St. Louis Cardinals Season Outlook

The baseball season has snuck up on us.  Seems like just yesterday Cardinal nation was asking for John Mozilieak’s head after watching their former star prospect Randy Arozarena lighting up opposing pitchers on the biggest stage baseball has.  What was once a mutiny has turned into a celebration of brilliance after obtaining Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies for Austin Gomber and some spare giveaways he found in a Memphis promotional closet.  The Cardinals enter the 2021 season as the favorites to win the national league central.  Depsite some injuries that have derailed the plans in the rotation this team should still have high hopes heading into the summer.  

The Infield

The Cardiansl finalized their 26-man roster today.  While the mainstays were not in question a few decisions showed the direction the team is looking to go in this season. Most notably was the addition of 28-year old John Nogowski making his first opening day roster.  Nogowski was a longshot coming into spring but his bat made him impossible to overlook.  His 3:1 BB/K rate seems like an anomaly in today’s game, to compare it to a modern day player is impossible.  In fact you there hasn’t been a player since Barry Bonds to put up that kind of ratio.  

Nogowski will fill a role that is currently being held by Matt Carpenter.  Carpenter’s spring was the complete opposite of his counterpart, getting one hit in 35 at bats.  This is not just a veteran struggling to get going, this has become a recurring theme of the aging Carpenter.  The organization understood that his time was up or else you likely don’t see the move to bring in Nolan Arenado and Nogowski likely doesn’t get a chance to make the team.

Tommy Edman will step right into the role vacated by gold glover Kolten Wong.  He is a strong defender up the middle, but his bat will be his most important attribute.  Edman will get the first shot at the leadoff spot, a part of the order that has been in flux for the last two seasons.  Wong took over the role last year but was not able to be as effective as the Cardinals needed last season.  Edman will be protected by arguably the best corner infield combination in all of baseball, he has to be able to get on base and force pitchers to throw to Arenado and Goldschmidt.  If he does not improve on his .317 OBP the Cardinals will again find themselves looking for answers at the top of the order. 

Paul Dejong is overrated.  That is all I have to say about that.  

The Outfield

Justin Williams will play a prominent role off of the bench as the lone left-handed bat outside of Carpenter on the bench.  Williams brings the pop that is needed in late inning situations and he may see even more playing time with the injury to Harrison Bader.  The outfield still has a few question marks, presumably it will be O’Neil in LF, Carlson in CF and whomever matches up best in right field.  Sending down Lane Thomas made it clear that the Cardinasl will lean on Carlson to man center until Bader recovers.  

The key to the outifled and potentially the entire lineup will be the emergence of Tyler O’Neil.  O’Neil will be given the chance to play everyday and if he succeeds then this lineup will succeed.  The power and speed he brings to the table is hard to match based on raw ability.  Moving on from Dexter Fowler was an indication that the club thinks he is ready to break out.  He will be tested early with teams not letting Arenado or Goldschmidt beat them, they will take their chance with O’Neil and he will make them pay. 

The Arms.

St. Louis has had a lot of rotational depth in their system for a number of years and each one of those years it gets tested.  The Cardinals will start 2021 with Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Kwang Hyun Kim all on the IL, Hudson will likely miss the entire season.  The Cardinals will roll with Jon Gant and Daniel Ponce de Leon at the end of the rotation.  Both solid major league arms, both having the same problem… they don’t eat up many innings.  Ponce de Leon has averaged only four innings per start in his career and Gant, who was a former starter with the Braves is coming off multiple seasons primarily out of the bullpen. 

St. Louis will have to rely on their bullpen to eat up a lot of innings early in the season.  Most notably we should see a lot of innings from former first round pick Jake Woodford.  He will be called upon in long relief roles in tight games.  Genesis Cabrera, the power lefty picked up from the Rays will also likely see multiple innings of relief for each appearance.  Both Cabrera and Woodford are young arms that haven’t dealt with the longevity of a full major league season.  We will likely see a rotation of arms throughout the year.  Guys like Johan Oviedo, Zach Thompson, Kody Whitley and Mathew Liberatore will all make appearances for the major league team.  The Cardinal will have to rely on their depth of arms to make a run and luckily they have the guys to get them through the season.  If they do need additional help their depth should allow them to make a move for a veteran arm at the trae deadline.  One that could make a difference down the stretch. 

