Path #1 - Brendan Donovan as a primary outfielder in 2024
For as long as Brendan Donovan is as good as he is at filling in around the diamond for the Cardinals, they'll surely rotate him around the field as needed. But there is a strong argument for Donovan to settle in more in the outfield in 2024.
In 2022 and 2023, Donovan logged time at six different defensive positions, with second base and left field being the most prominent of them all. Based on how the roster is shaking out for the 2024 season though, it feels like he will see more and more time in the outfield and DH than he has in the past.
Nolan Gorman is an elite bat at second base and it's now his primary position. He will likely play there every day, with a few appearances filling in at third when Arenado has a day off or DH when he needs a breather himself. Donovan can still get time there, but unless Tommy Edman is dealt this offseason, that is a place he'll look to get games in as well.
Donovan has filled in at first base in 30 games for the Cardinals the last two years, and while he could still see time there as well, Alec Burleson is a candidate to get more opportunities. Shortstop is interesting to me because if Edman remains on the roster, I don't see Donovan finding time there, but if they do trade Edman for pitching, I could see Donovan being the backup shortstop to Winn.
With how the roster is structured right now, the infield is set, and two of the three outfield positions are set. It's really just the DH role and one of the outfield spots that need to be filled, and since Donovan is too good not to play every day, he could easily take one of those spots.
If the Cardinals want to maximize their offensive potential, having Donovan as the primary left fielder with Lars Nootbaar in center field and Jordan Walker in right field would be an excellent way to do that. While Donovan is just an average defensive outfielder, playing the position every day may help him improve more out there, and offensively, Donovan would have been the 30th ranked outfielder in baseball in wRC+ in 2023, and based on the way he was hitting during the summer, likely would have climbed those rankings even more so.
Donovan in left field allows the Cardinals to have someone like Alec Burleson get DH appearances more often, or even an up-and-coming prospect like Thomas Saggese. The weakest link in the lineup by far would then be Masyn Winn, and that is a strong lineup.
With the presence of Edman and possibly Saggese on the roster next year, I don't think there is as much of a need for Donovan to bounce around the diamond, especially if Edman does not have a defined everyday role. Should Edman be the primary center fielder though, or be off the roster entirely, I think the case for Donovan to be an "everyday utilityman" grows stronger, which we'll look at next.