The Cardinals got their catcher, Willson Contreras, who will provide offense at a deadwood spot that ranked near the bottom of the majors in production.

How incapacitated were Yadier Molina and Andrew Knizner offensively? Consider this historical perspective:

The National League expanded in 1962. And here’s where the 2022 catching position ranked offensively among the 61 Cardinal teams in the post-expansion era:

The .553 OPS was 61st, the worst.

The .264 onbase percentage was 61st, the worst.

The .290 slugging percentage was 61st, the worst.

The .208 batting average was 60th, or second-worst.

The 50 RBIs were the second-lowest in a full season.

In 2022 the STL catchers were 39 percent below league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+), the sixth-worst at the position over the past 61 years.

Yeah, the Cardinals needed Willson Contreras.

His bat leads MLB catchers (minimum 1,500 plate appearances) with a .808 OPS since making his MLB debut in 2016. Over that time Contreras is also first in wRC+, third at the position in OBP, fourth in slugging, fifth in homers and sixth in RBI.

Now, for the tricky part …

Is that all there is?

I don’t know about you but I expected the Cardinals to do more.

And perhaps they will; the offseason market is still open for business. I don’t know what president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told Nolan Arenado at that meeting in SoCal, when he filled in the cornerstone third baseman on the plan to improve the team for 2023.

Arenado must have appreciated Mozeliak’s messaging, because he chose to stay with the Cardinals instead of exercising the opt-out clause in his contract. Given the spending frenzy in MLB this winter, Arenado likely cost himself a lot of money by sticking with St. Louis. By staying, Arenado will be paid $144 million over the next five seasons, and that’s a fantastic amount of money. But Arenado could have topped it by exploring free agency for the first time in his career.

I could be wrong, but I’m thinking Arenado probably came away believing that the St. Louis front office aspired to do more than add a good-hitting catcher. Maybe that was enough for him. As for the rest, we can only wait to see if the Cardinals make other roster upgrades before the start of the 2023 season, or at the trade deadline next summer.

Arenado evidently liked what he heard. Only he knows if the Cardinals – to this point – have done less than he anticipated. It’s Arenado’s career and he did what he wanted to do. And if he was committed to St. Louis because he loves playing here that’s an admirable reason. Arenado’s happiness is his business. And it doesn’t have to be all about money.

For the purposes of conversation, let’s assume, for now, that the Cardinals will pretty much go with what they have offensively. Let’s go through this …

1) The first thing that comes to mind: the Cards are counting on bounce-back seasons from outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson after injuries dragged them down in 2022. They combined for 48 homers in 2021 but that collective total dropped to 26 last season. Compared to 2021, O’Neill’s OPS declined 212 points last season and Carlson’s OPS went down by 85 points.

In 2021, with O’Neill and Carlson leading the way, the Cardinals’ outfield, as a group, ranked sixth in the majors in OPS (.778) and seventh in slugging (.450.) But last season, with O’Neill and Carlson having downturns, the STL outfield ranked 15th in the majors in OPS (.715) and 16th in slugging (.398.) It’s imperative for the outfield to rebound offensively in 2023.

2) The Cardinals are expecting Nolan Gorman to improve and ignite his power on a more consistent basis in his second big-league season (2023.) Last season the rookie slugged .420 with 14 homers in 283 at-bats. He was seven percent above league average offensively per OPS+. The late-season crash was disappointing – but also no surprise. Overall he had a fine debut season, but the Cardinals will need more from Gorman in 2023.

3) The Cardinals are banking on outfielder Lars Nootbaar to keep rocketing line drives and drawing walks at a high rate. In 2022 Noot produced offense at a level that was 26 percent above the league average per OPS+. In 263 plate appearances from July 9 until the end of the regular season, Nootbaar had a .373 OBP, .514 slug, .887 OPS, 14 doubles, three triples and 12 home runs.

