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Offseason Outlook: St. Louis Cardinals


Along with this publish, Anthony Franco will maintain a Cardinals-centric chat on 10-20-22 at 2:30 pm CST. Click on right here to go away a query upfront or take part within the dwell chat.

The Cardinals are contemporary off a fourth straight postseason look, however they’ve did not advance to a Division Sequence in every of the final three years. They’ll presumably attempt to run issues again with as a lot continuity as doable given their common season success, however they’ll accomplish that with out two franchise icons who had way back introduced that 2022 could be their closing seasons.

Assured Contracts

  • Nolan Arenado, 3B: $144MM by 2027 (Arenado can choose out this offseason; Rockies owe Cardinals $16MM in 2023 no matter Arenado’s determination, Colorado would owe an extra $5MM yearly by 2025 if he declines to choose out)
  • Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: $52MM by 2024
  • Steven Matz, LHP: $35.5MM by 2025
  • Miles Mikolas, RHP: $17MM by 2023
  • Paul DeJong, SS: $11MM by 2023 (together with buyout of 2024 membership possibility)
  • Giovanny Gallegos, RHP: $11MM by 2024 (together with buyout of 2025 membership possibility)
  • Drew VerHagen, RHP: $3MM

Whole 2023 commitments: $84.5MM if Arenado doesn’t choose out, $54.5MM if Arenado opts out (factoring in Rockies’ funds)
Whole future commitments: $242.5MM if Arenado doesn’t choose out, $113.5MM if Arenado opts out

Arbitration-Eligible Gamers (service time in parenthesis, projections through Matt Swartz)

Whole arbitration projections: $39.85MM

Non-tender candidates: Stratton, Reyes, Hudson, Cabrera

Free Brokers

The Cardinals outlasted the Brewers with a wonderful second half, claiming an NL Central title after two straight Wild Card berths. St. Louis’ 93 wins weren’t sufficient to safe a first-round bye within the new playoff format, nevertheless, leaving the Playing cards to match up in opposition to the Phillies in a three-game Wild Card set. Philadelphia got here again from a ninth-inning deficit in Recreation One and went on to comb the collection, beginning the St. Louis offseason sooner than the group had hoped.

The Cardinals have had a string of early playoff exits lately, however they’ve constantly been one of many sport’s most profitable common season groups. They’ve earned 4 straight playoff berths and haven’t had a below-average report in 15 years. It’s a exceptional run of consistency, anchored by one of many longer-tenured entrance workplace regimes and some iconic presences on the roster. The entrance workplace tandem of president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and normal supervisor Mike Girsch will likely be again, with Girsch inking a multi-year extension final week and Mozeliak already underneath contract. But the Playing cards should flip the web page from Yadier Molina and, after a shocking resurgent return season in St. Louis that noticed him eclipse 700 profession residence runs, Albert Pujols.

Molina and Pujols introduced earlier than the 2022 season even started that it’d be their closing runs. Adam Wainwright has made no such declaration, taking part in issues a lot nearer to the vest. The 41-year-old has been a fixture on the St. Louis roster for practically 20 years. He’s a free agent once more, and whereas it’s inconceivable to ascertain him taking part in wherever else, Wainwright has but to declare whether or not he plans to proceed pitching. If he desires to return, there’s no query the Playing cards would carve out a rotation spot but once more. He’s coming off one other profitable yr, posting a 3.71 ERA over 191 2/3 innings. He and the Redbirds agreed to a $17.5MM extension final offseason, and it’s simple to ascertain one other one-year deal in that vary.

Wainwright advised reporters after the season we’d “know fairly quickly” whether or not he was returning, teasing that he was already conscious of his determination (hyperlink through Derrick Goold of the Publish-Dispatch). That doesn’t appear more likely to drag too deep into the offseason, whereas the Cardinals greatest query needs to be made inside 5 days of the conclusion of the World Sequence. Nolan Arenado is coming off arguably the most effective season of his profession, one which ought to see him compete with nook infield mate Paul Goldschmidt for MVP help. He’ll have the chance to choose out of the ultimate 5 years and $144MM on his contract at the beginning of the offseason.