The rotation will rely on Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright to be as  great as they have shown over the last two seasons.  Veteran Carlos Martinez is a wild card in this situation but his potential has shown through before and his usage of the cutter through spring training has made him more efficient and effective.  The key to Martinez will be controlling his pitch count and his emotions.  If he can do both he will be a nice fit behind the veteran and the ace.  

Conclusion

The Chicago Cubs let most of their pitching staff go, the Brewers didn’t do enough to improve their offense, the Reds don’t seem to know what their direction is. The Cardinals will rely on their pitching depth and firepower in the middle of their order.  They compare well in every facet of the game against all of their NL Central counterparts.  If they get anything from Tyler O’Neil and Tommy Edman on offense they should be set.  They could be on the market for a veteran starter at the trade deadline to consider themselves true contenders for an NL Championship but they should be the frontrunners to win their division. 

Central Division Prediction

St. Louis Cardinals

Milwaukee Brewers

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates

Three Keys to Cardinals Success in 2021

Kwang Hyun Kim 

There was a lot of attention paid to re-signing Adam Wainwright and the arbitration hearing of Jack Flaherty.  The veteran and the ace will both play a huge role in the formation of the rotation but the key pitcher of the entire staff could be the second year lefty from Korea Kwang Hyun Kim.

Kim’s first season in the MLB was fantastic by traditional standards.  He had a 1.62 ERA in eight games pitched (seven starts), finishing with a record of 3-0.  ERA is a deceiving number, you look at any ERA under two and assume that he was an effective starter but in reality Kim had issues in 2020.  His ERA is likely a product of his ability to strand base runners.  He stranded 86% of baserunners in 2020, he was one of seven players to do that all season.  Through just seven starts, that number can be maintained.  How will that play out over the longivity of a 162 game season.

The Cardinals have a lot of options for the rotation, but after Jack Flaherty and Wainwright there lies a lot of strictly potential.  Unfortunately potential doesn’t lead to victories.  The options of Miles Mikolas (missed most of 2020), the unpredictable Carlos Martinez, the often injured and unproven Alex Reyes, the starter turned reliever turned starter Jon Gant, and the stable Daniel Ponce de Leon all are going to have a chance to compete for a spot but they all bring uncertainty.  For St. Louis to be a real contender for a championship they will need stability somewhere in the rotation.  Kim is a veteran  of professional baseball, he features some nasty stuff that can be effective against major league hitters, but his consistency will be a question and his continued ability to pitch around trouble.  There was luck involved in Kim’s success last year.  That same luck may not be there this year. 

Kim’s performance will dictate the entire staff.  

Tommy Edman taking the leadoff spot.

On opening day the Cardinals will not have Kolten Wong on their roster for the first time since the 2015 season.  His dazzling defense will be missed but it could be his steady play at the plate over the last few seasons that will leave a gap that even his backhand couldn’t plug up.  Wong took over the leadoff spot in 2019, leading to the best offensive season of his career with a .361 OBP, 25 steals and 11 homers.  2020 was not a stellar offensive season for Wong but he still was able to amass a .350 OBP, which was good enough for third on the team behind slugger Paul Goldschmidt and veteran Brad Miller.

The Cardinals have to find an answer for the top of the order.  Guys like Dylan Carlson and potentially Matt Carpenter could fit the mold.  Carlson fits better in the #2 slot in the lineup, allowing the young hitter to get fastballs being protected by Goldschmidt and the newly acquired Nolan Arenado. Carpenter, entering the age 35 season, has seen nothing but regression. 2020 saw Carpenter have his lowest WRC+ (83), his OBP was decent at .325 but he also had his strikeout rate jump to 28%.  Carpenter’s bat speed has dropped at an alarming level ccausing his hard hit percentage to be at just 35%.   His time at the top of the order is over.  

Edman has the versatility to stay in the lineup.  He can play all over the field and can switch hit, making him a great matchup for any starter.  Edman will get the first shot at the leadoff spot and if he can bring the same offensive output he brought in 2019 the Cardinals offense will be impossible to stop.

Tyler O’Neill living up to the hype. 

The time has come for Tyler O’Neil.  Is he a boom or a bust? He won a gold glove last year, so that would be a positive.  He has hit 140 career homers in the minor leagues over seven seasons.  That is Crash Davis level power at the minor level.  It’s time for the organization to find out what they have in the burly bomber.  

