2020 Season Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

St Louis Cardinals
By Joshua Gershoff

2019 Record: 91-71 (1st in NL Central)

2019 Payroll: $174,317,164

(Lineup and Rotation from Rotochamp, Projected Stats from Steamer)

Projected 2020 Lineup:

2B Kolten Wong, .267 AVG/.347 OBP/.409 SLG, 2.3 WAR

3B Matt Carpenter, .257 AVG/.352 OBP/.442 SLG, 2.1 WAR

1B Paul Goldschmidt, .273 AVG/.369 OBP/.495 SLG, 3.4 WAR

SS Paul DeJong, .253 AVG/.322 OBP/.465 SLG, 3.5 WAR

C Yadier Molina, .263 AVG/.311 OBP/.411 SLG, 1.8 WAR

RF Dexter Fowler, .235 AVG/.336 OBP/.399 SLG, 0.7 WAR

LF Tommy Edman, .275 AVG/.322 OBP/.421 SLG, 1.3 WAR

CF Harrison Bader, .238 AVG/.318 OBP/.408 SLG, 1.6 WAR

Projected 2020 Rotation

RHP Jack Flaherty, 192 IP/3.59 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 4.1 WAR

RHP Carlos Martinez, 158 IP/4.23 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 1.9 WAR

RHP Dakota Hudson, 169 IP/4.52 ERA/1.50 WHIP, 1.5 WAR

RHP Adam Wainwright, 156 IP/4.45 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.7 WAR

RHP Miles Mikolas*, 113 IP/4.19 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 1.6 WAR

LHP Kwang-Hyun Kym, 86 IP/3.97 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 1.3 WAR

*Likely to start the year on IL

Offseason Recap

In Mike Shildt’s first full season as skipper, the Cardinals broke the “eternal” playoff drought of three years and finally returned to the postseason. In a three-way, season-long race for the division, the redbirds began to pull away late in the season thanks to Jack Flaherty’s unearthly second half. This run included an absolute drubbing of the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, but ultimately the team did not have what it takes as they were swept in embarrassing fashion by the eventual champion Nationals. 

Being that they were oh-so-close to the Fall Classic with some aging veterans with only so much left to give such as Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, you would think John Mozeliak and Co. would act on the great season and add to the team, putting them in a better position to win now. However, their greatest free agent signing was South Korean Kwang-Hyun Kim, who was named the top pitcher in the KBO last year. The Cardinals hope that the 31-year-old can match what Miles Mikolas did in his first season back in America and that Kim can slide into a rotation slot as the sole lefty sooner rather than later. The other noteworthy offseason transaction was the trade of Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay in exchange for young stud Matthew Liberatore. Initially thought to be trade bait for Nolan Arenado, it now seems that Liberatore is indeed in the Cardinals’ future plans.

As for the losses, the biggest name to depart was Marcell Ozuna. While Marcell never came close to matching what he put up in Miami, he was still the team’s biggest power threat and run producer. Without him, the Cardinals lack power, a common theme for the team since 2011. Another big departure was the bat of Jose Martinez via trade. While he could not play the field for the life of him, he was one of the best hitters in the game and his bat off the bench will be missed. The Cardinals offense has held the team back in the past and the FO did nothing to address it, likely meaning it will continue to.

2020 Season Preview

The NL Central is seen as a two-team race between the Cardinals and Reds, with the Brewers and Cubs also having an outside shot. Many see the Reds as the favorites, with their stellar rotation and the additions of Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos. It will be a tight battle, but it’s hard not to expect the reigning division champ to repeat.

The biggest issue the team faces this year is once again offense. Ever since Albert Pujols left, they have lacked a middle-of-the-order power bat. It was originally Stephen Piscotty who was supposed to fill that role, but he is gone. Then it was Marcell Ozuna, and now he is gone. Now, it is supposed to be Paul Goldschmidt. Him bouncing back this year will go a long way towards the Cardinals’ success. Having Ozuna last year made his down year somewhat acceptable but without that additional run producer, the Cardinals need Goldy to produce like someone making $25 million a year. 

The progression of Paul DeJong is also a huge factor. Last April, he looked like one of the best players in the league, tearing it up on offense and defense and hitting over .340. DeJong needs to be consistent throughout the entire year, and if he can put up season-long numbers like he does when he plays the Mets, he becomes a huge protective piece for Goldschmidt. DeJong taking another step forward is a necessity for the team. The same goes for many other young hitters. Bader needs to play like he did in his rookie year when he put up double the WAR he did last year. Kolten Wong put up career numbers last year with a 108 wRC+. Couple another year of progression along with his Gold Glove defense and he could be one of the best players on the team. Outfielder Tommy Edman flashed some amazing potential last year, but it was obvious that he was still a little raw. A full season in the majors should allow him to be a productive bottom-of-the-order bat. Lastly, at this point in his career you know what you are getting out of Yadi. Barring a catastrophic downfall, he should be a decently productive piece. Even if he drops off, Matt Wieters is a more than capable backup option.

The past couple years the Cardinals bench had Jose Martinez, the best pinch hitter in the league as a weapon. With his, along with Arozarena’s, departure, they lose a little depth. This loss of depth is especially felt since they didn’t replace them at all with any hitters. The biggest bench bat is now Tyler O’Neill, the power hitting outfielder. He, along with the team, are hoping that there is a correlation this year between bicep size and production. Along with O’Neill, they have the aforementioned Wieters and a few other options to choose from. They could go with the young catcher Andrew Knizner, Lane Thomas, Edmundo Sosa, or someone else that surprises in spring. It can also be expected for top prospect Dylan Carlson to be on the major league roster sooner or later. The outfielder has been scorching hot in spring with a slash line of .417/.533/.625 (At the time of writing).

