St. Louis Cardinals Season Preview: Inactive Offseason Spells Trouble

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Few teams did less this offseason than the Cardinals, who lost outfielder Marcell Ozuna to free agency and added just two players. It was an oddly passive winter for a front office that in recent years had brought in Ozuna, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, outfielder Dexter Fowler, starter Miles Mikolas and lefty reliever Andrew Miller.

Perhaps the reason for that inertia lies in that list. While Ozuna, Goldschmidt and Mikolas all contributed last season, Fowler and Miller failed to justify their high price tags. In fact, the four best players on the NL Central champs were all drafted and developed by St. Louis: starter Jack Flaherty, second baseman Kolten Wong, shortstop Paul DeJong and utilityman Tommy Edman.

That homegrown core plays fantastic defense. Despite unimpressive strikeout and walk rates by the pitching staff, the Cards, who ranked third in defensive efficiency, allowed the second-fewest runs in the NL last season. They let the fewest runners reach base on grounders in the league, excellent support for a pitching staff that yielded the fourth-highest groundball rate. And per they had three of the
22 players who saved at least 10 outs above average: centerfielder Harrison Bader, 13; DeJong, 13; and Wong, 10.

Another farm-raised talent will help ease the loss of Ozuna: Dylan Carlson, who should arrive this summer, had 26 homers and 20 steals between Double and Triple A and projects as a plus defender in the outfield corners. For all the Cards’ magic with run prevention, though, they may be a little light on run production. Last year’s team ranked ninth in the NL in OBP and 12th in slugging. A late-career bounceback from catcher Yadier Molina or third baseman Matt Carpenter would be a huge help. — Joe Sheehan

Projected Record: 84-78, 3rd in NL Central

As usual, the Cardinals will be just good enough to stay in the playoff hunt. Unfortunately for them, they’ll be joined by at least two of their division rivals.

Key Question: Can the Cardinals Score Enough to Support Their Great Rotation?

St. Louis underperformed on offense in 2019. Paul Goldschmidt took a while to heat up with his new team, and Matt Carpenter looked nothing like the salsa slinger from the year before. Shortstop Paul DeJong, second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill have all looked good this spring, though the real revelation has been switch-hitting outfielder Dylan Carlson, their No. 2 prospect. — Matt Martell

Player Spotlight

Moving Up: Tyler O'Neill, OF

With more than 700 plate appearances freed up in the outfield, this is O’Neill’s best shot at establishing his powerful bat in the majors.

Moving Down: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

Even though he hit better in the second half, the first baseman slugged just .476, his worst mark since his rookie season, in ’11.

Watchability Ranking: A Better Game Is on–Probably

The equivalent of a partly cloudy day in late spring: decently enjoyable, but certainly not exciting, and you really should have grabbed a jacket when you had the chance, just in case. — Emma Baccellieri

Preview of the 2030 Preview

Yadier Molina, Player/Manager: Molina enters his 27th season behind the plate—and his seventh at the helm—of a hard-nosed, opportunistic Cardinals team that has been modeled in his image. It remains unconventional to have your Sunday catcher also manage the club, but the St. Louis brass stands by its long-held stance that it will keep Yadi active until it’s inarguable that he’s not only a first-ballot Hall of Famer but also the best catcher in baseball history. Strange times, these. — Craig Goldstein