Arenado forewent an opt-out probability final yr, telling Goold it “was all the time the plan” to remain in St. Louis long-term at the moment. The seven-time All-Star was coming off a relative down season in 2021, nevertheless, and it wasn’t clear he’d have topped the six years and $179MM remaining on his deal at that time. After this yr’s unbelievable exhibiting on either side of the ball, he’d actually beat $144MM as a free agent if his primary precedence had been to maximise his earnings. Freddie Freeman obtained a six-year, $162MM deal (albeit with deferrals that knocked down its internet current worth) heading into his age-32 season coming off a much less spectacular platform yr. Arenado would determine to prime that mark had been he a free agent.

The nine-time Gold Glover hasn’t tipped his hand this time round, however he’s constantly maintained his love for each St. Louis and the Cardinals group. After the Playing cards had been eradicated, he reiterated to reporters he’s “actually liked it right here” and added “hopefully we will determine (the contract) out” (via Brenden Schaeffer of KMOV).

It’s actually doable Arenado decides to not pursue his biggest incomes potential and sticks with a corporation with which he’s clearly blissful. That would take the type of simply opting in to his current deal or perhaps a preemptive contract restructure. Arenado is slated to make simply $15MM within the closing season of his present deal. If St. Louis agreed to make his 2027 wage extra commensurate with the $32.25MM common annual worth of the deal’s subsequent 4 years, maybe that’d strike a stability between rewarding his glorious season whereas preserving continuity.

The Cardinals have loads of respiration room financially to transform Arenado’s deal if essential. Based on the Related Press, the Rockies will owe the Playing cards $16MM subsequent season no matter Arenado’s opt-out determination, as agreed upon within the 2021 commerce that despatched him to St. Louis. Colorado would ship an extra $5MM yearly by 2025 if Arenado declines to choose out. With the Rox on the hook for such a notable portion of subsequent yr’s wage, the Cardinals would solely have roughly $54.5MM in assured commitments (subtracting the cash they’d obtain from Colorado) if Arenado opts out.

They’re more likely to allocate one other $35-40MM to a loaded arbitration class, however that’d nonetheless go away them with lower than $100MM in participant expenditures. St. Louis has opened the previous two seasons with a participant payroll north of $150MM, so they may completely accommodate a hefty Arenado deal subsequent yr. Solely Goldschmidt ($26MM), Steven Matz ($12.5MM) and Giovanny Gallegos ($5.5MM) are on assured offers by 2024, so there shouldn’t be a lot long-term concern about maintaining Arenado round.

That’s additionally true as a result of the Playing cards will retain a lot of their remaining roster. Goldschmidt will likely be again at first base, whereas Tommy Edman is arbitration-eligible for 3 extra seasons to take one center infield spot. Edman is a good hitter and one of many sport’s finest defenders at both second base or shortstop. He’ll actually be within the lineup at a type of spots for supervisor Oliver Marmol, however there’s at the very least an opportunity for the Cardinals to look exterior the group for center infield assist.

St. Louis sat out a loaded free agent shortstop class final offseason, relying on Paul DeJong to return to kind offensively. He didn’t, hitting a career-worst .157/.245/.286 over 237 MLB plate appearances. The Cardinals optioned him to Triple-A halfway by the yr, and whereas he carried out pretty properly there, he didn’t carry that over after returning to the majors for the season’s closing two months. With $11MM remaining on his contract, taking the type of a $9MM 2023 wage and a $2MM buyout on a ’24 membership possibility, DeJong will likely be powerful to maneuver. Perhaps the Cardinals take into account a swap of undesirable offers for a place of higher want — speculatively talking, a take care of the Angels involving catcher Max Stassi may match up financially whereas making sense with every group’s roster outlook — nevertheless it’s additionally doable St. Louis simply releases DeJong and eats the cash. On the very least, his streak of 5 straight Opening Day begins at shortstop will come to an finish.

