THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Greetings. Here are my fearless – and possibly idiotic – second-half predictions for your beloved 2023 St. Louis Cardinals.
I’ll present 20 predictions and I hope to bat at least .250.
1. The Cardinals will be more successful in the second half but won’t get to .500. An example: the 1986 Cardinals had the exact same record (38-52) as this year’s team through the first 90 games, and those ‘86 Redbirds finished 79-82. This is also known as “wishful thinking.” And I’ll add this caveat because it’s completely relevant and not a cop-out: this second-half upturn will occur only if starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty are still here after the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
2. The trade deadline will disappoint Cardinal fans that are expecting (demanding?) big, bold moves. I don’t think president of baseball ops John Mozeliak will trade Flaherty and Montgomery unless he’s genuinely excited by what’s being offered. As I wrote last week, Mozeliak would be fine to collect draft-pick compensation if the pitchers leave as free agents. The Cardinals would like to stockpile draft picks for scouting director Randy Flores.
3. Mozeliak’s trade-deadline strategy will be strongly focused on 2024 and enhancing the Cardinals’ chances for a substantial rebound. I cheated a little on this prediction because Mozeliak provided a roadmap.
“When I think about selling,when I think about teams that literally have sacrificed multiple seasons to prepare themselves to make a run,” Mozeliak told KMOX this past Sunday. “I don’t see us doing that, where we’re necessarily going to be trading players for rookie-level prospects. I think our goal is going to be competitive in 2024. We do think we have a lot of good pieces that haven’t worked in the sense of having success in 2023, but we’re not going to necessarily just abandon where we are in our thought process and then circle 2026.”
4. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado won’t be traded. An estimated 1.3 million action-craving media types have talked themselves into believing it could happen. (Pardon my intentional exaggeration.) Speculating on Goldschmidt-Arenado trades is a successful content driver on the interwebs.
5. Pending free-agent reliever Jordan Hicks will generate enthusiastic interest in the upcoming trade-mart bazaar. Unless the Cardinals are serious about signing Hicks to a contract extension, he’ll be on the move to a championship contender that needs late-inning strikeout power. Having an intimidating bullpen is a must for a deep playoff run.
6. If there’s a surprise trade-away by Mozeliak, it will be reliever Ryan Helsley — as long as Helsley is healthy by the end of the month. Trading Helsley would increase the likelihood of the team trying to re-sign Hicks. Mozeliak received a lot of calls on Helsley last offseason. The Cardinals were willing to move Helsley last offseason in a deal with Toronto for a catcher. But nothing materialized.
7. Adam Wainwright, nearing age 42, will return to the rotation but won’t stay there. Check out this quote from Mozeliak that came during a terrific, wide-ranging interview with Fox 2’s Martin Kilcoyne:
“He and I have chatted,” Mozeliak said. “He certainly wants to come back and pitch. He really wants to prove he can do this. But there’s a physical element to this. Out of respect for what he’s done with this organization, we’re going to try and allow for that to happen. But we’re going to have to be realistic. If it’s not going to happen, then that page may have to be turned.”
I appreciate Mozeliak’s candor on a sensitive subject.
8. Lars Nootbaar stays healthy and surges over the final two-plus months. After the All-Star break in 2022, Nootbaar had a .366 onbase percentage, 35 extra-base hits, a .480 slug and performed 40 percent above league average offensively per wRC+. He’s poised to do that again.
9. Goldschmidt will put up massive numbers after the break. Goldy hasn’t matched his 2022 MVP performance, but it was asinine to believe that he would. But the classy Cardinal was 33 percent above league average offensively (wRC+) in the first half. He isn’t fading out.
At age 35, nothing about him points to a decline. Why do I say this? Goldschmidt’s average exit velocity (93 mph) is his highest since Statcast originated in 2015. His hard-hit rate (54.7%) is up 7.3 percent from last season. Other key indicators – barrel rate, sweet-spot contact, and launch angle – have improved from 2022. His strikeout rate and walk rate have remained largely unchanged from a year ago. And his swing-miss rate is is less than a full percentage point from his career norm. He also ranks among the best-fielding first basemen in the majors in both Statcast and Defensive Runs Saved.
10. So you want Mozeliak to be fired? Prediction: no chance. And that includes the post-2023 offseason. As Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. told Kilcoyne on Fox 2: “He has an impressive track record and I fully support him, which is why I signed him to a two-year extension which he will fulfill.”
Mozeliak will be running the baseball operation (at least) through 2025. And if “Mo” is 100 percent safe, then manager Marmol is 100% safe. Mozeliak hired Marmol and continues to praise the manager and the team’s coaching staff. And Cardinals management wonders why I continue to growl about the absence of any real accountability this season.
From the Kilcoyne interview: “I don’t think the coaches have any fault in this,” Mozeliak said. “They’re handed the players. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but I think Oli and his group do a really good job, they work really hard. They continue to do that. Their level of frustration is probably as real as the fan base.”