The Cardinals committed to the youth in the outfield movement.  Moving Dexter Fowler, made Harrison Bader the oldest projected starter at 26 years old.  Top prospect Dylan Carlson will move into the biggest role on the team, projecting to play multiple spots in the outfield as well as be primed in the middle of the order.  The aformentioned Bader will man centerfield and play gold glove level outfield, anything from the plate will be a plus but not much can be expected.  The Cardinal’s will need O’Neill to live up to his early career promise.  The strikeouts will be there but the power has to show up. 

St. Louis showed it’s commitment to a new approach in the outfield, they have to have the confidence to stick with O’Neill and allow him to get comfortable at the plate.  Let him go through early growing pains to figure out his swing.  He will reward the Cardinals with the power and protection needed for your big bats.  Oh, he is also the fastest player in baseball.  Let this guy loose. 

Cardinal’s Outfield Answer?

The Cardinals shocked the baseball world when they made a huge trade this season.  I am of course talking about trading Dexter Fowler to the Los Angeles Angels.  Fowler’s tenure in St. Louis was not a complete disaster. His first season and his last season were serviceable.  The Cardinals moving on from Fowler leaves a hole in the outfield that will likely be filled with a young bat.  The Cardinals will fill from within.  There is a guy that will have to step up and it’s not the player that most would think. 

With Marcell Ozuna signing with the Braves and Andrew Benintendi being traded to the Royals  there are no impact bats on the market that are going to be able to step in and make a difference behind Goldschmidt and Arenado.  The Cardinals are looking to step into the future with a projected outfield consisting of Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neil and Dylan Carlson.  Each of the aforementioned outfielders are not above the age of 26 and none have proven to be an efficient major league player for a full 162 game schedule.  

The Cardinals outfield youth will be a challenge to a team that is looking to contend immediately.  St. Louis will likely have to look to its organizational depth to protect their team.  While 2020 free agent signee Austin Dean impressed in spring training and when given opportunities in-season he is not the long term answer to the Cardinals question.  Justin Williams was picked up in the trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Rays in July of 2019.  Williams has been a long time prospect in every system he has been a part of.  The former second round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks finished his first season with the Cardinals impressively with a slash line of .340/.427/.553. When healthy Williams has shown serious power, blasting 14 homers with the Rays in double-A (2017) and seven homers in 31 games in triple-A Memphis (2019).

The Cardinals have moved on from left-handed bats Brad Miller, Matt Wieters (switch), Kolten Wong and of course Dexter Fowler.  The acquisition of Nolan Arenado will likely lead to less at bats for Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals will need to have more threats from the left side of the plate and Williams will find his chance to make the difference for the organization in late game situations, pinch hitting for O’Neil and Bader. 

Cardinals need to replace Wong. Free agent options.

The Cardinals decided to let Kolten Wong walk this offseason.  They didnt want to pick up his club option that would have paid him $12.5 million in 2021.  Contracts of other players such as Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter are likely a big reason why the club felt paying a rather steep price for a second baseman with just two seasons of WAR over 3 was not worth it.  While his 2020 shortened season numbers were not impressive he still leaves a void in the Cardinals lineup that has to be filled.  Internal options Tommy Edman and Edmund Sosa will likely get the first shot. There are external options that may be affordable and impactful.  

Enrique Hernandez, 29, 1.1 WAR (2020)

The Cardinals are one of the worst teams in baseball against left-handed pitching over the last two seasons.  St. Louis had just an OPS of .713 in 2020 against southpaws.  Enter in Kiki Hernandez.  A long time lefty smasher, Hernandez has been a vital bench player for the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers since 2014.  He carries a career OPS of .820 versus lefties and tons of versatility on top of that. 

Hernandez will be a cheaper option to Wong as he is projected to sign for just around $6 million a year.  Adding a player that can play multiple positions and provide some pop to a lineup that lacks consistent power options would be an answer to a few of the St. Louis offensive problems.

Johnathan Villar, 30, -0.3 (2020), 4.0 (2019)

Villar had a disastorous 2020, there is no other way around it.  Cashing in on this would be advantageous to anyone willing to take a shot on the veteran.  Villar brings instant offense to any team with his speed and power.  Villar had the best season of his career in 2019 hitting 24 homers and stealing 40 bases.  He had his second highest career OBP at .339.   

Villar is a high-risk, high reward option that will be cheap.  His ability to switch hit is also a great value for late game moves. 

Tommy LaStella, 32, 3.2 WAR (2020)

Tommy LaStella not being signed yet is a great example of the ridiculous nature of MLB free agency at the moment.  A veteran player that has hit at an all-star level over the last two seasons is still sitting on the market without much of an idea on where he will be next season. 

