Cardinals: Projecting the lineup one month from spring training
By Matt Graves
As it stands now, the St. Louis Cardinals are just about a month from reporting to Jupiter, Florida for spring training. If there’s one thing everyone needs right now, it’s baseball. COVID permitting, we’ll get a lot of it very soon.
As exciting as it is for baseball to be coming back, fans in St. Louis seem to have a love-hate relationship with the team right now. To this point, the Cardinals have not made a single addition to their major league roster. Right now it seems fans are just rooting to get back what the team had last year, as sad as that sounds.
There is still time before things get going and there is still reason to believe the front office will add a name or two. However, if the team doesn’t decide to make any further changes, what would the starting lineup look like on Opening Day? Let’s give it a try.
- Matt Carpenter, 3B
- Tommy Edman, 2B
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
- Paul DeJong, SS
- Dylan Carlson, LF
- Andrew Knizner, C
- Dexter Fowler, RF
- Harrison Bader, CF
For the purpose of this, an assumption of no designated hitter was made. If there was a DH, the likely candidate for Opening Day is Tyler O’Neill and he would slot in nicely between Carlson and Knizner.
Back to the lineup, there are no surprises here on who is at which position, but some fans may be surprised to see Matt Carpenter at the leadoff spot. In what will likely be his final season in St. Louis, the prodigal son needs to return to the top of the lineup. Carpenter hasn’t been a productive hitter the past two seasons, but he still has shown the ability to get on base at a reasonable level. Without a better option in house, he’s the best the team has right now.
The important number to watch with Matt Carpenter this year is 636. That is how many plate appearances he needs for his option to vest. He’s done it four times in his career but hasn’t since 2018. 636 is the prorated value based on the total 59 games the Cardinals played in 2020, if the math is done over 60 games Carpenter has to get to 643 for his option to vest.
Tommy Edman was a solid two-hitter in 2020 and as the second baseman, he’ll add good speed to the top of the lineup. After Edman, there is no reason to complicate things. The easy choice is Paul Goldschmidt.
The second Paul makes a good choice to follow Goldy as DeJong has a big year in front of him. He was making strides before a bad 2020, but the Cardinals need him to step up and be the cleanup bat he has shown he could be during stretches of his career. DeJong probably shouldn’t be a cleanup batter, but he’s the best option the Cardinals have.
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Dylan Carlson figures to be a fixture in the Cardinals’ outfield in 2021 which is going to be a ton of fun to watch. Carlson’s ceiling is higher than a five-hole hitter, but there is no reason to push him too hard. 2021 is a year of growth for Carlson which is why he slots in well at the five-hole.
From here, the lineup falls a little bit. If Yadier Molina isn’t back, Knizner is going to have to shoulder a large load handling the pitching staff and starting for the first time. He has solid offensive potential, but Knizner hasn’t shown it yet at the MLB level.
After Knizner, the Cardinals should look to squeeze whatever is left out of Dexter Fowler’s bat. Like Carpenter, Fowler has declined quickly and will have to perform to keep his spot for the whole year. Finally, Harrison Bader will be tasked with showing that the power he showed in 2020 wasn’t a fluke. If he is actually a 113 wRC+ hitter, he should be jumped up a few spots, but until he proves he can be consistent, Bader should keep his home in the 8th spot in the lineup.
It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the lineup at the end of the year looks very different than the one at the beginning of the year. The Cardinals have shown that in the past, they’ll run out expensive veterans at the beginning of the year and quickly pull the plug if the production isn’t there. 35-year-old Jhonny Peralta batted cleanup to start the 2017 season but was cut after just 21 games.
It isn’t like other years where there are multiple seasons left on contracts. If Carpenter and Fowler don’t perform, chances are they won’t play.
This lineup is frankly pretty boring. There is a chance that the 2020 season was a fluke and fans could be surprised, but I wouldn’t guess anyone is holding their breath on that. This team needs someone to step up on the offense, it’ll be a long year if they can’t find that.