The St. Louis Cardinals front office and clubhouse have not been shy to admit that there was a bit of a leadership void in 2023. That's not a dig as Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, or any of the veteran voices on the club. Losing Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina was a bigger deal than they initially anticipated, and many of their offseason moves have looked to bring more leaders into the clubhouse.
Day two of the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up zeroed in on one of the emerging leaders in the clubhouse. No, I'm not talking about Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, or Lance Lynn, although all of them will contribute to that culture in 2024. The name at the tip of players' tongues on Sunday was utility man Brendan Donovan.
Ever since breaking onto the scene for St. Louis in 2022, Donovan has established himself as a vital part of the team's success. Donovan played in 126 games in his debut season, finishing top-3 in Rookie of the Year voting and batting fifth in the Cardinals lineup during the Wild Card Series against the Phillies. And while Donovan was catching fire over his final two months before season-ending elbow surgery, it wasn't enough for the Cardinals to repeat their winning formula.
Donovan knows what fans expect from this club, and he anticipates a very different result in 2024.
"You've got a very motivated, hungry team to win. We've got some great acquisitions this offseason, we have some very good key pieces, and you will see a different product out there this year."
When you talk to Donovan's teammates, you get the impression that he's carrying that message to the team as well. Both Jordan Walker and Lars Nootbaar noted Donovan as a "driver" in the team group chat this offseason, a guy who has stepped up to motivate and drive the entire group to rebound in a big way next season.
When asked about Donovan's leadership style, Walker appreciated how blunt Donovan is. You don't have to guess what he's thinking, he'll shoot you straight, and he does it out of a place of wanting to better his teammates.
There was plenty of chatter this offseason regarding the availability of Brendan Donovan on the trade market. Teams called the Cardinals with interest in their young bats, and yet, Donovan is someone the club has been reluctant to move off of. A large part of that has to do with his ability on the field, but it's clear that Donovan is making himself a core member of this club off the field as well.
Donovan noted how difficult it was to be on the sideline for the majority of the second half last season. He's a guy who wants to play every single day, willing to play anywhere on the field to make this team better. That hunger and motivation that Donovan talks about with this club is something he embodies, and it's clearly rubbing off on the rest of the clubhouse.
Donovan is known as a guy who brings value in a multitude of ways, so it's no surprise to see him adding "leader" to his ever-growing tool belt.
There is so much more to say about the things we heard at Winter Warm-Up this week, so stay tuned to Redbird Rants for some of my first-hand reactions and our team's analysis of the weekend. You can check out a conversation I had with Andrew Wang on the Noot News Podcast about the first two days, where we overviewed Donovan as well as a variety of other topics that bubbled to the surface this week.