The St. Louis Cardinals were ranked as the best team in the National League Central by MLB.com. Is that ranking justified?
The ranking seems fair for the Cardinals, who finished 30-28 and second in the National League Central. But perhaps most noteworthy is they are listed as the best team in the division, ahead of the Cubs (15), Reds (16) and Brewers (18).
The Cardinals, of course, have many holes on their roster, most notably at catcher, outfield and in the rotation. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are free agents and they do not have a clear starting outfield outside of Dylan Carlson. But compared to the rest of the division, the Cardinals are in relatively good shape.
The Brewers are looking to shed payroll and will not spend big in free agency, though the team should see bounceback seasons from Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura with Lorenzo Cain returning. The Reds have begun to shed payroll and Sonny Gray is reportedly on the trade block.
The biggest challenge for the Cardinals will be the Cubs, even after the Yu Darvish trade. They have Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and other talented players on the roster. Of course, it is possible one of them is traded before Opening Day as the Cubs look to clear payroll and build for 2022 and beyond.
What the Cardinals do have on their side, however, is that despite not yet acquiring any upgrades on the major-league roster, it does not appear any team in the Central is actively trying to win the division. The largest deal this winter within the division is the Cubs signing Jonathan Holder. Yes, you read that right.
And the Cardinals are likely to spend, whether it is on Molina, Wainwright or a free agent such as Joc Pederson. So despite the Cardinals not winning the winter (yet), their ranking at No. 12 is justified — as is their status as the top team in the division.
Now, it is up to president of badeball operations John Mozeliak to take advantage of such a unique opportunity.