photo: Carlos Correa (Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)
A month into the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) stalemate, Major League Baseball teams like the St. Louis Cardinals may be wondering when the 2022 baseball season will begin – but more importantly when teams will be able to resume their offseason roster moves.
For each club, the winter regenerates new hope in a successful upcoming campaign. For the Cardinals, the questions abound more with the pitching staff/rotation than anything else and even there the problems are not of a desperation mode. For perennially successful clubs like St. Louis, the wish list for each season is relatively short.
Here is one I have put together for the team as we close in on the end of 2021.
First and foremost, the team needs a healthy starting rotation. Can they count on Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty becoming and staying healthy enough to put together a solid season in 2022? Can Adam Wainwright defy Father Time once again, and newly acquired Steven Matz pitch to his level in consecutive seasons? If the answer is yes, then there is no reason the Cardinals will not be at the top of the Central Division.
Since impressing in 2019, Flaherty, Hudson and Mikolas have combined for 42 starts and 211 innings pitched over the last two seasons. Before all three were bit by the injury bug, they had combined for 97 starts in 2019 alone, 555 innings worked, and almost a 3:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks.
Matz needs to continue his magic. The 30-year-old lefty has pitched 150 plus innings in three of the last four seasons bolstered by an average of 30 starts each year and a consistent strikeout to walk ratio of 3:1. He also just happens to be one the best groundball pitchers in the major leagues and with five Gold Glove winners on the Cardinal defense, he should only get better.
Then there is Adam Wainwright, the ageless wonder who led St. Louis through their historic 17 game winning streak last September. He doesn’t throw the hardest or the fastest but like the legendary Greg Maddux he knows how to throw strikes. Can he do it one more time at age 40?
If these questions are answered in 2022 with a resounding yes, opponents will find the St. Louis rotation tough to deal with day in and day out.
If a healthy rotation is in place, the bullpen becomes Oliver Marmol’s next big worry. The new Cardinals skipper will have to determine how to teach Genesis Cabrera, Alex Reyes, Ryan Helsley and Jordan Hicks to pitch and not just throw. The first three have wickedly blazing arms that deal consistently in the 96 plus mile per hour range while Hicks can top 102. It’s a nice problem to have if they learn to consistently throw first pitch strikes and get a nice chase rate but to date they have not been unable to do that. In 2021, they were all outside the MLB average in both categories. This makes the second item on the wish list very obvious; a bullpen that can pitch with both speed and control.
Finally, the Cardinals need to address the number six position on the infield. After putting together a phenomenal 2018 season, shortstop Paul DeJong has not been able to get it together again. His downward slide has been almost as precipitous as former St. Louis star Matt Carpenter.
After DeJong hit less than .200 and was replaced by Edmundo Sosa in the latter stages of 2021, it stands to reason that Cardinals have seen enough to take the lineup in a different direction. Sosa’s versatility makes him the next Jose Oquendo to wear a Cardinals uniform but not the next starting shortstop, with free agents Trevor Story and Carlos Correa still out there. With the Cardinals having money to spend, both are worth every penny and would allow the Cardinals to be set at least for the next five seasons – not just at shortstop but as World Series contenders. In addition, the opportunity would still be there financially to lock up a young player like Tyler O’Neill without breaking the bank.
The St. Louis Cardinals are unlike many of the top tier teams in baseball. They don’t make a lot of big splashes but when they do, it turns out pretty well. A great example is the deal that brought first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to Busch Stadium. With him rumored to be going to the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees, the baseball world was surprised when the Cardinals pulled off the deal. Shortly thereafter, the perennial all-star signed a contract extension.
This example exemplifies how methodical the Cardinals are and why their wish list is never very long. The same holds true in preparation for the 2022 season. The list may be short and the run of excellence should continue.
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