After seeing multiple young players step up and blossom this season, what will 2016 mean for the St. Louis Cardinals with the returns of several longstanding veterans?
Let’s be blunt.
The St. Louis Cardinals are headed for October. It’s all but a foregone conclusion at this point.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs battle it out for the top wild card spot in the National League, each coming away with critical series sweeps over the weekend, the Cardinals continue to maintain their sizable advantage in the division.
How, you might ask, have they done this?
Simple. Once again, the Cardinals have simply plugged holes with a mix of young talent and role players, allowing them to overcome the loss of critical pieces in Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Matt Adams, among others.
Randal Grichuk has stepped up in his first full big league season to fill at least some of the void offensively, albeit in a different way from Holliday, whose game is more power-based. Offseason acquisition Jason Heyward has recovered from a disappointing start to rebound in a big way, giving the Cardinals a potent offensive outfield mix.
Meanwhile, Michael Wacha has emerged as the clear-cut ace of a staff that lost its ace early-on in Wainwright, who still seems to think he could see a big league mound late this year. The oft-injured Jaime Garcia has been nothing short of masterful since his return to the Cardinals and the likes of Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Carlos Martinez have been superb.
So when St. Louis opens camp in Florida next spring, what happens to the mix that has led the club to one of the most impressive seasons of the 30 big league clubs this year?
Holliday will no-doubt re-assume his spot in left field; which in-turn leaves one left questioning where the standout rookie Stephen Piscotty will play. That becomes clearer should the Cardinals not re-sign Heyward, but infinitely more difficult should they bring back the corner outfielder after 2015.
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The rotation is already overloaded with talent; but the most logical decision – at least in my mind – is clear: let Lackey walk after this season ends.
He’s been outstanding, but entering his age 37 season, at some point you have to ask how much he’ll realistically have left in the tank in the next few years and where else those financial resources could be allocated.
Letting Lackey off the hook will allow Wainwright to fill his spot in the rotation, followed by Wacha, Martinez, Garcia and Lynn – a mix that would, yet again, give the Cardinals arguably the best starting five in all of Major League Baseball.
This comes down to the moves the Cardinals make this offseason; one move will affect each subsequent move and so on and so forth. While the season has been exciting, the moves this club makes – or doesn’t make – could be equally thrilling this winter.