If it’s OK with you, I’ll take a pass on offering a review of the CBA negotiations and the peace agreement between MLB’s owners and players. The entire process was fatiguing and frustrating, and baseball is boring enough during normal times. So why waste additional time, thought, or emotion on the tedious owners vs. players pettifoggery? Haven’t we done enough hollering? Can we try to enjoy baseball for a change?
For goodness sake, peoples … there’s going to be a 162-game baseball season! Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina will have a full opportunity to set a new MLB record for most career starts by a pitcher-catcher combination. As much as they are loved in this town, and by the fans, and for as much as they’ve done for the franchise … well, this record is a very big deal. And a few days ago, when the 2022 season was at risk, we weren’t sure if Waino and Yadi would have a chance to make history.
We can focus on the strengths and weaknesses of teams, rosters, and potential personnel moves. I don’t give a damn about the Competitive Balance Tax, or pre-arbitration bonus pool. If the players and owners are happy with their arrangement, that’s all that matters.
So let’s play ball.
And let’s talk ball.
Accordingly, I’d like to do a reset on the 2022 Cardinals. Let’s pick up from where we were just before the owners locked out the players on Dec. 2.
Where do the Cardinals stand?
What are the questions and concerns?
Stability Is A Plus: This is a team that returns many of the performers responsible for MLB’s fourth-best winning percentage (.639) after the All-Star break. And a team that had a 37–17 record for the MLB’s third-highest winning percentage over the final 54 games.
No team moves ahead with the same roster from year to year, and as they prepare for 2022 the Cardinals no longer employ Matt Carpenter, Justin Williams, and Jose Rondon on the hitting side. Lefty starter-reliever Kwang Hyun Kim has returned to South Korea to pitch in the KBO, and the Cardinals parted ways with Carlos Martinez. The Redbirds don’t have 2021 rotation stopgaps Jon Lester, J.A. Happ or Luis Garcia.
The Cardinals’ decisions to move on from Carpenter and Williams will help the offense; last season the two combined for a .165 batting average and a 32% strikeout rate. Happ and Lester provided a big boost to the rotation, but Lester has retired and Happ is 39 years old. Kim was pretty good but lacked endurance and couldn’t stay healthy. As for the bullpen, the Cardinals should be able to find a capable replacement for the right-handed Garcia, who signed with the Padres.
Primary Team Strength: Defense. The Cardinals made history in 2021 by winning the most Gold Gloves, five, by any team in a season. The gold-plated five were first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, second baseman Tommy Edman, third baseman Nolan Arenado, left fielder Tyler O’Neill, and center fielder Harrison Bader.
Fielding Bible had St. Louis first in the NL — and second to Texas overall — with 81 Defensive Runs Saved. Baseball Savant had the ‘21 Cardinals leading the majors in both Outs Above Average and Runs Prevented.
Most Underrated Area: The offense. Go ahead and laugh; I don’t mind. As I’ve written many times, the 2021 STL offense really clicked in once Bader returned from a lengthy IL stay on July 1 to give the Cardinals the opportunity to go with their regular planned outfield of O’Neill, Bader and Dylan Carlson. Over the final three months the Cards outfield ranked third in the majors in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) at 29% above average offensively. Or, if you prefer, the outfield ranked fifth in the majors with a .849 OPS after June.
After the All-Star break the St. Louis offense ranked No. 1 in the National League in adjusted runs created and was tied for first in slugging and OPS. And the hitters were second in overall batting average, second in BA with runners in scoring position, and third in onbase percentage. All of the “good” pieces from that lineup return intact for 2022, and you no longer have to worry about Carpenter mucking things up.
The biggest weakness? The Cardinals need to upgrade their presence and performance in left-handed hitting. Among NL teams only Miami had a worse performance by LH batters in 2021. But again, Carpenter and Williams are no longer around, and young hitters such as Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Gorman should improve the outlook.
Most Significant Concern: That would be starting pitching. This doesn’t have to do with talent as much as dependability. The five starters – Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz and Dakota Hudson – can pitch effectively and are backed by elite defense. Excluding Matz, this is the statistic to keep in mind for 2022: over the past two seasons Wainwright has made 42 starts. Flaherty, Mikolas and Hudson have also made 42 starts over the past two seasons … that is, 42 starts COMBINED. Durability and depth are legitimate anxieties.
