The Cardinals have the opportunity to copy one of the most effective trends in MLB

Some of the best offenses in baseball, including the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays, have a rare formula that the Cardinals can copy in 2024.
Miami Marlins v St. Louis Cardinals
Miami Marlins v St. Louis Cardinals / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

If you've been watching the St. Louis Cardinals for the last two decades, you've grown accustomed to watching one primary catcher for the majority of that time in future Hall of Famer, Yadier Molina.

While there will never be another Yadi for so many different reasons, something that Cardinals fans are having to adjust to is the new reality of Major League Baseball - catchers just don't play behind the plate as much as they used to.

In his prime, Molina would catch between 135-147 games a year for the Cardinals, basically relegating the backup catcher role to a once-a-week call, which is also why it was so hard for the Cardinals to find a quality backup most years. Molina was one of the most durable catchers we have ever seen, but now as the Cardinals enter year two of the Willson Contreras era, they have to deal with the reality that the catcher position is a tag team in today's game.

Last year, J.T. Realmuto led all of baseball with 133 games caught, while starting in 130 of those games and only finishing the game behind the plate just 120 times. There were five players tied for the second-most games started behind the plate at 116, and only 12 catchers started 100 games behind the plate - a far cry from what someone like Molina would provide the Cardinals in his career.

While this is the new normal around baseball, very few teams have two different catchers that they can rely on for an entire season to provide them with quality production behind the plate. Many catchers are still glove-first players who struggle with the bat, and the ones who can swing the bat are more and more often becoming designated hitters. But there are two teams in baseball who seem to have broken that trend in a meaningful way.

In 2022, the Atlanta Braves relied on catchers William Contreras and Travis d'Arnaud to carry them through the season, and then the following offseason, dealt Contreras to the Milwaukee Brewers while acquiring Sean Murphy. Murphy and d'Arnaud carried the load for the Braves in 2023 and figure to do the same in 2024.

Like the Braves, the Toronto Blue Jays featured their own dynamic duo behind the plate in 2022 with Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen, with top prospect Gabriel Moreno mixing in as well. The Blue Jays dealt Moreno to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Daulton Varsho, who also has the ability to catch if the Blue Jays needed him to.

It's no wonder why the Blue Jays and Braves finished second and third in bWAR from their catchers in 2022 as well as ninth and third respectively in 2023. Toronto and Atlanta have found a way to piece together top production from their catcher spot on an everyday basis, even with the frequency that catchers play dropping every season.

Why is this significant for the Cardinals? Well, although they made a mess of the Willson Contreras situation in 2023, he still finished as a top-20 hitter in baseball after a three-month stretch where he ranked top 5 in almost every significant offensive category among all hitters. The club is committing the Contreras as their primary catcher once again in 2024, and rightfully so.

But a primary catcher, as we saw from the playing time rankings last season, looks much more like a guy catching between 90-110 games in a given season, rather than the 130+ appearances Cardinals fans have gotten used to.

Contreras started 89 games behind the plate last season, but that's also with the club removing him from catching duties for a period as well. Assuming they feel more comfortable with his development behind the plate this season and the work he puts in with Molina as the club's new advisor, I expect him to see at least a small uptick in those appearances behind the plate next season.

Even if Contreras catches in 100 games in 2024, that still leaves an additional 62 games that need to be covered in his absence. For the last several seasons, that player has been Andrew Knizner, but after being non-tendered and picked up by the Texas Rangers, the Cardinals are now relying on their 2023 Minor League Position Player of the Year, Ivan Herrea.

Herrera has been a top prospect in the Cardinals system for a number of years, and they had hoped he would be the heir to Molina's throne following the 2022 season. They did not believe he was ready last offseason, instead investing in Contreras on a five-year deal. How did Herrera respond? He posted a .951 OPS in 83 games at the Triple-A level, as well as a .760 OPS in his brief 13-game stint in St. Louis. Herrera has been dominating the 2024 Caribbean Series the last week and looks ready to take off this coming season.

The Cardinals believe Herrera is ready for a significant role in 2024, and if he's able to build upon that success he found last season in the 60-80 games he'll get to play in for St. Louis in 2024, the Cardinals will have one of the best catching duos in all of baseball.

Sure, both players have their flaws. Contreras will never be a great defender behind the plate, and we still aren't sure how Herrera will fair in that regard either. But it's pretty rare to find a catcher who can hold his own behind the plate while providing a plus or plus-plus bat at the position, and the Cardinals have managed to find two for this coming season.

The Cardinals offense should be a top 5 unit in 2024, and the duo of Contreras and Herrera will go a long way toward boosting them up into that conversation. Both players possess bats that most catchers don't have, especially Contreras, and Herrera's presence even allows the Cardinals to DH or rest Contreras more often as needed.

Keep an eye on this duo in 2024, as the Cardinals may be the latest team to capitalize on this very effective trend.