2023 MLB Season Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Image: Jeff Roberson/AP

2022 Record: 93-69 (.574 win%, 1st in NL Central)

2023 Payroll: 147,704,168 (16th)

2023 Projected Lineup:

1. SS Tommy Edman, .264 AVG/.319 OBP/.396 SLG, 3.6 fWAR

2. CF Tyler O’Neill, .243 AVG/.314 OBP/.443 SLG, 2.9 fWAR

3. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, .273 AVG/.358 OBP/.482 SLG, 4.3 fWAR

4. 3B Nolan Arenado, .269 AVG/.332 OBP/.480 SLG, 5.2 fWAR

5. C Willson Contreras, .239 AVG/.331 OBP/.426 SLG, 3.1 fWAR

6. LF Lars Nootbaar, .246 AVG/.341 OBP/.435 SLG, 2.7 fWAR

7. DH Jordan Walker, .248 AVG/.306 OBP/.394 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

8. 2B Brendan Donovan, .268 AVG/.359 OBP/.382 SLG, 2.4 fWAR

9. RF Dylan Carlson, .253 AVG/.333 OBP/.413 SLG, 2.4 fWAR

10. IF UTL Nolan Gorman, .235 AVG/.294 OBP/.420 SLG, 1.2 fWAR

2023 Projected Starting Rotation:

1. Jordan Montgomery, 176.0 IP/3.67 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR

2. Miles Mikolas, 191.0 IP/4.09 ERA/1.27 WHIP, 2.1 fWAR

3. Steven Matz, 126.0 IP/3.77 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR

4. Adam Wainwright, 167.0 IP/4.35 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

5. Jack Flaherty, 144.0 IP/4.12 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:

1. Ryan Helsley, 68.0 IP/3.06 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR

2. Jordan Hicks, 62.0 IP/3.21 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

3. Giovanny Gallegos, 66.0 IP/3.58 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

4. Andre Pallante, 70.0 IP/3.68 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

What Baseball Means to St. Louis

Everything. Whether it’s a TV viewer or radio listener, casual fan or analytical superfan, local fan or out-of-towner, newspaper reader or active Cardinals Twitter user, they all have one quality in common: They truly care about the team. They’re invested in winning, and will come back the next year just as hopeful if it doesn’t work out. 

This fanbase is still going strong, and the traditions surrounding the franchise and the “Cardinal way” are still being carried along with it. It’s no surprise that the Cardinals finished first in local TV ratings among all MLB teams, and second in home attendance behind only the Dodgers. Here’s to hoping that the fanbase again gets the result it deserves.

2022 Offseason Recap:

The Cardinals lost cornerstones DH Albert Pujols and C Yadier Molina to retirement along with departing free agents SP Jose Quintana, DH Corey Dickerson, and RP Alex Reyes. To assess these losses, the Cardinals signed C Willson Contreras and RP Anthony Misiewicz, who was optioned to the minors. The expectation is that young guys like IF Nolan Gorman, and rookie DH/OF Jordan Walker along with the return of SP Jack Flaherty and SP Steven Matz will fill in for lost pieces.

On a note unrelated to roster construction, the team also moved on from long time TV broadcaster Dan McLaughlin, who had been calling games since 2000. This means the sound of Cardinals baseball on Bally Sports will be much different in 2023 as Chip Caray becomes the new play-by-play announcer.

2023 Regular Season Preview:

The position player torch has been passed. This will be the first season since 2004 where the Cardinals will be competing for a championship without the help of Yadier Molina. Luckily, his replacement can swing the bat. 

It is time to get familiar with the faces in the 2023 lineup because they will be around a while. The only 3 everyday players above the age of 27 are superstars Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras. The lineup is not only young, but incredibly talented. There is not a single player in the lineup projected with a below average wRC+. 

Fangraphs expects the offense to be eighth in runs scored, and I believe even that is a pessimistic projection. Offseason improvements amongst the young players have begun to reveal themselves throughout Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic, and if these translate, I guarantee you this offense will finish top five in baseball.

Specifically, Brendan Donovan developed a home-run stroke, Lars Nootbaar set an exit velocity PR in batting practice, and Dylan Carlson put on 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Nootbaar also gained over half a million Japanese followers and drove in a crucial run against the US en route to a WBC championship. 

Both Nootbaar and Donovan already hit well above average last season, so any improvement takes the team as a whole to another level. Willson Contreras will be a massive positional upgrade on the offensive side of the ball, going from a positional 61 wRC+ in 2022 to Contreras, who had a 132 wRC+ last season. 

Rule changes limiting pickoff attempts, forcing pitchers to deliver, and increasing the size of bases will allow Tommy Edman and Tyler O’Neill to further exploit their speed. If Edman and O’Neill hit 1st and 2nd as they are projected to, their on-base skills and base stealing could create a frightening threat at the top of the order before opponents have to pitch to Goldschmidt, Arenado, and Contreras. This could also apply at the bottom of the order before it turns around to Donovan and Nootbaar at 1 and 2 if that’s the direction Marmol goes.

