Anyone who has ever played sports has heard the phrase "offense wins games; defense wins championships." The theory behind this platitude is that while scoring runs in the baseball sense will lead to success, fundamentals, grit, and hard work will get a team to its ultimate goal: a championship.
At the 2024 Winter Meetings, John Mozeliak made some very pointed comments about his preferred starting lineup.
"So when you look at our infield right now, you could imagine it's going to be Goldy, and then at second base, is it going to be Gorman or Donovan? Is it going to be Winn at short and then Arenado at third? In the outfield, right now if we were to play tomorrow, it'd likely be Noot, Tommy Edman, and Walker. Our fourth outfielder would be Dylan Carlson."- John Mozeliak
There are some names that are noticeably absent from this lineup. Tyler O'Neill and Alec Burleson are not mentioned by name as starters or reserves; in fact, Mozeliak went so far as to say that O'Neill is very likely a trade candidate. Those two players are primarily offensive forces. Perhaps the most ideal offensive lineup would include Tommy Edman at short with either Nootbaar or O'Neill in center while the other roams left field.
The lineup that Mozeliak shared includes three Gold Glovers on the dirt (Goldschmidt, Donovan, and Arenado) and one in the outfield (Edman). Dylan Carlson would feature as the team's fourth outfielder, and he is more than capable of handling any spot in the outfield defensively.
For a team that was once touted for its defensive prowess, St. Louis took quite the nosedive down the defensive leaderboards in 2023. In 2023, the Cardinals as a team had a negative Outs Above Average (-6) and a negative Defensive Runs Saved value (-7). They did, however, finish third in fielding percentage (.989), thus showing the volatility of defensive metrics.
St. Louis led the league in OAA in 2021 with fifty-one, and they were fourth in 2022 with twenty-six. While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of this precipitous decrease in just two seasons, part of the explanation could be personnel. St. Louis sacrificed defense for offense when they signed Willson Contreras, played Jordan Walker in the majors at a position he was still learning, and traded their Gold Glove center fielder Harrison Bader for some much-needed pitching.
The tone appears to be different for 2024. While players such as Tyler O'Neill and Nolan Gorman would provide immediate offense, there are other iterations of the lineup that provide more surefire defense. John Mozeliak appears to be going back to the basics. Hopefully, he is aiming for championships rather than winning games in the upcoming season.