The Cardinals go all-in on the 202 season
While Cardinals fans tend to cry out that the club does not make big moves, the organization has taken some big swings over the years. Going into 2015, the team flipped three high upside arms for outfielder Jason Heyward. Before the 2019 season, the club flipped more young talent for perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt. And even after a pandemic shorted season, the Cardinals pulled of a heist and acquired one of this generations best third basemen in Nolan Arenado.
Looking at free agency, the Cardinals were major bidders on Heyward, David Price and Albert Pujols, but have not allowed themselves to get into long-term albatross deals. St. Louis is not afraid to make a big move when the price is right, which could be the case coming out of the lockout.
Cardinals fans have long pointed out that this is the year for St. Louis to go big in free agency, having a hole at shortstop during a historic class with the likes of Carlos Correa and Trevor Story still available. Potential DH sluggers Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, and Nelson Cruz remain on the market. Big arms like Carlos Rodon, Kenley Jansen, and Clayton Kershaw could bolster the pitching even more.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirmed a few weeks back that the Cardinals expected a payroll increase heading into the 2022 season. Even with taking on more of Arenado’s contract and the four-year, $44 million dollar deal handed to Matz, there is still money available to spend with multiple big deals coming off of the books.
In this scenario, St. Louis would likely grab themselves one more big bat and/or an elite bullpen piece to solidify them as the NL Central favorites and a World Series contender. Let’s say the team signs Trevor Story for six years, $135 million and Kenley Jansen for about two years, $25 million. The team would add about $45 million dollars between Matz, Story, and Jansen, and could shed about 6 million by moving on from Paul DeJong to another shortstop needy team. This would leave them with an Opening Day Roster similar to this…
Lineup: RF Dylan Carlson,1B Paul Goldschmidt, LF Tyler O’Neill, 3B Nolan Arenado, SS Trevor Story, C Yadier Molina,, DH Nolan Gorman/Juan Yepez, 2B Tommy Edman, CF Harrison Bader.
Bench: Gorman/Yepez, Edmundo Sosa, Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Andrew Knizner.
Rotation: Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas.
Bullpen: RHP Ryan Helsley, RHP Jake Woodford, RHP Alex Reyes, TJ McFarland, LHP Genesis Caberera, RHP Jordan Hicks, RHP Giovanni Gallegos, RHP Kenley Jansen.
On paper, this team would be the clear-cut favorites to win the NL Central and would be strong contenders with the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, and Mets to win the NL Pennant. All three of the major issues from the club last year are addressed in this scenario – consistency within the rotation, middle of the lineup protection for O’Neill-Goldschmidt-Arenado and stability at the back of the bullpen.
The team would be in prime position to make a run, and any improvements from players like Carlson, O’Neill, or Edman, breakouts from the likes of Gorman, Yepez, or Matthew Liberatore, or even improvement from Nolan Arenado who had slight down year at the plate would propel this team to even higher levels. While this is the least likely of the three routes the team could to this offseason, it is realistic and exciting enough to note the potential of bigger moves.