The combination of all of these factors, the potential for Nolan Gorman to better adjust to major league offspeed pitches, and the debut of young stud Jordan Walker makes this offense the deepest and most hyped in St. Louis in years. 

The much bigger questions surrounding the Cardinals’ chances of contending this season come from the side of the ball where the torch hasn’t yet been passed: pitching. Beginning with the starting rotation, Adam Wainwright looks to go out on top in his final season. He will miss the first few weeks after suffering a groin injury during the WBC, but is expected to be the same consistent innings-eater that he has been for the last few years while providing some final great memories with the team. 

Miles Mikolas has taken over as the #1 on the roster, signing a 2-year, $40 million extension this week after a stellar 2022, and has been named the Opening Day starter. Despite Steamer projecting Mikolas all the way up at a 4.09 ERA, I believe this deal will pay off and Mikolas will outperform this projection based on his consistency last season. 

Jordan Montgomery will look to continue to perform well in St. Louis and set up his future in a contract year. To round out the rotation, Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz will finally make their returns from injury, and it is very difficult to tell how they will perform after such long IL stints.

In the bullpen, it will look mostly the same as last season. Ryan Helsley will return as the closer in 2023, and will look to have another excellent season after a 19 save, 1.25 ERA performance in 2022. 

Flamethrower Jordan Hicks will hit triple digits on the gun again this season (has already hit 105 in Spring), and hopefully will stay healthy for a full season of consistent appearances for the first time since 2018. Giovanny Gallegos, Andre Pallante, Zack Thompson, and a cast of average relievers will fill out the roster. 

Given that this was a bullpen that was setting records with how many batters they walked just 2 seasons ago and the offense has dramatically improved, an average to above average bullpen is not something to frown upon. It does not appear to be nearly the weakness it was then and could withstand a postseason run without being the reason for elimination.

Player to Watch #1: 3B Nolan Arenado

After his sixth consecutive Platinum Glove Award and finishing third in MVP voting in 2022, Arenado is back for more in 2023. His defense has been on full display throughout the WBC, and you can expect highlights like that all year. Pair his dazzling glove with a 154 OPS+ in 2022, and you can understand why Arenado is the flashier of the Cardinals MVP contending corner infielders and the star player to watch this season.

Player to Watch #2: OF Jordan Walker

Twenty year-old rookie Jordan Walker has slugged over .500 across every professional season he has played, and has maintained this consistency during Spring Training. Despite being drafted as an infielder, Walker will get opportunities both in the outfield and at DH, could be a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year, and has drawn comparisons as lofty as Pujols because he looks so skilled at such a young age. Look for Walker to continue raking as he gets his chance with the big league roster. 

Player to Watch #3: 2B Brendan Donovan

Brendan Donovan has received a lot of praise for bringing an old school mentality and a new-age skill set to the Cardinals. He is willing to play any position, hit the ball where defenders aren’t, and even developed a power stroke during the offseason. After only hitting five HRs in 468 PAs in 2022, Donovan has hit four HRs in his first 48 PAs in Spring Training for 2023. Combine this new power stroke with his .394 OBP and his Gold Glove defense from 2022, and we could be looking at a frighteningly good player in 2023.

Position Group to Watch: Outfielders

Every outfield candidate for the Cardinals this season has been hit-or-miss in recent seasons. Dylan Carlson had a standout 2021 season, finishing 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting with a 115 OPS+ and a 3.3 bWAR. Carlson failed to repeat it, however, hitting league-average in 2022 with 2.0 bWAR. 

A similar story applies to Tyler O’Neill, who went from 6.3 bWAR in 2021 to just 1.3 in 96 games in 2022. Lars Nootbaar trended in the other direction, improving from league-average hitting in 2021 to 126 OPS+ and 2.1 bWAR in 2022. Since each of O’Neill and Carlson were injured at points in 2022 and Nootbaar’s role was still expanding, it appears any of these guys could range from league average to excellent across a full season. 

Add pressure from Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman at DH to the mix, and we could see an impossible managerial decision present itself if nobody stands out.

2023 Record Prediction: 91-71

After losing Pujols, Molina, and Quintana, but adding Willson Contreras and likely having a more complete season from Jack Flaherty, the roster did not get substantially better or worse. An optimistic fan could hope for a lot out of Jordan Walker, Brendan Donovan, and a healthy season for the entire roster, which could add to the win total. Taking into account the Wainwright injury and the length of the season, I am not so hopeful. 

The rest of the NL Central did not get much stronger or weaker overall, but the Cardinals will not get to play as many games against the division this season. After going 48-28 (.632) against the Central in 2022 and 45-41 (.523) outside of it, the Cardinals will only play 52 games against their division rivals this season. 

As a result, there is little reason to expect a dramatic positive difference in win total from last season. I still fully expect 91 wins to be enough for the Cardinals to win the Central and get another shot at a Postseason run.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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