The St. Louis Cardinals are hoping for a drastic turnaround in all facets of the game in 2024, as the team and front office appeared fractured at times last season. At the center of much of the commotion was the team's starting catcher, Willson Contreras.
Amid controversies such as the front office temporarily removing Contreras from behind the plate early in the season and former Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty expressing frustration that the whole staff was "throwing pitches that don't make sense," a remark Flaherty has since attempted to rectify, Contreras often appeared to be the scapegoat for the team's collapse. During the 2024 winter warmups, Contreras spoke to the media about how the Cardinals need to take responsibility for what they say and do next season.
"What's important is that everyone owns his responsibilities, because we're men, we're grown men, and we know what to do and when we're doing bad things or good things," said Contreras. "So that's going to be the key this year: having ownership of what you do and your actions."
Contreras handled the Cardinals' treatment of him as professionally as possible last season, but he made sure to point out in the interview that having experienced pitchers on the staff such as Sonny Gray, Miles Mikolas and Lance Lynn would help the team overall, providing further speculation that Contreras and the then-27-year-old Flaherty might have been at odds.
When Contreras isn't behind the plate, he will likely give way to Ivan Herrera, whom Contreras deemed the most improved player maturity-wise in 2023.
"When I met Ivan last year, he was kind of funny, and he was kind of distracted from baseball," said Contreras. "But when he got called up last year, he was a totally different guy, and it really surprised me."
Contreras' comments about Herrera could shed some light on why the Cardinals seem to have been slow and deliberate in their handling of Herrera over the years. If Herrera has now fully committed himself to the game, his brief but impressive stint with the Cardinals last season could be something he builds upon further.
Contreras said that being a mentor to the young Herrera will put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, but he said he likes a challenge. With Yadier Molina now back in the organization, Herrera should receive top-tier mentorship from two veterans of the position.
The Cardinals will need better communication across all levels of the organization to prevent a repeat of the fiasco in 2023, and with the team now one year removed from the shock of Molina's absence behind the plate and more in tune with what Contreras can provide, the catcher seems to believe that the Cardinals are more prepared for what lies ahead.