The trade winds have come and gone, at least until the offseason arrives. The Cardinals, 48-61, rank 25th in the majors with a .440 winning percentage.

Just for kicks, I checked the FanGraphs playoff odds earlier today and St. Louis has a 0.9 percent chance of making the postseason.

The Redbirds don’t have much to play for.

Or do they?

I’m interested in seeing how certain pitchers and position players will respond to an opportunity to make a case for themselves for prominent roles in 2024.

Now, we can’t assume that all of them will still be here after a busy offseason. The STL front office will explore trades. But even then, these rest-of-the-season performances can influence management’s thinking in the planning for 2024 – for better or for worse. And other front offices will monitor Cardinals that intrigue them for potential acquisitions.

I have eight guys in mind.


Jun 6, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Matthew Liberatore (52) throws during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports


1. Matthew Liberatore. I mention him first because he’ll make Thursday’s start against the Twins. As of now, Liberatore is on the wrong end of one of the worst trades in franchise history, with the Cardinals giving All-Star outfielder Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay for this tall, left-handed pitching prospect. Liberatore will turn 24 years old in November, and going into tonight’s assignment against the Minnesota he’s pitched 66 and ⅔ innings in the major. He’s still young. He’s still inexperienced. There’s still time. There’s still an opportunity for Liberatore to justify the Cardinals’ considerable enthusiasm for acquiring him.

I believed Liberatore would make positive steps in 2023, but that hasn’t happened. If anything he’s gotten worse. His overall earned-run average as a Cardinal is 6.35, and that ERA stands at 6.75 this season. In parts of two big–league seasons right-handed hitters have punished Liberatore for a .338 average, .410 onbase percentage and .528 slug. He has a feeble 14.6 strikeout rate and a ballooning 11.4% walk rate against them.

A startling 46.4 percent of the hits against Liberatore by righty bats have gone for extra bases. This is a huge problem that can’t be ignored. You can’t have a lefty starting pitcher that’s a punching bag when a right-handed hitter is in the box.

In his brief career Liberatore has pitched 10 scoreless innings against the Brewers – and has a 7.46 ERA against all other opponents. Based on what Liberatore has done so far, the Cardinals would be cuckoo to slot him into a 2024 rotation spot. He has to earn it. The final two months of the regular season is a critically important showcase for him. Time to deliver.

On the surface Liberatore has a chance to do well against the Twins. Their offense is last in the majors in batting average (.219), onbase percentage (.290) and slugging (.368) against LH pitchers this season.

2. Dakota Hudson: He’s not a baby. Hudson will reach age 29 next month, and he’s already worked 415 and ⅔ MLB innings. He has a career 3.64 ERA but his fielding independent ERA (4.51) is a more meaningful indicator. He’s a ground-ball machine that has a career GB rate of 55.4 percent. But his strikeout stuff is lacking, and he walks too many hitters. His 2020 and 2021 seasons were washouts because of an elbow injury, but he’s physically restored.

Hudson is a paradox. He’s performed decently from a bottom-line standpoint, but it’s difficult to trust him. Based on ERA+ he’s 12 percent above the league average for his career – and his only below-average season came in 2022. But it wasn’t hideous; Hudson had a 2022 game-score average that was only three percent below the league baseline.

By this stage of his career, Hudson should have claimed a rotation spot and given the Cardinals one fewer thing to worry about on the pitching side. But his lapses in focus and his walk-driven inconsistency are frustrating, and the Cardinals aren’t as patient with him.

After the trades that sent imminent free agents Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty to new homes – and with Adam Wainwright retiring after the season – Hudson has an excellent opportunity to reduce the skepticism and prove that he belongs in the 2024 rotation.

Hudson did well in his first test challenge Wednesday, limiting the Twins to two hits and three earned runs in seven innings. Hudson didn’t allow a hit for his first 5 and ⅓ innings, and his quality start was a big part of the Cardinals’ 7-3 win.

