This lineup construction would unleash the Cardinals offense and defense in 2024

This might not be the lineup the Cardinals use at full strength, but it should be.
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals / Megan Briggs/GettyImages
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Lineup vs. right-handed pitching

DH Brendan Donovan
1B Paul Goldschmidt
2B Nolan Gorman
3B Nolan Arenado
C Willson Contreras
LF Lars Nootbaar
RF Jordan Walker
SS Masyn Winn
CF Victor Scott II

Bench: UTL Tommy Edman, C Ivan Herrera, OF Alec Burleson, INF Matt Carpenter

Here we go! I teased some of the changes I'd make in the intro, but when the Cardinals are fully healthy, this is what I believe would maximize their offense and defense any given day, while also catering to the reality that they are not going to get rid of Carpenter any time soon.

Let's start with the lineup itself, and I'll address different roster changes as they come up in my line of thinking.

This is, for the most part, the lineup many of us envisioned they would have on Opening Day, so it's not necessarily groundbreaking (although who they are carrying on the bench and the lineup vs. left-handed pitching may surprise you).

Leading off here is Brendan Donovan, who is clearly the Cardinals' best lead-off option against right-handed pitching (you can see my in-depth breakdown here). Donovan is an elite on-base guy who continues to develop more power, and you want that kind of guy consistently getting on base in front of your heavy hitters (and following up and exciting bottom of the order).

Following up Donovan is the gauntlet of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman, Nolan Arenado, Willson Contreras, Lars Nootbaar, and Jordan Walker, the order of which I could see shifting throughout the season. There's a real argument for any of those guys to bat any place in that order, with Walker being someone we could see cement himself as a middle-of-the-order bat in the very near future.

Rounding out the order would be the two rookies of the roster, Masyn Winn and Victor Scott II, both of whom the Cardinals should not have high expectations for offensively this year, but have the potential to wreak havoc with the speed they possess. Getting close to league-average production from either offensively would be a huge win, but especially in the case of Scott, his speed will create massive problems for opposing pitchers as they face the top of the lineup again.

Let's talk about the defense though. First, construction gives the Cardinals plus-plus defenders at three positions in their lineup - third base, shortstop, and center field. Having defenders like Arenado, Winn, and Scott behind this pitching staff will go a long way toward run prevention. From there, guys like Goldschmidt and Nootbaar are good defenders, with an arguement to be had that Goldschmidt still may be a borderline Gold Glover at first base.

Gorman was only slightly below league average defensively last year, a major improvement from his really bad 2022 season. The Cardinals are hoping for a similar step of improvement from Walker this year, with Gorman potentially being league-average. Donovan is the placeholder designated hitter here, but there's a good chance he plays in the field almost every day, filling in at second base, third base, first base, and the corner outfield spots.

Contreras is a bit of a wild card here, as it seems like he's made some strides defensively this offseason, and we'll likely see a lot of Ivan Herrera behind the plate as well.

The two things you may notice here are Tommy Edman is on the bench and Dylan Carlson is not on the roster. I'll address Carlson briefly here and more extensively in the next slide, but if Carpenter was not on the roster, I'd certainly have Carlson on the bench. Again, it's extremely unlikely that the Cardinals cut ties with Carpenter, so I'm not going to do that here.

In the case of Edman, he is a very valuable player, and it's true that the Cardinals just handed him a two-year extension to buy out the remaining years of arbitration. What's also true is that long-term, he's the second-best shortstop behind Winn, third-best option for second base behind Gorman and Donovan, and second-best center field option behind Scott. If Scott begins the year in St. Louis and flourishes, then I think it relegates Edman to a reserve role.

Now, I do think Edman would play often, as he would be the primary backup at shortstop, second base, and in the outfield, and could be used as a defensive substitute as well. Edman almost becomes an overqualified utility man, with Burleson getting less playing time as a result and Carpenter virtually having no time in the field.

Part of the reason we can even have this conversation right now is because of Edman's health. The fact that he's likely out Opening Day, and potentially not even back until May or later, means that by the time he's ready to play, the team may be gelling and he might be without a clear starting role, at least against right-handed pitching.

In short, this lineup maximizes the offensive potential of this team while also creating one of the best defensive alignments possible, with a guy like Edman who can plug in with excellent defense anywhere off of the bench. Where I really think we see the club maximize its defense is against left-handed pitching though.