LaStella has had two straight seasons with a WRC+ over 120.  In 2020 LaStella ranked 25th overall in the league in OBP (.370).  He would fit very nicely into the leadoff spot that was vacated by Wong.  While he doesn’t have the speed that Wong brings to the table his ability to get on base could set up very nicely for Paul Goldschmidt.   An inability to consistently hit lefties has hampered LaStella’s overall numbers but the Cardinals could easilit platoon him with Tommy Edman, allowing for a solid bat to be used later on in the game. 

Ranking top three offensive free agents for the St. Louis Caridnals

The Cardinals offense sucked in 2020.  There were a lot of factors that played into that, including the long layoff from positive Covid tests but, to be honest they were not much better in 2019.  Heading into the 2021 the rotation and bullpen is loaded with options that are above league average.  The biggest need will be on the offensive side of the ball.  The upcoming offseason doesn’ feature the Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout’s that the fanbase would crave over but there are some options that can bring some much needed production to the lineup. 

This list is focusing on just the offensive free agents.  Guys like Liam Hendricks, and Trevor Bauer (whom both should be on the Cardinals radar) will be completely excluded from this list  

3. DJ LeMahieu, 32, INF

Who wouldn’t want a two-time batting champion with position versatility?  No one is the answer.  The reason LeMahieu isn’t number one on this list is that he has already verbally stated that he wants to resign with the Yankees. 

LeMahieu has the ability to play every infield spot including SS if in a bind and he can do it at a high level. His batting statistics jump at you but quietly he has amassed a nice collection of gold gloves (3) in his career. After two terrific seasons in New York amassing a WRC+ of 135 and 177 respectively.

The experiment of Paul DeJong at shortstop has been unsuccessful.  DeJong’s power has shown through his career hitting 35,19, and 30 homers over the last three seasons before 2020.  Moving DeJong to the bench, would be the best option for the team.  Resigning Kolten Wong, moving Tommy Edman to shortstop and having LeMahieu at third would be the best option for the team.  

2. Nelson Cruz, 40, DH

The DH in the national league is here to stay. The Cardinals have a chance to add a monster bat and not hurt themselves on the defense.  The ageless wonder Nelson Cruz is the answer to all the problems that you have in the ISO department. Since 2014 Nelson Cruz’s ISO has not gone below .250.  In comparison the highest Cardinals outfielder ISO was Harrison Bader at just .217.  St. Louis needs power and they need it badly.  With a team slugging percentage of .373 they rank 27th in the entire league.  

The protection of Nelson Cruz can open up a lot of possibilities in the Cardinals lineup.  Their lone star Paul Goldschmidt has had literally no protection behind him, with the Cardinals cleanup hitters in the bottom five in every offensive category. Cruz is the perfect fit for the Cardinals because he brings one thing to the table and that is power.  It is exactly what the Cardinals need; he can be gotten at an affordable price for a likely one-year deal. 

1. Marcell Ozuna, 30, OF/DH

Marcell Ozuna’s first go round with the Cardinals wasn’t ideal.  His two seasons with the redbirds Ozuna saw just a grand total of just .777.  Ozuna played his Cardinals tenure with a serious shoulder injury that held back his offensive abilities.  

Ozuna took a shot on himself signing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. Through sixty games Ozuna not only put himself in the conversation for the MVP, but his protection for Freddie Freeman took his ability to the next level. Ozuna led the National League in homers, RBI, and total bases.  A motivated Marcell Ozuna can be a game changer the Cardinals thought they had traded for. 

A second go around in St. Louis doesn’t seem likely but on the list of things that Cardinals need he fits the bill.  A contract of four years and $125 million would be the likely number that would bring him in, at just 30 years old he is still young enough that the Cardinals can have him for the prime years of his career. He can be the staple of the offense along with Paul Goldschmidt and the newly emerging Dylan Carlson.  A core lineup featuring those three can immediately make them a contender.  

Ranking Cardinals one hit wonders

Players can make an impact on a team even if it’s over a short period.  They can have such an impact that fans remember them to this day. I wanted to focus on a few players that had one great season with St. Louis and then either faded into obscruity or moved on to other organizations.  I wanted to focus on players from my time frame so you won’t see any part timers from the 70’s or 80’s. This list is focused on the 90’s to today. If I missed any please let me know.

