked his way up the Cardinals’ minors and will likely start this year in A-Adv. In his 291 plate appearances in Single-A last year, he hit for a .805 OPS and eight homers. One thing he may need to work on is his fielding at catcher, given his 30.7% Caught Stealing rate and 13 passed balls last season.
Elehuris Montero (2019: AA) or Malcom Nunez (2019: ROK/A)
Both Montero and Nunez are currently regarded as third-basemen, but neither will likely ever be the go-to 3B for the Redbirds with the presence of Nolan Gorman. Reasonably, either of them could move to first base, a position which currently has no obvious internal candidates after the eventual departure of Goldschmidt. Montero struggled last year in Springfield (.188/.235/.317), but was also fighting through a wrist injury for a majority of the year. Nunez showed great promise with the Johnson City Rookie-ball team last year with a .720 OPS in 146 plate appearances, but couldn’t find his stride in 21 games in Peoria. Both Nunez and Montero still have high potential, and could still amount to potential everyday players. Montero is ranked seventh in the organization and Nunez is sixteenth, according to MLB Pipeline.
Assuming the last couple years haven’t been a fluke, Kolten Wong will remain a Cardinal for quite some time. Over the last few years, it seems like his entire game is only getting better. This season will be his age-29 season, and last year was his best season both at the plate and in the field.
Nolan Gorman (2019: A/A+)
The 19 year-old Phoenix native has been causing all sorts of excitement in the organization since being drafted 19th in the 2018 Draft. He immediately tore up the Appalachian League after his draft, and found himself splitting last season between Single-A Peoria and A-Adv. Palm Beach. All-in-all last year, he finished with a .766 OPS in 125 games with 30 doubles and 15 bombs. It’d be nice to see his K-rate drop significantly (was 31.7% in Palm Beach), but a lot of signs point to Gorman being a force. He will most-likely start this season with Double-A Springfield.
It’s safe to assume DeJong isn’t going anywhere. His current contract will end at the conclusion of the 2025 season, but he’s been a source of assurance at shortstop, where the Cardinals haven’t had a lot of stability since the days of Ozzie Smith. Along with Wong, the two are proving to be a formidable duo up the middle of the infield both defensively and with the bat.
Dylan Carlson (2019: AA/AAA)
Carlson is without debate the best prospect the Redbirds have right now. He has raked at nearly every level of the minor leagues, and is making it hard to keep him down in the minors. He played 108 games in Springfield last year and tallied 21 homers, to go with a .882 OPS and a 142 wRC+. His short 18-game stint in Memphis was possibly more ridiculous, as he hit another five bombs, held a 1.098 OPS, and an impressive 161 wRC+. Expect Carlson to be causing problems for Major League pitching soon.
Lane Thomas (2019: MLB/AAA)
Thomas was remarkably impressive in his limited exposure to Major League pitching this last year. He had a .316/.409/.684 slash line, with a 181 wRC+, and four bombs in just 44 plate appearances. It’d be nice to see his 26.3% K-rate from Memphis last year drop a bit, but overall, his production in the Majors so far has been reason for excitement.
Tommy Edman or Jhon Torres (ROK/A)
Edman quickly became a fan-favorite last year by bursting on the scene with an .850 OPS in 92 games, and forced Mike Schildt to find places for him to play all over the diamond. If he can continue being anywhere near as productive as his 3.2 fWAR last season, the Redbirds will be forced to keep finding him playing time.
Jhon Torres is a 19 year-old prospect from Colombia who is currently ranked eighth in the Cardinals organization. In 33 games for Johnson City last year, he was pretty impressive, displaying both an ability to get on base and hit with power, having a .391 OBP and a .527 SLG. His 21 games in Peoria were a little rough, but still being just 19, he’s got some time to figure out the problems and live up to his hype.
There’s not much of a question here, but barring anything catastrophic, Flaherty is the anchor of this rotation for years to come. As of now, he will become a free agent after 2024, but expect the Cardinals to do everything they can to sign a long-term deal and keep him around for as long as possible.
After being forced to the bullpen in 2018, Hudson came into 2019 and proved that he deserves a spot in the rotation. In nearly 175 innings, his numbers weren’t staggering, but certainly a vast improvement on what we’ve seen. Among qualified pitchers in 2019, he finished 17th with a 3.35 ERA, but nearly dead last in FIP, due to his high walk numbers. If he can bring those walks down, he will be in the rotation for quite a while.
Matthew Liberatore (2019: A)
The new acquisition from the Rays is the #58 prospect in all of baseball and third in the Cardinals system, according to MLB Pipeline. There’s a lot of reasons to be excited for Liberatore in the coming years. Last year, in 78.1 innings in Single-A Bowling Green, he struck out 22.9% of his opponents, and walked just 9.3%. He will likely start this year with A-Adv. Palm Beach, and could earn a promotion to Double-A if things go well for the 20 year old.