There’s once more a loaded shortstop class in free company, with Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts locks to choose out of their present offers and be part of Dansby Swanson and Trea Turner. The Cardinals long-term monetary flexibility means they may plausibly kick the tires on that group. Nevertheless, signing one of many prime shortstops could be out of character for a corporation that has solely as soon as gone past $100MM on a free agent contract (seven years and $120MM to retain Matt Holliday in 2009-10) and has by no means signed a participant for greater than $130MM. Correa and Turner would shatter the franchise report outlay, and Bogaerts and Swanson shouldn’t have a lot hassle topping that determine themselves.

If Arenado opts out and indicators elsewhere, a run on the prime free agent shortstops would seem extra life like. If he stays, then the Playing cards may look to commerce prospects just like the Guardians’ Amed Rosario or keep on with Edman at shortstop whereas giving second base to a mixture of Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan. Gorman is a former first-rounder and prime prospect; he has large energy however notable strikeout points and isn’t a super match within the center infield. Donovan was a much less heralded prospect however completed seventh within the majors (minimal 400 plate appearances) with a .394 on-base share as a rookie. He labored in a bat-first utility position and is probably not a fantastic defender on the keystone both, however he seems just like the type of glorious contact hitter the Cardinals have excelled at creating over time.

There’s not an enormous want for an overhaul within the outfield. Corey Dickerson will in all probability stroll in free company, leaving the Playing cards with a bunch of Tyler O’NeillDylan CarlsonLars NootbaarJuan Yepez and breakout prospect Alec Burleson. Buying and selling Harrison Bader at this previous deadline subtracted an elite defender from the combination, however Carlson rated properly in his half-season of heart subject work. The Cardinals appear dedicated to him as a franchise heart fielder, and the others give them a balanced group of nook outfield/designated hitter choices from which to decide on. O’Neill had a down yr after a standout 2021 marketing campaign, however Nootbaar took a step ahead and appears like a possible on a regular basis participant. Maybe the Cardinals search for a glove-first backup to improve over Ben DeLuzio in a bench position, however this doesn’t appear like a spot for a giant funding.

That’d be notably true if Arenado sticks round, since he’d lock down third base for the lengthy haul. 2020 first-rounder Jordan Walker has blossomed into one of many sport’s prime prospects as a possible influence energy bat and is contemporary off a .306/.388/.510 exhibiting as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’s performed primarily third base within the minors however has gotten rising work within the nook outfield. If Arenado and Goldschmidt are underneath contract for the subsequent two-plus seasons, the nook outfield/DH is the simplest path to at-bats for Walker as soon as he’s prepared, which may very well be as quickly as the center of subsequent season.

The place the Cardinals might want to tackle from exterior the group is catcher. For the primary time in virtually 20 years, it received’t be Molina’s job. Andrew Knizner hasn’t proven himself able to being Molina’s inheritor obvious as as soon as hoped. He may stick round in a backup position, however he shouldn’t be anticipated to imagine the #1 job. Prospect Iván Herrera hit .268/.374/.396 in 65 Triple-A video games at age 22, incomes a really transient huge league look within the course of. He’s a possible long-term possibility, nevertheless it’d in all probability be too dangerous to depend on him as the highest catcher for a win-now 2023 group.

Free company doesn’t provide many apparent options. Longtime division rival Willson Contreras is the standout on the place. The Cardinals are a viable suitor for Contreras, however he’s extra of a bat-first participant and could be an atypical match for a corporation that has positioned such a powerful premium on protection. Signing Contreras, who’ll obtain a qualifying provide, would additionally require forfeiting an beginner draft alternative. Aside from Contreras, Christian Vázquez stands out as the solely free agent backstop who’s a lock to land an everyday job, whereas Austin Hedges and Mike Zunino may very well be glove-first stopgaps to Herrera. The A’s Sean Murphy, who’s projected for a $3.5MM arbitration wage and controllable by 2025, could be the prize of the commerce market on the place. If the Cardinals had been inclined to make a splash, it’s simple to ascertain the A’s having curiosity in huge league prepared gamers like Gorman and Burleson.

