The St. Louis Cardinals‘ offseason was officially kicked off by the heartbreaking ninth-inning loss to the Dodgers in the N.L. Wild Card game. With the roller coaster 2021 season in the rear-view mirror, the Cardinals’ front office now focuses their attention on assembling a 2022 roster that can contend for a World Series. Luckily, the Cards already have several key pieces in place. However, there are several areas of unknown to be addressed this offseason that could make or break the 2022 season. Here is an overview of where the Cardinals currently stand, and the important decisions they will face this winter.
St. Louis Cardinals’ Offseason Knowns
Yadier Molina will be returning for a farewell tour and will be celebrated in every ballpark he goes to (except maybe Cincinnati). He will turn 40 in July, but despite his age, he continues to be a plus defender behind the plate and an exceptionally productive hitter with runners in scoring position. Andrew Knizner will figure to return as Yadi’s backup and may see more playing time in 2022 given Molina’s age.
Most of the Infield
Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado will hold down the corners for the foreseeable future. With the likely addition of the designated hitter to the National League, these two will have the option to take semi-off days by sliding into the designated hitter spot. But with the value they both provide defensively, don’t expect this to be a regular occurrence. Additionally, Tommy Edman will more than likely be the team’s everyday second baseman for another year, barring any unexpected moves.
The entire Cardinals outfield corps of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Dylan Carlson will be returning. Also, Lars Nootbaar will likely return as the team’s fourth outfielder and left-handed bat off the bench. Similar to Arenado and Goldy, any of the three starters could slide into the designated hitter spot from time to time. But with the immense value they all provide defensively, it will not be common.
Most of the Starting Rotation
With Adam Wainwright re-signing for one more year, the veteran will join Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Miles Mikolas to fill four of the five spots in the Cardinals’ rotation. Wainwright will look to repeat his age-defying 2021 campaign. Dakota Hudson will try to build upon the strong outings he put up late in the season during his brief return from Tommy John. Flaherty and Mikolas will both look to put together a full season of health and consistency. Overall, the Cardinals have a strong core of four starters already lined up for 2022 heading into the offseason.
St. Louis Cardinals Offseason Unknowns
Among the most important decisions to be made during the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason regards the current shortstop situation. Paul DeJong vastly underperformed in 2021, leaving doubts as to whether he can be the everyday shortstop moving forward. Edmundo Sosa exceeded expectations as his replacement but does not project as the shortstop of the future if the Cardinals want to make a deep playoff run. With Sosa still pre-arbitration and with minor league options, his role can be flexible, and he can be used on an as-needed basis. DeJong, however, will be making $6 million in 2022 and $9 million in 2023, with club options for the next two years after that. So unless the Cardinals want to forfeit a significant chunk of money, DeJong figures to at least have a roster spot for the next couple of years.
That leaves the Cardinals with two options to address this issue. First, do nothing and spend money elsewhere. The team can simply hope DeJong or Sosa steps up and provides the high-level defense and timely offense needed out of a shortstop on a contending team. Second, the team can go after one of the many elite shortstops available in free agency this year. Corey Seager would likely be the best fit for the Cardinals, as it would add another left-handed bat to the everyday lineup. But if the Cards can’t throw enough zeroes at Seager to get him to come to St. Louis, Marcus Semien, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Javy Baez are all also available. However, spending big on a shortstop would likely preclude the signing of a big name starter or closer, which also need to be addressed during the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason.
Of the five spots in the St. Louis rotation, four are filled. Similar to the shortstop issue, the Cardinals have two routes they can take to fill the fifth spot. If the front office decides not to spend big on a shortstop this winter, there is an insanely deep free-agent starting pitching market, with names like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, and Carlos Rodon all available, among many other strong pitchers. Given the Cardinals already have four righties in the rotation, the last two options of lefties Robbie Ray and Carlos Rodon seem to be likely candidates to come to St. Louis.
However, if the Cardinals choose to spend big on a shortstop, they will likely look internally to fill the fifth starter role. It is extremely unlikely that the Cardinals would pick up the 2022 club option on Carlos Martinez, so he will not be an option. That means the Cardinals will have to consider re-signing Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, or Kwang-Hyun Kim. They could also give young pitchers like Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, or Angel Rondon a chance to shine. There are also whispers that Alex Reyes will be stretched out in a transition to a starter’s role, which would add an interesting additional option for the fifth rotation spot.
The bullpen as a whole had a Jekyll and Hyde season in 2021. At times, it was lockdown and shortened games for the Cardinals. At other times, it was an Achilles heel and lost winnable games. The front office will look to add consistency and depth to what already has the potential to be an elite cast of relievers.
Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, and Kodi Whitley all figure to return for the Cardinals. Alex Reyes will also return if he does not transition to a starting role. Jordan Hicks will also look to return to St. Louis’ bullpen and put together a full season of health. Additionally, Luis Garcia, T.J. McFarland, Andrew Miller, and Wade LeBlanc are now free agents. It is unlikely the Cardinals re-sign aging Andrew Miller or Wade LeBlanc. But Luis Garcia and T.J. McFarland both had strong 2021 seasons, so they are cost-efficient options for the Cards.
The closer role is the most glaring need in the bullpen. Alex Reyes had a dramatic and steep mid-season decline as closer. Added to the possibility of him becoming a starter, it is unlikely he will be an option. Giovanny Gallegos shined at times and struggled at others in 2021. But pitched well enough to be given the chance to close in 2022. If the Cardinals do not feel comfortable with him, big names Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel are free agents. Should the Cardinals sign one of them, the bullpen would figure to have significant depth. If the front office opts to rely instead on Gallegos, they would still need to sign a strong middle reliever. They could re-sign Luis Garcia or T.J. McFarland to address that need. They could also assess the free-agent reliever market, which features options like ex-Cardinals Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal.
St. Louis Cardinals’ Offseason Outlook
The St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason is undoubtedly going to be busy. They could be involved in a blockbuster free-agent signing in the shortstop or starting pitching markets. There will be some extra minor league players to shop around in the trade market. They will have a plethora of options to weigh out regarding how to put together the strongest bullpen possible. But when all of these decisions are made and all of the complex moving parts come together in harmony, the finished product will hopefully be a 2022 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals team.
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Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Carlos Rodon, Carlos Martinez, Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, Angel Rondon, Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Kodi Whitley, Jordan Hicks, Luis Garcia, T.J. McFarland, Andrew Miller, Wade LeBlanc, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Craig Kimbrel, Trevor Rosenthal