The St. Louis Cardinals have been good, but not great, for a few years now. I believe that will all change in 2023, and here’s why:
We have to start in 2022 to gain some context. This is a very fun team to watch with Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright having one last run together. But that fun hasn’t necessarily translated to a high caliber team. The St. Louis Cardinals will probably make the postseason as a wild card, but I don’t think they will make it very far.
The starting pitching is rather thin, especially with Jack Flaherty’s return uncertain. The offense can be very boom or bust. The bench is rather mediocre. Any of those flaws can/will result in a quick October exit.
Looking ahead to 2023, most of that mediocrity should fade away. Corey Dickerson, T.J. MacFarland, and Nick Wittgren will all enter free agency and will presumably not be re-signed. I can’t imagine a scenario wherein Paul DeJong comes back and retakes a starting job with the team.
The beloved veterans will move on, as well. Molina, Pujols, and Wainwright are all set to retire at the end of the season. With them will also go the $32.5 million combined that they were paid in 2022, allowing Mozeliak and Co. to venture into free agency. If I were in charge, I would take a hard look at on of Aaron Nola (if available), Carlos Rodon, Noah Syndergaard, or Clayton Kershaw.
With the addition of a free-agent starter, the rotation would consist of some combination of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson (once he’s called up), and the acquisition. With a little bit of healthy and little bit of luck, that could very well be one of the best in baseball.
The bullpen is, and should remain, completely dominant. 2022 has been the year of Ryan Helsley so far. He finally allowed his first earned run of the year on May 30th. The 2023 bullpen should consist of mostly the same guys, Giovanni Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera, Helsley, Kodi Whitley, and Andre Pallante.
Onto the lineup, which I believe will be the real strength of the 2023 team. Although the Cardinals will lose Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner has proven himself to be viable with Ivan Herrera waiting in the wings. The infield will mostly remain the same with Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman, and Nolan Arenado as mainstays.
The outfield will probably also maintain its status quo with Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Dylan Carlson getting the lion’s share of starts. Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez (when not at DH) will figure in from time to time.
Where I think the team can solidify itself as a true contender is bringing up Jordan Walker around the middle of June. The kid is an absolute hitting machine and would instantly deepen our lineup. Think about it: Edman, Gorman, Goldschmidt, Arenado, Yepez/Walker, O’Neill, Carlson, Knizner/Herrera and Bader.
Suddenly your lineup has power regulars with 30-homer power. When was the last time a Cardinals team had that? This lineup could easily be the most potent we’ve seen in St. Louis since the MV3 year in 2004 or the World Series Champion team in 2011.
Take a moment to soak in what I’ve just said. It’s not an opinion I’ve had often if you’ve ever read an article of mine in the past. I’ve always been very critical of Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, but now I’m watching it all come together.
The Cardinals are contingent on two things: Starting pitching and Jordan Walker. If things unfold how I believe they will, we’re in for a wild ride in 2023.