Second Largest Concern: The Cardinals have plenty of arms in the bullpen, but they’ll have to plug in someone for Garcia, and there’s a lot to sort out. How will Alex Reyes be utilized? Can Jordan Hicks be counted on? Giovanny Gallegos figures to be the closer, but what’s the backup plan? Is Ryan Helsley as formidable as depicted by the Cardinals and many in the media? I don’t think so – not when he had a 4.70 ERA, a low strikeout rate (22%), a high walk rate (13.3%), allowed too much hard contact (43.5%) and posted an inflated 1.4 WHIP over the last two seasons. Yes, Helsley did a swell job in 2021 when inheriting runners in scoring position – but that wasn’t the case in 2019, and 2020. Do the Cardinals need another lefty reliever to go with Genesis Cabrera and T.J. McFarland?
The Cardinals already have made two depth-bolstering moves by signing RHP Aaron Brooks out of the KBO and RHP Drew VerHagen out of Japan. Both improved their form by leaving the majors to pitch internationally. And both return to the majors with very high ground-ball rates. That style plays well in front of the St. Louis defense. The Cardinals have done well with signing pitchers out of South Korea and Japan, and now they’re trying again.
Biggest Needs: Starting-pitching depth, a bullpen upgrade and improved bench depth – specifically a LH bat that can also be part of the DH mix.
Speaking Of The Designated Hitter, What’s the plan? First look: Lars Nootbaar vs. RH starters, and Juan Yepez vs. lefty starters. And starting position players will take some DH turns to get a break from playing defense. The LH-swinging Gorman could be an option depending on the front office timetable for him. And then there’s always a chance of the DH to be named later. It ain’t going to be Kyle Schwarber.
The Biggest X Factor: In my opinion, it’s Paul DeJong. The Cardinals’ shortstop has replaced Matt Carpenter as the team’s most hated player by the fans. DeJong is a plus shortstop defensively who can hit for power. But obviously he needs to find his swing, and establish consistency, and show that he’s more than an enigma with a bat in his hands. DeJong overthink everything as a hitter, and hopefully he’ll find a way to clear his head. If DeJong can win the battle against himself to elevate his offense, there’s no problem – and there will be nothing to whine about. If DeJong struggles again, then it’s advisable to direct your animosity to the front office that gave him a long-term contract.
The Biggest Question: Who Is Oli Marmol, and will he make a positive impact? The rookie manager has an impressive leadership-development background, is educated in the Way of the Cardinal through and through, and is praised for his intelligence. He’s portrayed as a forward-thinking manager who will maximize information provided by the analytics department – and someone who is more willing and able to collaborate with the front office. And that’s how it should be; in today’s game the manager-as-lion model is virtually extinct. Calling Marmol a “puppet” before he manages his first game in the majors is ridiculously unfair, and ignorantly disregards the role of the manager in the current MLB environment. That said, Marmol, 35, has a lot to prove. He’s been handed a good ballclub. What will he do to make it better and move it up to win a division championship?
The Top Challenge For Management: The Cardinals have made it to the postseason for three consecutive seasons, and have been there eight times in the last 11 years. (In MLB only the Dodgers, with nine postseasons, have qualified for the playoffs more times than the Cardinals over the last 11 seasons.) But the Cardinals are 5–15 in the last 20 playoff games, and the franchise is overdue for a run of extensive postseason success. It’s up to chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak to strengthen the club and make it more capable of winning the division and more viable for a deep postseason adventure.
View From The Outside: This is from Bryan Grosnick at Baseball Prospectus.
“It’s now 2022, and the expectations are bigger,” he wrote. “The heavy roster resurfacing took place in the previous offseasons – Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado – have already been added to St. Louis’s carousel of home-grown average-or-better regulars.
“This year, beyond the inking of a new mid-rotation starter, it’s likely that the only other changes will come on the margins as the Cardinals attempt to reach the promised land one last time under the leadership of franchise icons Adam Wainwright and Yadi Molina.
“The pins have been lined up for this end-of-an-era Redbirds team. In a division without much competition save the Brewers, the postseason should be the expectation … a deep run through October-November) should be the goal.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Send your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernieScoops@gmail.com
All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.