When the St. Louis Cardinals arrived in Jupiter, Florida in 2023, the theme of camp seemed to revolve around competition.
This was especially true since so many players were gone for the World Baseball Classic. Two outfield spots were up for grabs, Paul DeJong was fighting for a spot on the roster, the bullpen had multiple arms vying for roles, and two second-year studs were trying to earn the second base job - Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan.
While most of the Cardinals' starting spots are set in stone for 2024, the second base job is up for grabs once again, according to President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and manager Oliver Marmol.
While many, including myself, read this quote and thought to themselves "That kind of sounds like Marmol is leaving the door open for moving one of Gorman or Donovan before Spring Training", it for sure indicates that the Cardinals are open to either guy winning the job the spring.
There are a lot of factors at play that will weigh into this decision. First and foremost will be their performance on the field. Who's showing they have the best chops defensively at the position? How are both of them performing at the plate? The head-to-head competition will play a large role in this decision, as it should. Here is how the two stacked up defensively at second base last year:
Gorman (579.2 innings)
Donovan (262.0 innings)
But there are also a number of other factors at play, including how the rest of the Cardinals' roster will stack up. If Masyn Winn struggles at shortstop, the outfield may become a lot murkier, and Donovan could end up seeing more time out there. If injuries happen, Gorman or Donovan may need to slide around to make up for them. But even if all goes according to plan, there's some roster flexibility questions that come with having either Gorman or Donovan as the primary second baseman.
Primary is the keyword here. Both guys will see time at second base, regardless of how this competition goes. But with how much the Cardinals' defense struggled in 2023, finding consistency for players at positions could go a long way to getting guys comfortable in the positions they play and stabilizing the defense. Second base is no exception.
Consistency is where I could see this argument leaning toward Gorman as the primary second baseman, and Donovan being the placeholder designated hitter most days. Donovan's ability to slot in at five different defensive positions on any given day is too valuable to downplay for him as the primary second baseman. If it's close between him and Gorman for who is the primary second baseman, I'd lean toward Gorman and allow Donovan to bounce around the field on any given day.
On the other hand, Gorman's long-term health could lead the Cardinals to slot him in at DH more often than he's at second base. Gorman's back issues are a real concern, and if they continue to force injured list stints for him or cause him to be compromised for stretches, the Cardinals may want him to DH on a regular basis to take stress off of his back.
I tend to downplay this next thought, but it's a real thing. Donovan himself is coming off major elbow surgery, and although the Cardinals expect him to be ready to roll come spring, it certainly could impact his ability in 2024, or at least at the beginning, and that could cause him to need to slot in at DH more often as well.
All of these things will factor into this competition for Gorman and Donovan, assuming both guys are still on the roster this spring. My guess, barring injury, is that Gorman slots in as the primary second baseman, giving the Cardinals flexibility each day with Donovan, and allowing Gorman to get more and more comfortable playing the position that he took major strides playing last year.