St. Louis Cardinals: A core transition period is coming

ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 20: Dylan Carlson #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on August 20, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 20: Dylan Carlson #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on August 20, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals are about to go through a large roster transition period that may begin as soon as this winter. Change is in the air.

As frustrating as the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals were at times, the season (by necessity) offered a glimpse at the future for the organization. Whether it was due to injury, COVID necessities, or the expanded rosters, we saw a ton of debuts this year. In total (by my count), there were 14 rookies that saw their first MLB experience this year.

Not all debuts were good (sorry Roel Ramirez), but we finally got to see much of the depth that the organization has been bragging about.

On the better end of things, Dylan Carlson looked like a stud when he got his legs under him, Jake Woodford and Seth Elledge looked solid out of the bullpen, and Johan Oviedo flashed his potential as a starter. These weren’t the only solid debuts, but these are all players that I would expect to have a role on the Cardinals in 2021 and beyond.

Right now, the roster seems kind of stale. Since about 2015/2016, the offense has been an issue. Pitching has been consistently good, but with the offensive core of Paul DeJong, Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, and Matt Carpenter, things have soured, especially in the past two years.

For the Cardinals, at least two of those core players have contracts that will be up after the 2021 season. Between Carpenter and Fowler, the Cards have $35M tied up in aging players. Kolten Wong has a buyout that could be taken as soon as this winter, and we can’t forget about the ageless wonders Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.

There is so much experience, so much success, and so much history tied up in this core group of players, but it all seems to be coming to a head in the next 18 months. By 2022, Paul Goldschmidt, Miles Mikolas, and DeJong are the only players locked into a contract. The rest will either be in arbitration, have club options, or are free agents.

The last large period of transition was really after 2011. Albert Pujols left, leaving Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday behind to fill bigger roles. Tony LaRussa moved on, and the Mike Matheny era started. There have been roster shakeups since then, but the core in 2012 doesn’t look all that different than the core right now.

The prospect of wholesale changes can be scary, but 2020 showed us that there are pieces here already that can keep the future bright. Dylan Carlson will surely be a starter in 2021, and there’s another wave of arms coming lead by Oviedo and Woodford that includes Matt Liberatore and Zack Thompson.

Some of you worry about what John Mozeliak might do if he leads this new wave of transition that will fall over the St. Louis Cardinals, but I would worry more about what the effects of COVID-19 will be on spending around the league.

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Uncertainty may worry some, but it excites me. There are plenty of other talented players coming up behind this next wave, it just depends on how the organization chooses to deploy these talents. Some will be traded, some will flourish, some will crash.

In 2016, we knew things would be different when we got to 2018-2020. While Marcell Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt were outside players brought in to help, the core of the team was still there.

By 2022, we don’t have a clue what this team will look like outside of Goldschmidt, Carlson, and Jack Flaherty. Depending on how the team decides to approach this offseason, the transition could start sooner rather than later.

Next. Handing out 2020 team awards. dark

We don’t know what this new chapter in St. Louis Cardinals’ history will look like, but the beginning pieces of success are there. The Cardinals are not that far away from greatness, they just need a little more firepower at the plate.