photo: Team photo, September 27, 2020 (St. Louis Cardinals)
Pretty much everyone issues predictions these days, but how many of them come back after the fact to self-assess the quality of the guesses?
Of course, one answer is that we do here at The Cardinal Nation. It is usually a good exercise to undertake to remain humble!
Last year at this time, as in each January, I published my predictions of the topics I felt could evolve into the top five stories across the St. Louis Cardinals organization for the then-New Year of 2020.
Now with the benefit of full hindsight, including the top five stories of 2020 countdown now on the books, it is time to return to my initial forecast.
The original top five projections follow, along with where the stories actually ended up, including links to the appropriate articles. I won’t be repeating my 2020 summaries here, so click on the hot links if you’d like to read those detailed five stories.
I characterize my predictive powers as having been just middle of the road this year. I was on target with three of my top guesses from one year ago – with not too much stretching. However, two others did not make it, but as I will explain, I think it is justifiable.
Almost always, how the season ends up becomes my number one story of the year. That did not change in 2020. In fact, the gap between stories numbers 1 and 2 was as wide as I can ever recall it.
Here is the scoreboard.
|Pre-2020 prediction story||rank||rank||Post-2020 actual story|
|Back to Back?||1||1||From COVID to Wild Card|
|Molina’s Contract||2||not ranked|
|Cleaning Up||3||4||Power Outage Intensifies|
|Wainwright’s Swan Song?||4||not ranked|
|Carlson is Coming||5||2||Carlson Cleans Up|
Revisiting my predicted top St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2020.
- Back to Back?
The return of the Cardinals to the 2019 post-season, concluding Mike Shildt’s first full season in the managerial chair, broke three years of frustration for the team and its fans. In fact, the club exceeded expectations, reaching the National League Championship Series before bowing out.
My number one question coming into 2020 was whether it was going to be “one and done” or the first in what was hoped to be a string of regular returns to the playoffs. The team built such a streak for five consecutive seasons – from 2011 through 2015.
What was totally not understood last January was the brewing pandemic, with its strength and staying power causing major disruptions to almost everyone and every endeavor on the planet.
To observe that the 2020 Cardinals were challenged at literally every turn is not an understatement. Despite positive test cases, injuries, opt outs and a revolving door roster, the remaining players stepped up, particularly the pitching and defense.
The result was not back-to-back division titles as once hoped. Yet the team registered a very credible 30-28 record and a second-place finish in the Central Division, three games behind the Cubs. That the Cardinals fell to San Diego in the Wild Card Series should take nothing away from their considerable accomplishments.
- Molina’s Contract
Over a year ago, when iconic catcher Yadier Molina still had a season remaining on his three-year, $60 million contract, his agent expressed interest in negotiating a two-year contract extension for his client.
While the two sides agreed to discuss the matter in the spring of 2020, the pandemic interrupted any momentum that could have been established.
It seems highly likely that the Cardinals were relieved by the delay. The reason is that club would have been required under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to offer Molina at least 80% of his prior salary for any extension.
Needless to say, $16 million is not reflective of the 38-year-old’s current value, despite what his older brother and head cheerleader Bengie publicly suggests about money or respect.
Delaying any decision until Molina reached free agency following the season meant that the Cardinals were no longer encumbered in the terms of their offer. In a normal offseason, the two sides might have come to an agreement long before the New Year, but the financial concerns of the owners have slowed the free agent market to a crawl.
It is generally believed that the Cardinals remain the front-runner to sign Molina. The second year, whether a guarantee or an option, perhaps is one key edge. It is unclear which other teams are interested enough in him to make a firm offer, however.
Another important issue is playing time, which I suspect is highly important to the future Hall of Famer. St. Louis likely holds an advantage here, as well.
But when all is said and done, it seems that money equals respect.
Because the situation remains fluid as 2020 moves into 2021, it did not register as a top story – yet.
- Cleaning Up
The most important power-production spot in any lineup is the number four hitter. For the St. Louis Cardinals of 2018 and 2019, veteran Marcell Ozuna played that role.
However, the club chose to let the outfielder walk for 2020, with no clear replacement to fill this important lineup spot.
In half of their 58 games played in 2020, the Cardinals started bargain $2 million free agent signing Brad Miller in the number four spot. Others to take turns there were Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter at 10 each, Tyler O’Neill at seven and Rangel Ravelo and Dylan Carlson at one each. The latter’s lone game in the role was no. 58, and he remained there during the Wild Card Series. Miller’s late season slump put him on the playoff bench.
Miller then followed Ozuna out of town, keeping the clean-up spot open heading into 2021.
Our no. 4 story of the 2020 was closely related as it focused on the more general problem of a lack of power by the Cardinals as a team. The club’s slugging percentage fell 44 points from 2019 to 2020 and their MLB ranking dropped from 23rd to 27th of 30.
This remains an unresolved problem now at least as much as it did one year ago.
- Wainwright’s Swan Song?
For the second consecutive year, 16-year MLB veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright returned to the Cardinals on a one-year contract. In 2020, the 39-year old was productive, with his 3.15 ERA his lowest mark in five seasons.
Unlike Molina’s free ageny circus, Wainwright has simply said he wants to return to St. Louis for 2021 and left it at that. Along with his catcher, the Cardinals say a new contract is their top offseason priority.
Yet, as with everything in 2020, the current situation is different. Unlike the last two offseasons, Wainwright’s new deal was not announced immediately after he re-entered free agency. The Cardinals continue to play the four-corners game as they evaluate the ice-cold hot stove market.
Many fans want Wainwright and Molina to return for 2021, but they also want to see the team make moves to improve itself, especially on offense. Team officials have not painted an very optimistic case that they will accomplish both.
There have been no specific rumors linking Wainwright to another team at this point. Because his situation remains unresolved heading into 2021, this did not register among my top five stories of the year.
- Carlson is Coming
The most anticipated arrival of a prospect in St. Louis in recent years finally occurred on August 15, when top prospect Dylan Carlson made his Major League debut. After several weeks of struggles against his first taste of MLB pitching, the then-21-year-old rebooted in the team’s alternate camp.
Upon his return, Carlson was so productive (and the rest of the offense so shaky) that the rookie was placed in the cleanup spot heading into the Wild Card Series.
There is much more to read in the story linked-to above, but suffice it to say that Carlson has arrived and is going to remain.
While I did nail this one, I readily admit that it was the “low-hanging fruit” of predictions for 2020!
In the final article of this annual series, I will outline my predictions for the top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2021.
Links to all stories in this series can be found here.
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