It’s time for the St. Louis Cardinals to look beyond 2021
With the St. Louis Cardinals falling further back in the NL Central and Wild Card standings, it’s time to move on and look ahead to the offseason.
For those of us who were still holding out some hope for the 2021 season, the Atlanta series was a punch to the gut. Both the Cardinals and the Braves came into the series in must-wins situation. By the time the series ended on Thursday night, the Braves found themselves in the middle of the race for the NL East. Meanwhile, the Cardinals found themselves in a near impossible situation in the NL Central race and falling further behind in the NL Wild Card standings.
Actually, the trade deadline moves by the front office, told us a lot about what they think of the chances of making the postseason in 2021. The moves of adding 37-year-old Jon Lester and 38- year-old J.A. Happ to the starting rotation was like a cold bucket of water in the face to most fans.
In fact, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, made it very clear that Lester and Happ were picked up primarily to be “innings eaters,” allowing the organization to send Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford down to the minors for further development. Additionally, nothing was done to help the bullpen or the bench.
So here we are. If the Cardinals front office is looking beyond 2021, it seems the best thing that fans can do is to put 2021 behind them. And maybe it’s not a bad thing.
Money will be coming off the books which will allow the Cardinals to be aggressive in the off season. Gone will be the contracts of Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Martinez. In all, almost an additional $60 million will be available for the front office to spend.
So let’s take a look at some of the areas which can be addressed during this upcoming offseason.
The Starting Rotation.
Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, and Dakota Hudson will be the only starters under contract for 2022. Hudson and Mikolas could be question marks coming off injuries. Adam Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim returning is not certain, and Carlos Martinez is probably gone.
Prospects such as Matthew Liberatore and Zach Thompson may not be ready to assume a starting role in 2022. Stretching out Alex Reyes or Jordan Hicks may not be realistic. So adding a front line starter would seem to priority in this upcoming off season.
There will be options for the Cardinals to pursue. Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance Lynn, and Marcus Stroman, just to name a few who will be free agents.
I’m not necessarily advocating for any one of these free agents, but the opportunity will be there for the Cardinals to aggressively pursue a quality starter.
It’s been a tough year at the plate for Paul DeJong. He is currently hitting a career low slash line of .201/.290/.383 and OPS+ of 86. He is also at career lows of rOBA (.298), Rbat+ (83), and BABIP (.215).
He has never come close to matching his stellar rookie season in 2017 when he finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting. Actually, many of his offensive analytics have been gradually decreasing ever since.
DeJong was supposed to be one of the anchors in the Cardinals lineup. With the addition of Nolan Arenado, the thought was that it would take pressure off others in the lineup. It hasn’t really worked out, especially where it concerns DeJong.
Defensively, however, the 28-year-old has been consistent, if not quite a Gold Glover during his tenure as the Cardinal shortstop. So to improve, the Cardinals would need to find a better bat without giving up anything defensively.
If the Cardinals are going to upgrade the shortstop position through free agency, this would be the off season to do it. Names who will be available this year are impressive. Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Andrelton Simmons, and Brandon Crawford will all be on the market at the season’s end.
To improve offensively, all these players would likely do it, with Story and Crawford being the best options. Andrelton Simmons is probably the best option defensively, although Baez and Crawford have also won Gold Gloves.
This is another area the Cardinals need to address. Manager Mike Shildt is going to need other options to call on other than the trio of Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, and Genesis Cabrera. John Gant is gone and Andrew Miller likely will be gone too. Ryan Helsley, Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford are promising, but not steady contributors as of yet.
The free agent market for relievers during this off season looks promising. Some of the top names available are Kenley Jansen, Trevor Rosenthal, Brad Hand, Juerys Familia, Archie Bradley, Raisel Iglesias, Adam Ottavino and Kirby Yates.
Brad Hand would be a good left-handed option who has considerable closing experience. which would give Mike Shildt another option outside of Reyes. Archie Bradley is only 28 and could be a work horse out of the bullpen. Raisel Iglesias is a right-hander who could be used as another option to close out games. Finally, Kirby Yates is a right-handed closer who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, who could be picked up on a club friendly one year deal.
Whether through free agency or a trade, the bullpen depth has to be improved during the off season.
Of course, the bench will have to be improved, either through free agency or the trade market. Hopefully they learned you can’t go the cheap route again in 2022.
The Cardinals tried several combinations on the bench during 2021. They hoped Matt Carpenter would become the Matt Carpenter of three years ago. Unfortunately, It didn’t happen.
They hoped they could find a fourth outfielder among the trio of Justin Williams, Austin Dean,and Scott Hurst. When that didn’t work, they tried Tommy Edmans.
Remember Lars Nootbaar?
Edmundo Sosa was discovered and Jose Rondon has made an occasional contribution.
The Cardinals have done a good job in the past in bringing depth to the bench. Brad Miller, Jedd Gyorko, and Mark Reynolds are just some examples of effective bench pieces the Cardinals have acquired. I expect to the approach in 2021 won’t be repeated in 2022.
Let me address one other issue which seems to raised every offseason in recent years.
The return of Molina and his contract seems to have become a divisive issue among Cardinals fans. However, he will likely be back next year. Probably on a one-year deal, but he should be back.
Honestly the Cardinals have other issues bigger to address than whether Molina will be back and how much he plays and Andrew Knizner doesn’t.
If the St. Louis Cardinals will aggressively address the rotation, shortstop, the bullpen, and the bench, than all will likely be much better in 2022.
It’s time to let go of 2021. The front office has, so should you.