5.Bo Hart, 2003

Bo Hart has a major league baseball record. Through his first 15 games in 2003 Hart had 28 hits, breaking Irv Waldons record set in 1901.  Hart was an instant sensation for a fanbase that loves the underdog. Hart was a 26 year old, 33rd round pick that should have never gotten the chance to play.  He wasn’t even hitting well in the minors with a slash line of .249/.338/.351. An injury to Miguel Cairo left the Cardinals with no other options but to call Hart up and give him a chance.  His great start captured the attention of the fans and the local media. Hart didn’t do much after his torrid start to his career, falling back down to earth the rest of 2003. After being a fan favorite during the 2003 season Hart was unable to make another impact playing only 11 games in 2004.  

Bo was only a part of Cardinals History for a short period but to fans of that time his name will always bring back great memories. 

4.Craig Paquette, 2001

Most of us will not remember Craig Paquette.  He actually spent three seasons with the Cardinals but his 2001 season was the best of his career .282/.326/.465 in 134 games.  Paquette was picked up from the New York Mets for veteran Shawon Dunston in 1999. Having previously played for manager Tony LaRussa there was a familiarity with Paquette.  Paquette’s one season of legitimacy in 2001 netted him a nice contract from the Detroit Tigers worth about five million dollars. While Paquette technically is cheated on this list as he did play multiple seasons in a Cardinal uniform it was really only the one year in 2001 that he made any sort of impact. Also he coordinates with a guy that just missed my list Shawon Dunston.  

3.Mark Grudzielanek, 2005

The Cardinals signed Mark Grudzielanek in 2005 to fill in for Tony Womak who had departed for free agency. Grudzielanek quietly put together a great season for the defending national league champs.  The former All-Star put together his second best WAR season in his career (2.8). His second half helped propel the 100 win Cardinals into the playoffs. His 110 WRC+ was forty points higher than the first half of the season.  He was also a home favorite hitting .322 at Busch Stadium.  

The 2005 Cardinals are a forgotten team after losing to division rival Houston in an excting six game series.  Grudzielanek was a stable piece in the middle of the field. After his departure St. Louis would have trouble filling the position until 2014 when Kolten Wong became a full time starter.  

2.Jason Heyward, 2015

Jason Heyward was a rising star in the league.   Heyward entered the majors in 2010 at just 20 years old making an immediate impact for the Atlanta Braves. He finished second in the league for the rookie of the year award, earning his first and only all-star appearance.  The Braves moved Heyward in the 2014 offseason, sending him to St. Louis for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. 

Heyward had arguably the second most productive season of his career after a slow start he ended up with a OPS of .797 while adding his second gold glove. Heyward’s 5.6 WAR was the highest of his career.  He became a big part down the stretch for a Cardinals team that was clinging to a playoff spot. Heyward had an outstanding 141 WRC+ in the second half of the season. Without him the Cardinals would not have made the postseason let alone competed against the revitalized Chicago Cubs.  

Heyward will most be remembered for not resigning in the offseason but to ignore his play while in a Cardinal uniform is downright stupid.  

1.Kent Bottenfield, 1999

Chubby Kent Bottenfield makes my list even though he technically played two seasons with the Cardinals.  Bottenfield spent the 1998 season mainly out of the bullpen pitching in 44 games, starting 17. He established himself down the stretch in 98’ enough for Manager Tony LaRussa to give him a shot at the rotation heading into the 1999 season.  Bottenfield excelled in the rotation having a career year with 18 wins and a 3.97 ERA, leading to his first and only All-Star appearance. Surprising numbers from a relative unknown that was only averaging 5.4 K/9. 

The Cardinals cashed in on Bottenfield big season moving him to the Anaheim Angels in 2000 for an outfielder that would have a bit longer and more storied Cardinals career.  A man by the name of Jim Edmonds.  

Honorable Mention: Bud Smith (2001), Octavio Dotel (2011)

The Cards future is based on Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter sucked in 2019.  I wanted to come up with a more sophisticated way of saying that but as a Cardinals fan and a baseball fan there are really no other words that encapsulate the horrible season the Cardinals third baseman had.  He stunk, he knew and we knew it.

An MLB player having a regression year happens, pitchers begin to understand how to pitch to him or an injury slows them down.  The regression level Carpenter saw when compared to 2018 though was astronomical. You may call it Dexter Fowler-esque.

