If you asked me a few months ago, I would have told you the St. Louis Cardinals need to be willing to trade away one of Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, or Lars Nootbaar in order to upgrade their pitching staff significantly. If the club's recent struggles at the plate prove anything though, it's that they need to hold onto those bats as long as they can.
Some of this is frankly due to the continued high-level play we have seen from Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan before their injuries, as well as Nolan Gorman, who has been battling back injuries himself in recent months. There have been stretches where we have seen all three of these left-handed bats out of the Cardinals' lineup, and things have not gone well when that has happened.
It feels weird to say this, but Lars Nootbaar may be the best bat on the Cardinals right now, and it's not a slight toward Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt. Both have had down years, but Nootbaar has truly risen to become one of the more exciting players in baseball. Brendan Dononan started off the season slowly, but after May 23rd, had a 145 wRC+ while nursing a significant elbow injury for a large portion of that time. Nolan Gorman has had his ups and downs, but overall, has been about 20% or more above league average at the plate this year, and one has to think his power is going to show even more so in future years.
Not many lineups function well when three of their top six hitters are out of their lineup for a significant stretch of time. The Cardinals' struggles at the plate recently are not solely because of that, but I would imagine having Nootbaar and Donovan healthy would at least raise their level of play from among the worst in baseball as of late.
If the Cardinals are not going to trade one of those young bats, it means they'll have to be willing to spend the money this offseason on pitching. Even if they decided going after a cost-controlled arm would be wise for their club, the top-end ones will cost at least two of those left-handed bats, something the Cardinals should not be entertaining.
With names like Tommy Edman, Alec Burleson, Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson, Ivan Herrera, and Andrew Knizner all outside of the Cardinals' top 8 position players, packaging some of those names together to get a cost-controlled, middle or back-end of the rotation starter would do wonders for the rotation as long as they spend money on the top guys for their staff as well. They could even potentially flip some of those names for a rental starter with a bit of a higher ceiling (i.e. Tyler Glasnow type).
The Cardinals' strength is their offense. Lately, it's been as flat as ever, and I'm not saying that's nothing, but I also don't think it's fair to forget the human element of this as well. They've been a top-10 unit in baseball this year, despite having some of the worst pitching you'll see from a team with postseason aspirations. Now that the team has fallen completely out of contention, and more and more guys are taking time on the IL with injuries, I'm sure there is an element of fatigue, frustration, and pressing that is happening at the plate right now.
I've been pretty anti-front office changes being needed this year, and still remain so, assuming they are learning their lessons from this failed season. There may be some names internally that need to be let go, but the big names - John Mozeliak, Michael Girsch, and Randy Flores - still feel like the right guys to me.
Maybe there will need to be changes with the coaching staff. I don't think this season falls on the shoulders of Oli Marmol, but sometimes you need a fresh voice when things go this sour. Fans loved to rip Jeff Albert constantly when he was the club's hitting coach, even though time and time again the improvements this offense was making were credited to things he brought to the club. I don't hear as much criticism for Turner Ward, and maybe there will need to be a shift there. Again, I'm not advocating for it, but I can see where they may want to make some changes.
The one thing I can confidently say though is that the 2024 Cardinals, and frankly, the 2025 and beyond Cardinals, are a better team if they have Nootbaar, Gorman, and Donovan than if they used them to fix their pitching woes. Spend the money this offseason, or they may end up letting more high-level position players walk away at their own expense.