The Atlanta Braves have cemented themselves as a model of consistent success in Major League Baseball after a 104-win season in 2023 and 6 straight NL East titles. Despite another disappointing first-round exit, teams across the league including the Cardinals should look to Atlanta as an example of how to build a winning franchise. One of the Braves' unique successes is their ability to value talent and extend young, controllable players at team-friendly prices. With Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Matt Olson, and Sean Murphy all signing team-friendly extensions, the Braves' run of dominance has no end in sight.
While the Cardinals have been burned by poor extension choices in the past, such as with Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter, and Carlos Martinez, extended young talent has become a crucial part of championship teams, and the time is right for the Cardinals to secure parts of their deep position player core longterm.
Redbird Rants site expert Josh Jacobs, fellow contributor Sandy McMillan, and I discussed and ranked potential extension candidates on the Noot News Podcast this past week, and here is the full list of extension candidates we decided on.
Tommy Edman: 2023 cemented Tommy Edman as a true spark plug for the Cardinals. When Nootbaar, O'Neill, and Carlson all went down with injuries, Edman stepped up to fill center field and was so impressive that he would sometimes start in center over Nootbaar even after he returned. Edman also jolts the Cardinals' offense at the right times, as evidenced by walk-offs on back-to-back days against Padres' closer Josh Hader. While he's a true representative of the "Cardinal way," he may find himself out of St. Louis rather soon. With the emergence of Victor Scott II as a true 80-grade defender in center and the acquisition of Thomas Saggesse from the Rangers, Edman's tools are replaceable and he may be better utilized as a trade piece rather than an extension candidate.
Giovanny Gallegos: 2023 did not go as planned for Cardinals' setup man Giovanny Gallegos. The warning signs for his decline were planted before the regular season even started. With a chance to push Mexico into the World Baseball Classic, Gallegos suffered one of his many implosions allowing a double to Shohei Ohtani, walking Masataka Yoshida, and instead sending Japan into the final with a walk-off double by young slugger Munetaka Murakami. However, Gallegos has been an extremely solid reliever for the Cards since he arrived in 2018. With the volatility of relievers in baseball, Gallegos' consistency has been a bright spot. Extending him would be cheaper than ever, and a bounce-back 2024 season should be expected.
Ryan Helsley: Helsley has played fewer seasons than Gallegos, but his potential to be just as consistent is showing. Sure, he did have a similar implosion in the 2022 Postseason, but his return from injury in 2023 was extremely successful. After one of the best reliever seasons by a Cardinal in 2022, the flamethrowing closer posted a 2.45 ERA and 12.8 K/9 despite missing significant time are extremely promising. There may be some tension between him and the Cardinals' front office after last year's arbitration hearing, but that's mere speculation. Locking down Helsley long-term may be the best course of action to ensure a stable bullpen.