WAR WRC+ ISO SLUG

2018- 5.0 2018- 141 2018- .266 2018- .523

2019- 1.2 2019- 95 2019- .166 2019- .392

Analytics driven stats destroy Carpenter..  The acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt was made to solidify the middle of the order behind Carpenter.  Carpenter, well known for starting the season slow, started about as slow as you can possibly start.  Starting the season hitting just .204 along with a .328 OBP during the first month and a half of the year.  Things didn’t get much better for Carp as his struggles forced the organization to move Carpenter from the top of the order.

The point is, Carpenter sucked last year.  There are no ways around it. Entering his age 34 season Carpenter’s regression seems real.  The scariest stat is his 12% walk rate in 2019. Carpenter was known for his ability to get on base and that took a huge hit last season dropping his OBP a staggering 40 points!  St. Louis needed Carpenter to step up his power in 2018 so a likely regression from 2017 OBP was going to happen. His approach at the plate changed and he has not been able to get back to where they need it to be.  

The question is which Carpenter are they going to get enteing 2020?  A change in his swing is the early story of spring training so hopefully he can regain his batting eye.  Being locked into a contract that is going to pay him $18.5 million over the next three seasons will force him into the order.   He has to retool his approach at the plate, find that batting eye that forced opposing pitchers to put the ball over the plate and allow him to extend and drive the ball. If he bounces back to even a shadow of the player that became a cornerstone in the lineup from 2012-2018 the Cardinals will be able to wait on the further development of their young players.  

Carpenter’s role on the Cardinals will be an interesting case in how the season will develop.  If he continues to struggle the organization will be forced to play Tommy Edman more at 3rd base which would most likely lead to more playing time for Lane Thomas in the outfield.  If they go another route the Cardinals could be forced to push Dylan Carlson up whether they believe he is ready or not. I am a believer in waiting for the development of minor league talent.  In today’s baseball world patients is not a virtue. Talented players are put into positions to sink or swim. The players that swim, jump straight into the limelight of the profession. The Cardinals giant marketing push of Harrison Bader heading into 2019 was an example of a team that saw a spark in a young player and rode with it.  That didn’t work out very well, which could halt the organization from pushing the talented Carlson to the big club. 

The Cardinals didn’t add Anthony Rendon or Nolan Arenado to the team due to the fact that they had Carpenter written in at 3rd base in permanent marker.  A team that should be looking to always be moving forward has shown an inability to move on from players and coaches that have impeded the growth of the organization.  Carpenter’s play will be the biggest factor to determine the success and direction of the franchise for the next three years. While I hope he is successful, I’m not going to hold my breath.  

The Story of Marcell Ozuna and the St. Louis Cardinals


Marcell Ozuna signe a 1-year $18 million dollar “prove it” contract with the Atlanta Braves officially ending his two-year relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The St. Louis Cardinals were in need of an impact bat in the middle of their order. Long gone were the days of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday anchoring the middle of the order striking fear into the opposing pitching staff.  Ozuna had two years left on his contract when he was picked up in 2017. Those two years were supposed to be a showcase of his excellency, forcing the Cardinals to make him a huge offer cementing him as the new face of baseball in the gateway to the west. Ozuna was going to cash in and both the player and the team will live happily ever after.  That would have been a great story unfortunately professional sports is not a fairy tale.

The Cardinals picked up a 27-year old, two-time all-star coming off of a breakout season where he posted a .312/.376/.548 slash line to go along with 37 homers, 128 RBI and a gold glove.  It wasn’t former teammate Christian Yelich that was the future MVP, Ozuna was considered as the prized piece. The Cardinals gave three pitching prospects Daniel Castano, Zac Gallen, Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra for Ozuna.  Alcantara was named an all-star in 2019 giving him one more than Ozuna in his time with St. Louis while Zac Gallen has become a part of the rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

When the acquisition was made the Cardinals looked like the clear winner adding the power that was going to take them out of the dreaded middle pack of the central division.  The days of Jhonny Peralta, Jedd Gyroko and Randal Grichuck batting cleanup were over. Finally a power bat to accommodate the on-base prowess of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler.  The 2017 Cardinals needed this bat.

2017 Team Stats (Non-Pitcher)

ISO: 176

Slug: .439

WRC+: 107

Entering 2018 was exciting with their new power bat the Cardinals had to improve their offense…right?

2018 Team Stats (Non-Pitcher)

ISO: .169

Slug: .419

WRC+: 100

Ozuna’s first season in St. Louis was marred by a shoulder injury, limiting his production.  His slash line .243/.330/.435 was not nearly as productive as his final year with Miami. Coming into the 2019 season the team added Paul Goldschmidt to go along with Ozuna, that should have helped…right?