Zack Thompson (2019: ROK/A+)
Thompson, the Cardinals’ first-round pick from the 2019 Draft has a ton of potential. One of the best pitchers from last year’s draft class, he has a “plus” fastball and slider to go along with a 60-grade curveball. Last year, in his senior year at Kentucky, he threw 90 innings, struck out 130, walked just 34, and had a 2.40 ERA.
Jake Woodford (2019: AAA) or Angel Rondon (2019: A+/AA)
In all likelihood, the fifth spot in the rotation is going to be someone who isn’t even in the organization right now. But looking at the guys who are, Woodford and Rondon seem to stick out, being the twelfth- and thirteenth-ranked prospects, respectively. Each of them had impressive seasons last year. Woodford needs to get his walk and home run numbers under control to break into the majors, but has shown hints of being able to control all of that in the past. Rondon, on the otherhand, continued his rise through the minors last year. In 20 starts for Springfield, he limited the longball well and struck out 23.3% of his opponents while walking just 8.7%.
ON THE BENCH
C – Knizner or Herrera
1B/3B – Montero or Nunez
INF – Edmundo Sosa (2019: AAA/MLB)
Sosa has been killing it in Memphis, and will likely spend a considerable amount of the 2020 season in the Majors. He will serve as a utility infielder when Edman is in the outfield.
OF – Edman or Torres
OF – Justin Williams (2019: AA/AAA)
Williams was crazy impressive last year in his short stint with Memphis, where he held a 1.045 OPS in 36 games. He will continue to play in Memphis this season, and try to make his case to replace one of the outfielders on the Major League roster.
IN THE BULLPEN
Jordan Hicks (Closer)
Hicks has been a stud since his debut, and when he returns from his rehab, expectations will not have dropped. He looked even better last year before his injury than in his rookie season, having dropped 3.3% from his walk rate and increasing his K-rate from 20.6% to an absurd 28.2%, as well as influencing an average launch angle of just -2.8 degrees. The Cardinals hope that Hicks can become the next great closer in baseball.
John Gant (Setup)
Gant just seems so much better in the bullpen than as a starter. This last year, he played 64 games (all in relief) and was playing out of his mind. His barrel% of just 2.9% was in the top 2% of the league, and he held opponents to just a .326 xSLG.
Brebbia has been a solid mainstay in the Cardinals bullpen for the last three years. He’s a workhorse out of the bullpen, and cut an entire 2.5% from his barrel rate last season.
Gallegos was a force to be reckoned with out of the bullpen last year. He finished near the top of the league in xBA (.188), wOBA (.231), xwOBA (.253), and K-rate (33.3%). He needs to bring down his average launch angle to try to limit homers, but Gallegos looks to continue to be a consistent arm in the Redbirds bullpen.
Webb vastly improved last year, and showed that he could be a lock for a big role in the bullpen. He handled 55.0 innings last year, and would be the only lefty in this bullpen. Last year, he finished near the top of the league in average exit velocity (85.9 mph), wOBA (.252), and Hard Hit rate (29.9%).
Helsley, despite limited action, showed a lot promise in a relief role, despite being a starter through his time in the Minors. He showed a lot of good control, having just a 7.8% walk rate, and could be even better if he’s able to lower his opponents’ average launch angle, which could be done by relying less on his fastball (thrown 56.8% of the time) and more on his cutter and curve.
Junior Fernandez (2019: A+/AA/AAA/MLB)
Fernandez played all over the Cardinals organization last year, and made a name for himself as a solid reliever, just one season after converting from a starter. He had some bright moments in his 11.2 innings in the majors, including a 29.6% K-rate. Over his 65 innings of work in the minors, he struck out 80 batters, walked only 30, had a .185 batting average against, and a 1.52 ERA. He’s currently the tenth-ranked prospect for the Cardinals.
Kodi Whitley (2019: A+/AA/AAA)
Whitley, like Fernandez, played all over the organization last season, and looked great doing it. He gave up just three home runs in 67.1 innings of work across all levels, including not allowing a single long ball in 23.2 innings of work in the home run derby that was Triple-A last year. He struck out 28.3% of all hitters he faced, and walked just 6.9%. Whitley may well soon be a dominant arm in the Cardinals bullpen.
WHAT DOES 2025 LOOK LIKE FOR THE CARDINALS?
In a word? Promising.
There is a ton of young talent that is nearly MLB-ready coming for the Cards. The bullpen may wind up being better than their impressive 2019 performance. The outfield picture looks a lot less crowded after the departure of Fowler, as well as potentially Bader and O’Neill. The questions that remain are “Who plays first base?” and “Who is the fifth starter?”
Obviously, this type of prediction requires a lot of speculation, but if these prospects pan out the way the Front Office hopes, we could be looking at a very fun few years in St. Louis.
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