(As I keep saying and writing: DeWitt Jr. is ultimately responsible for the Cardinals’ current condition. The blame goes to the top and lands in BDJ’s office. Just as the credit went to the top, to BDJ, during much better times.)
11. Tyler O’Neill will be traded. Not exactly a bold forecast. But I’ll be more specific and say that Bro’Neill will be dealt to the Yankees to reunite with former Cardinal Harrison Bader in the NY outfield. O’Neill can’t become a free agent until after 2024. With the Yankees dragging terribly on offense without their injured premiere slugger Aaron Judge, O’Neill can be a relatively low-cost gamble that could pay off in a big way. LH batters generally do better at Yankee Stadium but the difference is insignificant. The ol’ change of habitat will give O’Neill a needed reset … and the home runs will fly.
12. A more confident Steven Matz will do a lot better in the second half, looking a lot more like the starter that motivated Mozeliak to give the lefty a four-year contract worth $44 million before the 2022 season.
13. Rookie outfielder Jordan Walker will finish the season with a .290 average, 345 onbase percentage, .480 slugging percentage and 19 home runs. His corner-outfield defense will gradually become more refined.
14. Big things by catcher Willson Contreras. Now that he’s comfortable after having time to adjust to his new team and home environment, Contreras will thrive during the second half. As a Cub he generally hit better in the first half, but was above average in the second half. Marmol can keep Contreras fresh by using him more at DH. And perhaps that would create a big-league role for impressive rookie catcher Ivan Herrera. In a related note, Contreras has done fine at Busch Stadium, posting a home-park wRC+ that’s 13 percent above league average offensively.
15. The Cardinals won’t promote shortstop prospect Masyn Winn this season – but they’ll be tempted. After adapting to Triple A pitching in his first season at Memphis, here’s what Winn has done offensively since the beginning of May: .288 average, .362 OBP, .442 slug, and 17 extra-base hits including eight homers. Over that time Winn has an impressively low 14% strikeout rate. And for the season he’s been successful in 15 of 16 stolen-base attempts. That said, Winn has performed 14 percent below league average offensively this season overall per wRC+, and should benefit by more reps. If the Cardinals remain out of postseason extension – and Winn continues to improve as a hitter – wouldn’t it make sense to give him some big-league experience before the end of 2023?
16. The Cardinals will promote right-handed starting pitcher Michael McGreevy, the 18th overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft. I’m not confident in this prediction, but I’ll stick with it. My concern is McGreevy’s 16.8 percent strikeout rate in 72 and ⅔ innings for Triple A Memphis. But if the STL front office is willing to accept McGreevy’s low strikeout power as the reality, we could see him get a look with the big club after the trade deadline. McGreevy has only one bad start in his 15 assignments for Memphis. In his other 14 starts McGreevy has pitched to a 2.97 ERA. In theory McGreevy could be included in a trade, or management may delay a promotion until 2024 when they probably can put a better defense behind him.
17. If pitching prospect Gordon Graceffo continues to track well at Memphis, the Cardinals will promote him to the big club and give him a bullpen role. After missing a good chunk of time – much of it precautionary – after experiencing shoulder inflammation, Graceffo has a 1.32 ERA in four starts and 13 and ⅔ innings since returning. The organization is giving Graceffo plenty of time to build up his stamina, and since making it back his strikeout rate is way down (to 18%.) That isn’t surprising considering that he’s still in the process of ramping up. When his stuff is restored, Graceffo is a natural for the bullpen, short term. He’ll be a candidate for the rotation in 2024.
18. No Cardinal will win a Gold Glove in 2023. I’m hesitant to count out Nolan Arenado, but as it stands right now he is a shocking minus 4 in defensive runs saved. That ranks 19th among 22 third basemen that have played a minimum 400 innings at the spot this season. Related note: Brendan Donovan – who won the first-ever Gold Glove for utility defense as a rookie last season – already has played six different positions this year. But his defensive work isn’t as strong as we saw in 2022. Last season Donovan was a plus 10 in defensive runs saved. At the break he’s minus 3 in defensive runs saved.
19. Nolan Gorman will rebound. He’s been brutal offensively since May 26 – with a .142 average, .258 slug and 39.4% strikeout rate – but I’m confident that he’ll bounce back after going through another harsh learning experience. The All-Star break came at a good time for Gorman. That said, I wonder if the Cardinals will consider moving Gorman in a trade as part of a larger package that appeals to them. I’d be surprised.
20. Dusty Blake: The Cardinals will take advantage of the Prime Day sale at Amazon and purchase five iPads at a discount price to make sure their pitching coach can make it through the remainder of the season. Can Siri come up with a way to fix Matthew Liberatore?
One more thing: When you have the time, make sure to listen to Martin Kilcoyne’s enlightening conversation with Mozeliak. It’s excellent. Mozeliak was more forthcoming than usual and Kilcoyne asked the right questions in short time to cover a lot of ground.
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 590thefan.com 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 590thefan.com, 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.
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.