The Cardinals already are having a good offseason. Why? Because the NL Central is weakening.

The Cincinnati Reds are in another salary-dump mode. They’ve traded veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glove winner, to the Tigers. They declined to exercise their 2022 option on lefty starter Wade Miley, who was immediately claimed by the Cubs. Miley had a 13-7 record and 3.37 ERA for the Reds in 2021.

Flex man Nick Castellanos (34 homers, 100 RBI) opted out of his contract. No. 1 starter Luis Castillo reportedly is on the trade block, and figures to have considerable appeal on the market. A team that acquires Castillo will have him under contractual control for the next two years. After pitching poorly for the first two months in 2021, Castillo rebounded for a 2.73 ERA over his final 22 starts.

The Reds were a disappointing 83-79 last season, dropping out of postseason contention by fading to a 12-20 record down the stretch. With the payroll slashing underway for a second consecutive offseason the Reds will be less of a th

The Milwaukee Brewers’ offense took a hit when outfielder Avisail Garcia opted out of his contract after launching 29 homers and slugging .490 in 2021. The Brewers won’t make a qualifying offer to Garcia this winter. The Brewers and Garcia could eventually reconnect with a new contract after he explores free agency, but for now the Crew’s outfield consists of Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Jackie Bradley Jr. Garcia had 2.9 WAR for Milwaukee last season.

Yelich, Cain and Bradley combined for 2.5 WAR. Yelich has failed to hit for power for two consecutive seasons, the aging Cain, 35, has appeared in only 83 games over the past two seasons, and Bradley was one of the worst hitters in the majors last season with a .163 batting average. The three outfielders are due a combined $55 million in salary (guaranteed) for 2022. The Brewers — and all other interested teams — should have plenty of outfield options on the free-agent market this winter. But how much can the Crew grow the payroll?

There’s talk of the Brewers trading closer Josh Hader to take advantage of his peak value. The lefty is under contractual control for two more seasons, and he’d probably command a robust return via trade. But it’s too soon to know if the Brewers are serious about putting Hader in play.

The Cubs are in transition after trading away Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Craig Kimbrel and Joc Pederson last season. By picking up Miley and his $10 million contract option for 2022 the Cubs signaled their desire to be respectable instead of going into a full-scale tanking job. But how aggressive will they be?

Speaking to reporters at the GM meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. this week, Cubs president of baseball ops Jed Hoyer wasn’t gung-ho on the idea of dishing out expensive, long-term contracts to free agents.

“As you layer on years, obviously, you’re layering on a lot of risk to any transaction,” Hoyer said. “By definition, projecting a player’s performance gets harder and harder as you get away from their last year and their last couple years. Any time you do that, you’re introducing risk. Listen, I’ve been a part of long deals that worked exceptionally well. And I’ve been a part of long deals that didn’t. You just accept that going into them, by definition, you’re introducing more risk into the transaction when you layer on years.”

The Pirates are the Pirates. They’re still rebuilding.

After the sell-off and a 25-45 record over their final 70 games last season, the Cubs should be more respectable in ‘22. But the early-bird assessment of the NL Central is strongly trending as a two-team race between the Brewers and Cardinals.

Even with questions swirling around the Milwaukee outfield, overall offense and Hader’s future, the Brewers have one of the smartest and most resourceful front offices in baseball. David Stearns and Matt Arnold don’t fidget. Despite payroll limitations, they’re always on the hunt for talent.

The Cardinals have a solid foundation, but they have to get busy this offseason. They must make a hard push to win the division and avoid another coin-flip game as a wild-card. Unlike last season, they can’t leave themselves vulnerable by going into 2022 with a roster that’s thin on depth.

In comments reported by Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold, president of baseball ops John Mozeliak described his “everyday club as pretty much set.”

That remark will generate substantial bluster and premature outrage — and yes, the Cardinals’ caution can be frustrating and leave this team short — but here’s how I see it.

The Cardinals won’t be in the extravagantly expensive free-agent shortstop market. Sorry; I won’t be fuming over that. I’ve never viewed the Cardinals as a serious player in the shopping spree for Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javy Baez, etc.

It’s longshot stuff. If the Cardinals want to throw another surprise party and spend like loons to lure one of the big-name free-agent shortstops, great. I wouldn’t object. It ain’t my money. I just don’t see it as a realistic possibility.

The Cardinals have two superb defenders who can play the position (Edmundo Sosa, Paul DeJong) and Gold Glove winner Tommy Edman is an option for action at short if prospect Nolan Gorman graduates to the majors and becomes the second baseman against righthanded starting pitching. (Gorman still may be a year away. Or perhaps lined up to come to STL after the 2022 All-Star break.) Having three players — Edman, Sosa and DeJong — that can play multiple positions is a positive.

