St. Louis Cardinals: Rolling the dice on replacing Marcell Ozuna in 2020

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals greets his teammates during introductions before Game 3 of the NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Monday, October 14, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals greets his teammates during introductions before Game 3 of the NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Monday, October 14, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

The offseason is all but over, and the St. Louis Cardinals have decided to roll the dice in 2020 by not adding a bat to replace Marcell Ozuna. It’s a gamble, but it could work.

Marcell Ozuna is now an Atlanta Brave, Josh Donaldson is in the Twin Cities, and Nolan Arenado is still wearing a Rockies uniform, for now. Depending on what you believe, read, or heard, at least one of these guys could have been a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020.

Nevertheless, it didn’t happen and probably never was really in the cards, so to speak. If we paid any attention to statements made by President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, or the Cardinals Managing Partner and Chairman, Bill DeWitt, Jr., they essentially told us it wasn’t going to happen.

Whether an additional bat should have been brought in or not, the debate now focuses on who on the current roster will step up and replace Ozuna’s production. Or more importantly, who the St. Louis Cardinals believe will step up.

I believe they are gambling on three players to improve their numbers in 2020. The three are Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Tyler O’Neill. Two have a history on their side, and one has the promise on his side.

The Cardinals are rolling dice, but it may work.

Matt Carpenter

Depending on your outlook, Matt Carpenter is a big gamble for the Cardinals in 2020, and maybe the biggest of the three. After a sub par 2019, the Cardinals are counting on Carpenter to return to the player we saw in 2018 and before.

After all, the 34-year-old Carpenter has a career OPS of .835 and a OPS+ of 126. He also has a career 162 game BA of .269 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. From 2015 to 2018, this left-handed bath had some numbers which approached Ozuna’s during this period, he had over 20 homers per year and twice had over 80 RBIs.

However, there is a downside to all of this, most of this production was done from the leadoff spot, not the cleanup position Ozuna held. For instance, his career slash line at leadoff is .279/.382/.482, while his slash line at the three spot is .208/.350/.378. Carpenter’s slash lines at the four and five hole are even worse, though his plate appearances are limited at these spots in the lineup.

Many will make the case, the Cardinals feel trapped by Carpenter’s nearly $20 million annual contract, and consequently must play him. But I think Mike Shildt, John Mozeliak, and company BELIEVE in Matt Carpenter and have confidence he will bounce back in 2020.

If Carpenter can return to his pre-2019 form, even if it’s at the leadoff spot, this offense will be better.

Paul DeJong

The right-handed DeJong is my personal preference to hit in the cleanup spot in 2020, at least initially. As the 26-year-old enters his fourth year in the MLB, he has shown the ability to hit for power in his previous three years.

DeJong was called up on May 28, 2017 and proceeded to make a case for Rookie of the Year. In fact, he finished second in voting behind the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. In only 108 games, the 2015 4th round pick, hit 25 homers and 65 RBIs with a slash line of .285/.325/.532, including an OPS+ of 121.

In 2018, DeJong suffered a fractured left hand in May and only played in 115 games. Nevertheless, he still hit 19 homers and 68 RBIs with a slash line of .241/.313/.433, which includes a OPS+ of 102.

However, in 2019, even though he had an impressive start to the season, hitting .342 in April, DeJong struggled at the plate the rest of the season. He finished the season with a slash line of .233/.318/.444 and a OPS+ of 97 in 159 games. Regardless, he finished the year with 30 homers and 78 RBIs.

Finally, the 6-0, 200lb DeJong has experience in his career hitting in the three hole, and has been productive. In 152 career games hitting third, he has a slash line of .265/.341/.441 with 21 homers and 80 RBIs.

Tyler O’Neill

The right-handed bat of Tyler O’Neill seems to be the favorite pick of many to inherit Marcell Ozuna’s left field position and his place in the batting order. This is understandable with his 5-11, 210lb build and his minor league history.

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For instance, in 2015, while with the Mariner’s A+ Bakersfield team, he hit 32 homers and 87 RBIs in 106 games. The following year with the Mariner’s AA Jackson team, he slugged 24 homers and 102 RBIs in 130 games. He followed up in 2017 hitting 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 130 games between the Mariners AAA Tacoma and the Cardinals AAA Memphis.

However, his injuries and strikeout rate concern some in the Cardinal organization. In somewhat limited appearances in St. Louis the last two years, he has 14 homers and 39 RBIs in 121 games with a slash line of .258/.307/.454. He also struck out 57 times in 2018 and 53 in 2019.

Now with Ozuna in Atlanta, Randy Arozarena and Jose Martinez in Tampa Bay, the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to have cleared a path for O’Neill to grab an everyday spot in the lineup. Of course, he will be pressed for playing time by the likes of Lane Thomas, Justin Williams, and Austin Dean. Nevertheless, O’Neill would seem to be a prime candidate to replace Ozuna’s production in the lineup.

To Wrap Up

The St. Louis Cardinals are counting on better production from Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Tyler O’Neill in 2020. If this happens, the offense will be much better, even without Marcell Ozuna.

If they can just get better production from two of the three, it will still likely be a better offense. However, if only one of three improves, then the Cardinals will only hold pat on what we saw in 2019.

There is a wild card out there in the name of Dylan Carlson. The latest Cardinal wunderkind prospect will be likely be sitting in Memphis to start 2020. Depending on his development and what is happening with the Cardinals offense by June or July, he could be the answer in 2020.

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To conclude, it’s hard to believe that Carpenter, DeJong, and O’Neill will all have subpar seasons and this is what the St. Louis Cardinals are counting on. They are rolling the dice in 2020, but it could work.