St. Louis Cardinals: Projecting an Opening Day roster

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

While the majority of Opening Day starting positions seem to be locked down, the St. Louis Cardinals figure to see competition in March for final bench and bullpen spots

I am in no way capable of predicting future performances nor am I able to account for injuries that may occur between now and April. Many of the assumptions I make concerning the St. Louis Cardinals roster are far from guarantees.

I assume that Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and most recently Jordan Walden come back in 2016 stronger than ever and that they do not experience any setbacks. Similarly, I assume that the still young and inexperienced outfield trifecta of Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and Stephen Piscotty will continue to progress and that each will remain productive at the big league level.

As Cardinal fans, we don’t have to look past last season to find an example of how an Opening Day roster can disintegrate. There is no reason to think that history will repeat itself in this case, so we will look forward to Opening Day assuming good health.

In a perfect world, my assumptions will hold true, and the Cardinals’ only concern should be finding out who make’s the club out of camp as the last guy on the bench, and the last guy in the bullpen.

Oct 9, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Stephen Piscotty reacts after hitting a ground rule double against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning in game one of the NLDS at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Stephen Piscotty reacts after hitting a ground rule double against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning in game one of the NLDS at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports /

Recent news of Jordan Walden’s return means that there will be one less slot in the bullpen to go after for the likes of Sam Tuivailala, Dean Kiekhefer, Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales, Mitch Harris etc. The way I see it, at most two of those guys could make the club out of Spring Training. Just as easily, the Cardinals could only take one of them.

Again, assuming that the Cardinals go into April with four outfielders, it seems like the last bench spot will be a two-man race between Greg Garcia and Aledmys Diaz. The job very well could go to the man that plays a better shortstop during the spring, as that man will be tasked with relieving Jhonny Peralta on a fairly regular basis.

As I see it right now, the Cardinals starting rotation will go Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia.

The bullpen will be Trevor Rosenthal closing ballgames, with some combination of Kevin Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton, Seung-Hwan Oh, Jordan Walden, and Seth Maness as “locks” to make the club.

The four Cardinal outfielders will be Holliday, Grichuk, Pham and Piscotty, while the infield locks are Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams and Brandon Moss. Assuming Yadier Molina is healthy at the start of April, he and Brayan Pena will both be on the roster as catchers.

That right there leaves the Cardinals at 23 spots filled with two openings to be won. While Gyorko is going to be a solid utility man for the Cardinals, he is not going to be able to play short, and Peralta (outside of Yadi) is the Cardinal infielder that is going to need the most rest.

Naturally, that leaves Aledmys Diaz and Greg Garcia as candidates for that final bench spot. At this point in time, Garcia is the front runner for the job based on experience and what we already know about him. Diaz could very easily take that from him with a good spring, though, so Garcia is anything but a lock to make the club.

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Based on the past, his level of experience compared to Diaz, etc., I will give the early nod to Garcia making the club. Don’t be surprised one bit if Diaz sneaks up and snatches the job, though.

Now, the Cardinals still need one more pitcher. From the list above, they do not have a true long relief candidate outside of maybe Seth Maness. They don’t have a LOOGY candidate either. What they do have, though, are three left-handed arms looking to win a job out of the spring.

Kiekhefer’s only shot at the club would be in a LOOGY role. If he doesn’t make the club in that capacity, he has no shot. Lyons and Gonzales could be intriguing candidates in the sense that they could be used for three or four innings if needed, and could potentially be used in lefty/lefty situations.

I know I just wrote about the Cardinals LOOGY guy yesterday, and yes I know that I predicted Kiekhefer to make the club in that capacity. But, the absolute truth is that I am having a tough time being certain of what the Cardinals are going to do.

It still seems most likely that they start with Kiekhefer in their bullpen, although I would not be surprised one bit if they pulled the plug on Lyons as a starter. I don’t see them doing so with Gonzales, so I am ready to rule that possibility out.

There is appeal in taking Lyons over Kiekhefer simply because he can pitch three or four innings on any given night, something Kiekhefer wouldn’t be able to do. I do not anticipate that he would be nearly as effective in left-on-left situations, though.

Because of Kiekhefer’s potential to shine in the LOOGY role and the overall depth of the Cardinals pen, I am going to take Kiekhefer with the final roster spot.

All of this would add up to a pitching staff of Wainwright, Wacha, Martinez, Leake and Garcia and a bullpen of Rosenthal, Walden, Oh, Siegrist, Maness, Broxton, and Kiekhefer.

The defense would be Holliday, Grichuk, Piscotty, and Pham in the outfield with Yadi and Pena behind the dish. Adams, Moss, Wong, Gyorko, Peralta, Garcia and Carpenter would make up the infield.

Next: Jordan Walden to be ready for Spring Training

Again, I have to stress that it is not particularly likely that this is the 25 guys that St. Louis starts the season with. There are too many outside factors that could have an impact on this group. However, for the fun of it, and assuming 100% health and production from the guys listed above comes true, those are my picks for your Opening Day 2016 St. Louis Cardinals.