St. Louis may poke across the commerce marketplace for controllable beginning pitching as properly, though they received’t enter the offseason with as urgent a rotation want as most groups. Miles Mikolas is underneath contract for an extra season, whereas deadline pickup Jordan Montgomery will likely be again for his closing yr of arbitration. St. Louis signed Matz to a four-year free agent deal final winter. Accidents contributed to a tough first season, however he’ll get an opportunity to bounce again. Wainwright would clearly have a rotation spot if he desires to return.

There’s a little bit of uncertainty on the again finish, however the Cardinals have choices. Jack Flaherty has proven top-of-the-rotation potential up to now and is eligible for arbitration a closing time. He’s misplaced a lot of the previous yr and a half to shoulder points, however he’ll actually be tendered a contract with a comparatively modest projected $5.1MM arbitration wage. It’s doable Mozeliak and his employees gauge the commerce market on Flaherty, however he wouldn’t garner an enormous return and appears likelier to be on the Playing cards roster come Opening Day. If wholesome, he figures to have a rotation spot.

There’s sufficient uncertainty with Flaherty and Matz the Cardinals may search for a depth possibility on the again finish. Midseason commerce pickup José Quintana pitched properly sufficient down the stretch St. Louis tabbed him because the Recreation One starter for his or her Wild Card collection. He’ll be a free agent and should have pitched himself past the Playing cards’ consolation vary financially, however there’s a deep free agent market of innings-eating beginning pitchers this winter. Gamers like Michael WachaDrew Smyly or Kyle Gibson determine to land inexpensive one or two-year contracts.

Including one other starter, notably if Wainwright does go for retirement, would have the additional advantage of permitting St. Louis to pencil Andre Pallante into the bullpen. He labored as a swingman as a rookie and was a useful ground-ball specialist. He’s an inner rotation possibility however may match higher in multi-inning reduction. That’s additionally true of Dakota Hudson, who struggled sufficient as a starter he was optioned again to Triple-A late within the yr. With a projected $2.7MM arb wage, Hudson is also traded for a minimal return or simply lower free altogether.

On the again finish of the bullpen, flamethrowing Ryan Helsley has damaged out as one the sport’s finest relievers. The ever-consistent Gallegos joins him as a high-leverage possibility, and he was rewarded with a late-season two-year extension. Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes have been inconsistent, largely attributable to accidents, however they’ve proven the potential to be high-leverage relievers at their finest. Reyes missed all of 2022 and may very well be non-tendered, however the Playing cards may roll the cube on a $2.85MM wage relying on his restoration from Might shoulder surgical procedure. Chris Stratton came visiting from the Pirates within the Quintana deal and will think about as properly, though a projected $3.5MM wage is perhaps wealthy for a participant who didn’t make the group’s playoff roster.

There’s a little bit of uncertainty from the left aspect, however the Playing cards once more have choices. Packy Naughton and former first-rounder Zack Thompson had been serviceable. Génesis Cabrera had a brutal 2022 season however is just projected for a $1.2MM arbitration wage. He nonetheless throws within the mid-upper 90s and has taken high-leverage innings up to now. There’s room for an additional left-handed arm, notably if the Playing cards transfer on from Cabrera, however including there seems like extra of a luxurious than a necessity.

That’s true for a lot of the roster, which boasts just a few star gamers and the Cardinals’ typical stockpile of depth. All eyes in St. Louis early within the offseason will likely be on Arenado. If he opts out and surprisingly indicators with a special group, the Playing cards may discover themselves in place for main turnover. If he stays in St. Louis, as most anticipate he’ll, the offseason figures to be primarily about preserving continuity — though they’ll must make a change at catcher for the primary time in 20 years regardless.


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