That said, the Twins had an average exit velocity of 92.2 mph and a hard–hit rate of 50 percent against Hudson. And even though manager Oli Marmol praised Hudson for pounding the strike zone – the stats suggest otherwise. According to FanGraphs, only 37 percent of Hudson’s pitches were in the strike zone, and his first-strike percentage was 48%. He also walked 12 percent of batters faced. On the plus side, Hudson had a 28 percent strikeout rate in the game.

Honestly, I’m not trying to nitpick here. Hudson came through with a fine start Wednesday. But if you take a closer look, there were underlying factors in his performance that probably should have worked against him. Translation: hold off on the plans for a parade. But he deserves credit for his role in the home team’s victory, and now he’ll have a chance to build on it.

3. Dylan Carlson: I’m sorry. I just can’t figure “DC” out. What makes him tick? Why is this enigmatic switch-hitter still neutralized – and then some – by right-handed pitching? In his rookie season (2021) Carlson was slightly above league average vs. RHP per wRC+. But he’s regressed over the last two seasons, producing a .205 average, .292 OBP, .330 slug and .622 OPS in 502 plate appearances vs. righties. His wRC+ against them over this time is 21% below league average offensively.

With increased playing time and an outfield starting job on the line, Carlson had a chance to take advantage of injury-related absences of Tyler O’Neill and Lars Nootbaar. He had another opening when the Cardinals relegated Jordan Walker to Triple A Memphis for a month. And earlier in the season, when Alec Burleson wasn’t hitting, Carlson could have made his move but didn’t.

Carlson won’t turn 25 until October. He plays good outfield defense, but Marmol has turned to others to patrol center field – Tyler O’Neill, Tommy Edman, and Lars Nootbaar – during the season. Carlson is a resourceful baserunner who has a high percentage of taking the extra base. And as we all know, he crushes lefty pitching. But unfortunately for Carlson, the Cardinals have taken 77 percent of their plate appearances against righty throwers over the last two seasons.

Carlson has time to make the Cardinals reconsider their apparent interest in trading him after the season. But he’s hardly making a charge, batting .170 with a .186 slug and one extra-base hit, a double, since the start of July. He has only five homers and six doubles on the season. Compared to what he generated over the previous two seasons, Carlson’s batting average has dropped 28 points, his OBP is down nine points, his slugging percentage has declined by 83 points, and his OPS+ is has fallen 26 points – to 18 percent below league average.

The Cardinals may want to trade Carlson, but he’s done little to increase his appeal with interested parties. I’d actually like to see Carlson play more the rest of the way. Because if the Cardinals are willing to move him, they should take a sustained look at him over the final two months. They need to be sure. Maybe he can change their minds. But in an overcrowded outfield, I doubt that we’ll see Carlson given full-time duty.

4. Tyler O’Neill: He returned on June 20 after spending six weeks on the IL with a strained back muscle. Since coming back O’Neill has cranked up the power, providing small-sample flashbacks to his 2021 breakout. In 49 plate appearances since rejoining the competition, O’Neill is batting .310 with a .408 OBP and .548 slug. His resurgence includes four doubles, two homers, a 14 percent walk rate and a reduced strikeout rate. After hitting only two homers in his first 126 at-bats of the season, O’Neill had two homers in his eight at-bats against the Twins on Tuesday-Wednesday.

This has created a stir of excitement through the village. But we’ve gone through this plenty of times through the O’Neill years, so caution is advised. But his presence matters. If the brawny one can keep hammering extra-base hits, playing rangy defense, drawing walks and running the bases like one of the bulls in Pamplona … well, the view of him could change. The Cardinals could decide to keep him for his 2024 walk year and hope that he’s a large part of a successful comeback season. And if interested teams wanted to see more before engaging the Cardinals in trade discussions this coming offseason, O’Neill (literally) has the power to alter the state of the negotiations.

It’s never too soon to enhance a free-agent profile. And the Cardinals would be delighted by an increase in O’Neill’s trade value. This can’t be another tease. The Cardinals and O’Neill need the best version of T.O.

5. Lars Nootbaar: Two stays on the IL slowed the career momentum that churned in 2022. The front office had put him on the no-trade list, and I assume the opinion still holds. But you never know … if this ownership-management team is serious about making a big trade to land a top starting pitcher, Nootbaar’s name will rise again.