4) The Cardinals are hoping that Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado can do it again in 2023 after each had their best career season offensively in 2022, based on OPS+. Goldschmidt won the National League MVP award, and Arenado finished third in the voting. Last season the Cardinals had the highest OPS in the majors from first base and third base combined. That OPS was 79 points higher than any other team’s 1B-3B combination. But how likely is a repeat performance?

5) Along the same lines, if the Cardinals want to do more offensively in 2023 they’ll be looking for Brendan Donovan to do as well in his second season as he did as a rookie – perhaps amping up more power while maintaining a high onbase percentage. And after posting a .447 slug as rookie last season, can Juan Yepez elevate his power? Tommy Edman had his best full season offensively in 2022 and can’t subside. But it’s a lot to hope for in expecting Goldschmidt, Arenado, Nootbaar, Edman, Donovan and Yepez to maintain their 2022-level performances offensively.

6) The Cardinals will give top prospect Jordan Walker a chance to win a roster spot and earn significant playing time in the outfield and possibly at DH as a rookie in 2023. Walker’s talent is obvious, but what’s reasonable to expect from him in the early stage of his career? Walker could make a big difference … or not.

7) While the Cardinals enhanced their offense at the catcher position by signing Contreras, they also lost Albert Pujols to retirement. In only 351 plate appearances, Pujols gave the Cardinals 24 homers and a .550 slugging percentage last season. Contreras averaged 21.5 homers over his final two seasons for the Cubs. The upgrade on offense at catcher is an obvious plus – but it can also be viewed, at least to some extent, as an addition offset by the Pujols subtraction.

8) The equation is inexact because Contreras should be judged on how much he improves the team’s poorest offensive position. To fill in Pujols’ power production without adding another impact bat from the outside, the Cardinals will have to do it collectively. No question Pujols was the team’s best designated hitter last season, but keep this in mind: he handled 36 percent of the team’s plate appearances at DH. I would have guessed a larger percentage, but then again Pujols got off to a slow start over the first three months. And manager Oli Marmol used the DH spot to give Goldschmidt and Arenado a break from playing defense; they combined for 162 plate appearances there. Yepez, Gorman, Corey Dickerson and Donovan combined for 220 PA at designated hitter. Others chipped in as well.

9) Marmol sure spread it around, didn’t he? Pujols had 15 of the 32 homers hit by St. Louis DHs in 2022, and drove in 43 of the 98 runs there. Albert did a lot, but he didn’t do it by himself; seven other Cards had double-digit plate appearances at DH. And that’s a good thing. Marmol cultivated a collective approach at the DH slot, and didn’t rely too heavily or extensively on one guy. That time-share philosophy can be implemented again in 2023, with Gorman, Yepez, Walker, Contreras, Alec Burleson or a bat to be named later to cover the void. The Cardinals have plenty of options.

Technically the Cardinals can’t replace a guy (Pujols) who homered every 15 at-bats last season. But if younger hitters improve and hit for more power, the Cardinals should be fine. And if Pujols had returned for 2023, do you really believe he’d replicate his 2022 hitting prowess?

10) There’s enough talent and potential in the house to largely compensate for Pujols’ absence at DH. The responsibility won’t be owned by one or two guys; this will be a team effort. But there will be some pressure because the DH cast must come through. The St. Louis DH position ranked sixth in the majors last season with a wRC+ that was 21 percent above league average offensively. Can they do it again? That seems to be a common theme in looking ahead to the Redbirds offense in 2023.

Finally, it’s smart to remember how the St. Louis offense fared offensively during the 2022 regular season, so here’s a refresher: first in the NL and second overall in OPS+, tied for 5th in runs per game, fourth in onbase percentage, fifth in OPS, sixth in doubles, seventh in slugging and ninth in homers.

Another feckless postseason performance was disappointing, but we’re talking about a two-game sample … and any team in baseball can look like the worst team in baseball over a two-day period.

Even without Pujols, the Contreras addition puts the Cardinals in a good place in advance of next season. They’ll have to build from there. I’m talking about the front office, and the players that they’re banking on.

But I’ll ask again: Is that all there is?

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.