2019 Team Stats (Non Pitcher)

ISO: .177

Slug: .428

WRC+: 105

The Cardinal offense continued to be mediocre in 2019 even though Ozuna was electric to begin the season hitting ten homers in his first 27 games, he floundered down the stretch, hitting just .219 in the second half.  Ozuna had a chance to erase two years of sub-par production and looked to be on the right track in the NLDS, hitting two homers with a slash line of .429/.478/.857 in five games against his new team. Continuing that production could have changed the opinion of the public on Ozuna, unfortunately the NLCS wiped away any memory of dominance at the plate.  The numbers are literally not worth typing at this point.  

Two years with Marcell Ozuna did not change the offense for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Ozuna provided the fanbase with some mathom shots that showed the potential he brings to any lineup but he came into the 2018 season out of shape and injured.  His swing produced long home runs but resembled a cleanup hitter at your local slow pitch softball league. Those guys can hit the ball pretty far to, doesn’t make them major league All-Stars.  Both the Cardinals and Ozuna have found themselves in a place that they could have never imagined.   

St. Louis is currently looking at a potential outfield of Tyler O’Neil, Dexter Fowler and Harrison Bader.  Banking on a bounce back season from Bader and a breakout season from O’Neil are large questions marks for a team that is always looking to compete.  With super prospect Dylan Carlson on his way there is some hope for the future of the Cardinals outfield but if Ozuna could have been the player the Cardinals thought they traded for it you could have the building blocks of a great outfield for years to come. 

Ozuna was supposed to be that building block entering his age 29 season, this offseason was supposed to be the one that paid off in the long run of his career.  Whether it was the Cardinals or someone else this was the time that the “Big Bear” was supposed to get his contract that could allow him to find a permanent spot to hibernate for the rest of his career.  Accepting a one-year deal was the worst case outcome for him. If he is not able to pick up his production this could be a trend that follows him for years to come.  

Trades don’t always work out for most teams.  This one didn’t set the organization back, but it leaves them in a vulnerable place as we see the progression of the prospects.  Marcell Ozuna and the St. Louis Cardinals was supposed to work. Sports stories don’t always have happy endings…luckily for both their stories continue, this was just a crappy chapter.

St. Louis Cardinals Outfield – What will they do?

With Marcel Ozuna most likely gone for the 2020 season, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in a tough situation.  Currently on their 40 man roster your options for replacements are somewhat limited or at the very least unproven at the major league level. What should the Cardinals do?  Let’s break it down. 

Outfield options on roster:

Harrison Bader

Lane Thomas

Dexter Fowler

Randy Arozarena

Tyler O’Neil

Jose Martinez

Justin Williams

Adolis Garcia

Tommy Edman

Yairo Munoz

I am going to eliminate the unrealistic options:

Justin Williams will not make the team without a ridiculous spring, he’s out.  

Adolis Garcia has power, 31 homers along with a .517 slugging percentage in AAA definitely stands out, but he has found himself behind Lane Thomas and Randy A, he’s out.

Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz will be utility players on the roster.  Projected them as starters in the outfield is not an option (yet). They are out.

Jose Martinez is not a starter for any team in the National League.  You can only ignore his defense for small periods of time. He’s out.

Who has a chance:

Dexter Fowler has right field likely locked down.  While he wasn’t good in the playoffs Fowler was able to raise every offensive statistic.  He still sucked but the money is too much for him to not be slotted into the lineup going into spring training.  

Tyler O’Neil should be given the first chance to be the left fielder, you know what he brings to the table.  He is going to strikeout and he is going to hit dingers. O’Neil’s 40% k-rate is alarming to say the least but with O’Neil there is still major upside.  His hard hit rate from 2018-2019 ranks fifth in baseball behind guys like Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Alex Avila, Matt Olson and his most comparable player Joey Gallo.  O’Neil’s plate discipline is a problem, but his upside is undeniable. He should get the first chance but its not set in stone.

Center field for the 2019 Cardinals is going to be a competition of similar attributes.  Randy A, Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas are all viable candidates.  

Harrison Bader brings the most experience which is laughable as he doesn’t really bring much.  Bader’s defense is elite but a 29% strikeout rate in during 2019 with little power upside and an OBP of just .301 is not something the Cardinals can afford with a team that already has been deprived of offense with the potential loss of Ozuna.  

