The middle infield of the St. Louis Cardinals is undeniably a strength of the team heading into 2024, as Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman look ready to contribute to the lineup. But the Cardinals could have been implying over the past few days that one of them might not be a Cardinal when Opening Day rolls around.
Marmol already hinted in an interview that Donovan or Gorman could be on the move soon when he said that the second baseman for 2024 was not yet determined and the team would have to wait and see how things shake out. After the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 6, there could be further credence behind that theory. While most of the attention to the draft's results will rightfully be on the major league portion, where the Cardinals selected right-handed pitcher Ryan Fernandez, the minor league part of the draft is where one might find a clue about the Cardinals' plans.
The Cardinals took two middle infielders in the minor league phase: Johnfrank Salazar and Miguel Villarroel. This is not the first time in 2023 that the Cardinals beefed up their infield: At the trade deadline, they acquired Cesar Prieto and Thomas Saggese in deals with the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers, respectively.
Although the pitchers in these deals received more attention than the position players because pitching was an immediate need, the front office has quietly stocked the farm with promising middle infield talent. This could suggest that the Cardinals are looking to deal Gorman or Donovan given that they have a surplus of talent on the farm system along with the young Masyn Winn likely to begin 2024 in the major leagues.
Gorman, who is probably the more valuable of the two, would likely net quite a haul for the Cardinals if they were to flip him. Logan Gilbert or Dylan Cease are two pitchers who could fit the caliber of a player like Gorman, whom the Cardinals still have under team control. The Cardinals might also be able to shove Tyler O'Neill into a deal, a player who the team has stated loud and clear is on the trading block.
The Cardinals' under-the-radar Rule 5 picks and trade acquisitions are beginning to take shape as part of a larger goal to find top-end pitching by providing key options in the event of a Gorman or Donovan trade. In what could be John Mozeliak's penultimate year in St. Louis, Mozeliak surely doesn't want to go out as a pariah. His grand plan for revitalizing the franchise might be about to bloom.