The offense needs juice, but their outfielders have upside and DeJong shouldn’t be as awful offensively, and youngsters such as Gorman, Juan Yepez and (not yet, but soon enough) Jordan Walker will need to get at-bats. The DH position can boost the offense in 2022.

So when Mozeliak says the everyday club is set, he doesn’t mean the team is standing pat. He’s referring to the eight position-player starters. The Cardinals are highly unlikely to go nuts for a shortstop, but that doesn’t mean they plan on napping all winter.

In an interview with Katie Woo of The Athletic, Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch put their offseason priority on the table for all to see:




If the Cardinals decide to double down on run prevention, I’m good with that.

And if choices must be made on spending, pitching is absolutely the right way to go … unless, of course, you’ve already forgotten the horrendous set of injuries that wiped out much of their starting pitching in 2021.

From late May through July 1, the Cardinals had a 5.05 team ERA, lost 20 of 32 games and watched the Brewers take firm control of first place in the NL Central. In late June, and through July, the front office hustled to make low-cost but effective moves to fix the pitching staff, and the offense eventually heated up to ignite the run to 90 wins and the NL’s second wild-card spot. The additions Wade LeBlanc, J.A. Happ, Jon Lester, Luis Garcia and T.J. McFarland — gave the Cardinals pitching stability, and that became essential in their comeback.

I want to see stability from the start of 2022, without all of the scrambling and desperation and an innings load that can’t be properly filled. I don’t want to see the Cardinals endure another pitching crisis that knocks them out of first-place contention. A reinforced rotation and bullpen is CLEARLY the way to go. And in their interview with Woo, it seems that Mozeliak and Girsch learned from the hard lesson of 2021.

“Our pitching depth got tested to the point where we lost confidence in what we had day-in and day-out,” Mozeliak told Woo. “When you think back to the acquisitions … those all had real positive impacts on our club. So, making sure that we are replicating that in some form where it makes sense. So, to answer your question, pitching.

“Even when you think you have enough [depth] you don’t. So, I think we want to approach this offseason where we’re looking to make sure that we can shore those things up and not solely just rely on what we may or may not have coming at the minor league level.”

(Quick timeout: Sincere thanks to Woo and The Athletic for these quotes. I wrote for The Athletic, I love the Athletic, and I’m a subscriber to the site. I highly recommend that you do the same. And Katie Woo is doing a fantastic job on the Cardinals’ beat.)

OK, now here’s what we don’t know…

Will the Cardinals make an aggressive play for a front-line starter? Or will this be another bargain-rack purchase? Good free agents are available. Just assume that the price will be high. Max Scherzer would probably enjoy pitching in a home ballpark that suppresses power and home runs.

Max’s agent, Scott Boras, threw down when speaking to reporters at the GM meetings. Referring to Scherzer, Boras said: “I think teams that are pursuing a championship, they’re certainly not pursuing the minimum. They’re going straight to the Max.”

(A message to Bill DeWitt Jr.?)

I’m up on Marcus Stroman; his style of pitching is a terrific fit for the team in St. Louis. heavy ground-ball quality would be backed by the Cardinals’ tremendous infield defense and make his statistics sing. There’s Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jon Gray, Alex Wood — and a few others I could mention. We’ll take a closer look at some of these free agents in an upcoming column here at Scoops.

The St. Louis bullpen needs padding, because the minor-league system doesn’t have a deep collection of relievers right now, and injury-related concerns (Jordan Hicks, Ryan Helsley) are an issue.

More than anything the Cardinals have to try and close the rotation gap with Milwaukee. With Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser locked into place, starting pitching gives the Brewers a formidable advantage.

The Cardinals don’t have to match the excellence of Milwaukee’s rotation; they just need to close the gap as much as they can. And better pitching health — Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, etc. — should help. Here’s the thing: the Cardinals can’t assume that their starting-pitching health will be sound all season.

And they can’t go into this offseason with an attitude of “Hey, will bring back J.A. Happ and be all set.” That’s the kind of attitude that will raise questions and hackles.

The Cardinals went big last offseason by making a stunning trade for Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado. This time around, the Cardinals have to go big again and land a starting pitcher who can fill a spot at (or near) the top of the rotation.

Last summer Mozeliak and Girsch belatedly but effectively came up with solutions to upgrade their pitching staff and reposition the team for a wild-card shot. It was a nice save by front-office leadsership. But here’s what the goal should be for 2022: put together a rotation and staff that won’t be the source of panic and anxiety  during the season. Build a pitching machine that doesn’t need to be saved.

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 — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

The weekly “Seeing Red” podcast with Bernie and Will Leitch is available at

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

* 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.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.