As for the rotation, the Cardinals should have one of the best. Jack Flaherty should be one of the best pitchers in the league and the leader of this staff. Behind him is Dakota Hudson who, despite awful advanced stats last year like a 4.93 FIP and a 4.4 BB/9, put up a 3.35 ERA which turned out to be a very helpful season. The team is hoping his impending regression isn’t too steep, as he needs to step up as a number 2 with Mikolas out for the foreseeable future. Behind Hudson comes Adam Wainwright, who actually put together a very productive 2019. He’s nowhere near the ace of the staff that he had been, but he showed flashes of vintage Waino last year. If he can continue to keep churning out quality starts, he’ll be a more than capable arm and a huge asset for the redbirds. Slotting in after Waino is former staff ace Carlos Martinez. The former All-Star has been plagued by injuries in recent years but appears to be healthy and in contention for the rotation this spring. Although he was a great weapon out of the pen last year, both he and the team know his role is as a starter. It has been a while since Martinez pitched like his All-Star self, and it’s unfair to assume he’ll ever return to that form. But if he can come slightly close to that, say a mid-3 ERA from the back end of the rotation, it’s an additional weapon that the team did not have last year. With Mikolas’s injury, a hole is open in the rotation. Right now, it appears Austin Gombers is the likely replacement. Gombers has been a top quality arm in the minors, posting a 2.98 ERA in AAA. One constant strength for the redbirds in recent years is their ability to churn out quality arms from the minors. Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Daniel Ponce de Leon, John Gant, the list goes on. The Cardinals should be perfectly fine without Mikolas, as their rotation has been the strength of the team for the past several years. 

In the bullpen, the Cardinals boasted one of 2019’s best unites. The bullpen should see some improvement this year with Jordan Hicks coming back at some point. Also returning from injury (fingers crossed this time) is Alex Reyes. The former top prospect is hoping that this is the year he can stay healthy. If he can, that’s a huge addition to the team. Also joining the bullpen is Korean southpaw Kwang Hyun-Kim. The team signed him from the KBO this offseason and is hoping he can replicate what he did in Korea. However, the bullpen is likely losing Carlos Martinez. After a great time in the bullpen, Martinez is likely moving back into the rotation. Another potential loss is Andrew Miller. So far in the spring, the former Indians hero has “lost all feel for the ball.” That’s… not good. If he can’t find it soon, he’ll likely see a stint on the IL which will be a huge loss for the bullpen. Although he is nowhere near his peak form, he is still a serviceable lefty out of the pen. Finishing out the bullpen are incumbents John Gant, John Brebbia, Ryan Helsely, and closer Giovanny Gallegos, who all put up decent numbers last year.

    Last and most definitely least are Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter. Fowler is now in year 4 of a 5-year, $182.5 million contract and has done nothing to prove his worth. It’s unlikely to expect anything at all from him in his age-34 season, but hopefully he plays more like he did last year rather than in 2018. This brings me to Matt Carpenter. For those 2 months in 2018, it seemed like Carp was Barry Bonds. Personally, the only way I could ever see anyone putting those numbers up is if they knew what pitches were coming. Carp was rewarded with a 2-year, $ 37 million contract extension after his amazing 2018 and rewarded the Cardinals with 15 homers and a .392 slugging percentage. On the bright side, there is almost nowhere to go but up for him. That’s a great sign, because any improvement will only be adding to a team that made it to the NLCS last year.

    All in all, it looks like this team will be a playoff team in the second full year under Mike Shildt. They’ll have to fend off the up-and-coming Reds but until proven otherwise, the redbirds have to be the favorites to repeat in the Central. As long as the Goldschmidt bounces back and there are no more drastic injuries, this is a team well-suited to compete with anyone and can hope to advance further than they did last year, and to the World Series.

Predicted Record: 89-73

Player to Watch: RHPJack Flaherty

If there was anyone left last year who did not know who Jack Flaherty was, they do now. The young stud put up an otherworldly second-half surge last year to propel the Cardinals to the playoffs. He even picked up some mid-ballot Cy Young votes, but he won’t do that this year because he will win it. Flaherty, clearly, will regress from his second half last year but even still he’ll be near the top of the league. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs now that he is regarded as one of the game’s top young arms. If Flaherty can keep improving, he can be one of the best pitchers in the league. If he regresses a lot, the Cardinals will be in trouble.

Player to Watch: 1B Paul Goldschmidt

The Cardinals had big expectations for Goldschmidt when they traded and extended him last winter. While he did not perform poorly, he did not live up to his past performances and the expectations the Cardinals had in mind when they traded him. A .303 BABIP was much lower than any other season in his career, so maybe there was an element of bad luck in play. The cardinals are hoping that after a down year in his first with new pressure he can settle in and return to what he was in Arizona. If he can do that, it adds a whole new element to a team that was 4 wins away from the World Series. Goldschmidt bouncing back is a huge X-factor for this team.

Player to Watch: RHP Alex Reyes

Could this finally be the year where prized prospect Alex Reyes pitches in more than 12 games? Although to be fair, Reyes’ 2019 season still lasted longer than the Braves’ chances in Game 5. It feels like forever ago when Reyes was this young top prospect who was supposed to be leading the rotation. If Reyes can stay healthy, though, he can be a weapon out of the bullpen. It’s unreasonable to expect him to be anywhere close to the starting rotation this year, but a hard-throwing reliever with his skills could be a dangerous pathway to Jordan Hicks, once he returns. If Alex Reyes can finally stay healthy this year, it adds another weapon to a bullpen that surprised many in 2019.

Categories: 2020 Season Preview

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