Nootbaar has been rolling since returning from the IL. It took a while to remove the rust, but he got it done. In 151 plate appearance since reappearing in the lineup on June 19, Noot is batting .295 with a .380 OBP and .512 slug. His all-around impact over this time includes seven doubles, seven homers, 15 RBI, 19 walks and 28 runs.

Nootbaar’s last 12 games are especially notable. He’s put up massive numbers – a berserk slash line of .410/.510/.846 – and has found the swing that propels him. Until recently Nootbaar had declined a little on the Statcast hitting metrics. But during his 12-game upturn, Nootbaar has a 45.7 percent hard-hit rate, an average exit velocity of 92.1 miles per hour, and has barreled pitches at a rate of 17.1 percent. These are huge gains from where he was earlier this season.

The final two months are important for Nootbaar and the Cardinals. They didn’t want to trade him last offseason, and they didn’t want to trade him at the 2023 deadline, and they sure as heck won’t want to trade him if he’s back on top and booming in the quality-contact performance.

6. Alec Burleson: I’m a confessed Burly honk. I believe he’ll be a really good hitter in the bigs. But I know that the Cardinals still have too many outfielders – especially if we factor in Brendan Donovan when he returns in 2024 – and in that context Burleson is a potential trade candidate. At least in theory, anyway. In the last 10 days or so before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Cardinals were getting calls on Burleson’s availability.

Manager Marmol was zinged for his confidence in Burleson — the manager sees big things coming from him – but Burly has been doing his part to justify the support. Yes, it took a while for the rookie left-handed hitter. But the big dude has excellent bat-to-ball skills, striking out only 11 percent of the time this season.

Since the beginning of July, Burleson is batting .295 with a .339 OBP and .475 slug. Per wRC+, Burly is 16 percent above league average offensively since June 7, and is 23% above league average since July 1. Burleson’s overall offensive numbers for the entire season are 9% percent below league average (per wRC+) but he’s made strong progress despite the evidence of poor batted-ball luck working against him.

By solidifying his hitting rep for the remainder of the season, Burleson will look like the hitter the front office thought he would be when the Cardinals made him the 70th overall pick in the 2020 draft. And if other teams were enticed by Burleson before, he could give them even more of a reason to make a trade for him.

7. Steven Matz: Since the Cardinals put him back in the rotation after a lengthy spell in the bullpen, Matz has a 1.69 ERA in five starts. Opponents are batting .184 with a .529 OPS against him during this stretch, and Matz has increased his firepower with a strikeout rate of 26 percent.

Matz is getting strikeouts and plenty of ground balls on his enlivened fastball, and that sets up his changeup for more successful results. RH batters are hitting .182 against the “new” Matz when he uses the fastball, and are hitting .182 against his change. Matz has increased his usage of the changeup when he has two strikes on a RH batter. I thought pitch sequencing was a significant part of Matz’s problems earlier this season, but that part of his approach has improved.

It’s imperative for the Cardinals to receive an above-average performance from Matz in the 2024 rotation. For the first time since Matz joined the Cardinals before the 2022 season, he’s looking like the lefty they valued at $44 million on a four-year free-agent contract. But he can’t relapse.

8. Jordan Walker: The rookie had been struggling until bouncing back two hits including a solo homer in Wednesday’s win over the Twins. In the 26 games before that, Walker batted .202 with a .598 OPS. He’s 13 percent above league average offensively for the season (via wRC+) but it would be nice to see him finish strong and bring more confidence into 2024.

And Walker has two months to improve on his outfield defense, so hopefully he’ll take advantage of the time – and again in the offseason – to come back better in 2024. Walker and Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber are the worst outfielders in the majors this season based on their minus 17 rating in defensive runs saved.

Other Cardinals that I’ll be tracking are utility dude Tommy Edman, lefty reliever JoJo Romero, reliever Ryan Helsley (when he returns from the IL), reliever Giovanny Gallegos — and shortstop prospect Masyn Winn when he gets here.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at, the 590 the fan app or your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.

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.