Lane Thomas played well when given the chance at the major league level last season.  His surprising power numbers over the last two seasons in triple A and the major league level is what garnered the attention of the front office.  Increasing his slugging percentage by nearly 100 points from 2017 to 2018 is a huge positive regression. Thomas will need a solid spring to win the job but he is a guy that has to be taken into consideration.

Randy Arozarena’s .453 OBP last season is the highest of the three potential candidates. Randy A has the lowest walk percentage of the three, while it’s not a huge difference it still shows that he is more reliant on putting the ball in play rather than taking pitches.  The Cardinals are in need of a leadoff hitter currently and Randy seems to be the likely option because, well he can hit. If he is able to make the roster, it would hopefully be in a starting capacity. There is no need to force him to the majors if he is not going to play.

Free Agent Options:

The Cardinals are never likely to make a free agent move of any prestige so I want to take out candidates like Yasiel Puig and Nick Castellanos  So what is left…nothing. The Cardinals will most likely go after a guy past his prime to compete for a spot on the roster. Names that come to mind are Cameron Maybin (33, 1.6WAR), Corey Dickerson (31, 1.0WAR) and Kole Calhoun (32, 2.5WAR).  All three of the aforementioned players would be nice bench assets but with a bench full of younger higher upside players it doesn’t make sense to reach for an outfielder with little upside. 

Conclusion:

As the roster stands right now I would like to see Fowler, Randy A and O’Neil in the outfield.  The Cardinals could be bold and make a move to add one of the premiere offensive free agents at third base (Anthony Rendon, Josh Donadlson) and put Tommy Edman in the outfield but that would not meet with the history of this franchise.  The Cardinals have questions in their outfield, it’s obvious they need to make a move. Dylan Carlson is coming so they are going to be patient and hope that one of their young players takes the next step.

Why Dominic Leone should be the Cardinals closer.

The struggles of the St. Louis bullpen were an obvious concern in 2018.  The lone highlight being the emergence of Jordan Hicks as a force in the 8th inning.  The Cardinals went into the offseason looking to add some depth to the bullpen and potentially a closer.  To this point the only impact piece that has been added is the versatile lefty Andrew Miller. Miller and Hicks will create a two way highlight reel of nasty pitches that will undoubtedly be a boost, but neither have performed as a closer in their careers for more than a few weeks. Another writer on this sight suggested John Brebbia, I too saw Brebbia as a potential closer going into 2019 but after digging into the numbers a different player stood out to me.  Someone that most of us have most likely forgot… Dominic Leone.

Let’s first work under the assumption that Miller and Hicks will most likely be middle to late inning relief.  Let’s also work under the assumption that the competition will be between Brebbia and Leone.  Brebbia’s career has taken off the last two seasons in the majors but he was actually drafted in 2011 by the New York Yankees while Leone was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2012.  Both have paid their dues in the minors to establish themselves of as more than effective relievers.  Both have great strikeout potential, Brebbia (10.66 K/9), Leone (9.75 K/9) in 2018.  Both have average fastball velocity of 95 MPH. Both have similar WHIP’s, BB/9 and so on and so on. 

Basically, they have very similar traits.  Leone was hampered by an injury in 2018, ironically his injury is one of the many reasons that Brebbia was recalled from Memphis during the season. A place that he should not have ever been, but that is an argument for a different day. Cardinals fans that will play recency bias will look at Leone’s start to 2018 and not see the real pitcher that Leone can be when healthy. In 2017 Leone excelled for the Toronto Blue Jays in the stacked American League East. In 70.1 innings, Leone held hitters to a .202 average and a skeletal .360 slugging percentage. He inherited the fourth-most runners in baseball, 54, and stranded 42 of them (a mark which put him among the very best in the American League).What stands out the most to me was his exceptional numbers against lefties, holding them to a slash line of .183/.261/.366.  Leone features a premier secondary pitch with his cutter which generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitcher’s cutters. It is especially stingy against left handed hitters. His effectiveness against lefties is the reason he has the advantage over Brebbia whose line was not on the same level .250/.330/.455 in 2018.

Leone is not a standout closer with tons of experience but if given the chance in the backend he has shown to be effective against hitters from both sides of the plate. Going into spring training I believe all relievers will have a chance to close, assuming we don’t have another Greg Holland late signing type situation.  Leone has the velocity, secondary pitch and hopefully the opportunity.