Owner: William Dewitt Jr. $2.3 billion
World Series Titles: 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006, 2011
Greatest Player: Stan Musial, OF/1B
Division: NL Division
Payroll: 16th, $147,704,768 million
2022 Result: 93-69, 1st place NL Central, lost to Phillies in Wildcard Series, 2-0
General Manager: Mike Girsch
Manager: Oliver Marmol, 93-69, 0 World Series titles.
Home Field: Busch Field, 45,494
Key Additions: After the 2022 season, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made it clear what topped his off-season wish list – finding an elite catcher. The Cardinals have been spoiled at that position, most recently by Yadier Molina, who is headed to the Hall of Fame. The 10x All-Star and 9x Golden Glove winners was as complete an elite catcher as there has been in baseball over the last decade.
Mozeliak made game. He signed free agent Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million deal. Contreras has a ways to go before matching Molina’s defense but the offense is undisputable. Excluding his rookie season and the pandemic-shortened season, Molina’s slash line is terrific for a catcher .256/.349/.459 line. Contreras has yet to post a 25-homer season he’s smacked more than 20 homers in seasons.
This would be a great signing under any parameters but not very often does a team address its No.1 need as well as the Cardinals did while also crippling their No.1 rival. Contreras had anchored the Cubs. Wouldn’t it be cool if Willson and older brother William (Atlanta Braves) meet in the NLCS?
Key Losses: Even though the Cardinals seemingly have replacements now in house, there’s no way a franchise loses two of the best players to ever play their positions and not feel it, either on the field, in the clubhouse, or both. St. Louis has said goodbye to Albert Pujols, who retires with 703 home runs and Yadier Molina, who retires as one of baseball’s all-time great defensive catchers. We mentioned Molina’s nine Gold Gloves, third all time for a catcher, but also consider this: From 2003-2021, Molina led all catchers with 175 defensive runs and he’s second all time with a dWAR of 26.8. Pujols is one of just three four players to hit the 700-home run plateau.
Key Injury: Tyler O’Neill had arrived. He had worked his way through the Cardinals system with such continued improvement that management was downright giddy about the outfielder getting to the big club. In his first full season in St. Louis, O’Neill validated all the expectations hitting 34 home runs and driving in 80 runs in 141 games. The 2022 season couldn’t come fast enough. But it did, injuries arrived with it. O’Neill suffered a shoulder injury and then went down with a hamstring injury twice. He was limited to 96 games, hitting just 14 home runs and driving in 56.
“No doubt this was a disappointing year, no way to say it otherwise, between injury and performance,” Mozeliak told reporters in St. Louis. “There is still a lot to like about him. I think the best approach here is you turn the page and you start thinking about next year.”Prospect alert: Say hello to right fielder Jordan Walker, Cards fans. The 20-year-old has rocketed up the organization and is poised to make his MLB debut. Did we mention he’s 20! The 6-5, 220-pound specimen of an athlete was the club’s first-round pick (No.21 overall) in the 2020 draft out of Decatur (Ga.) High School.
At AA Springfield last season, he gave new meaning to tearing up, posting a slash line of .306/.388/.510/.898 with 19 home runs, and 68 RBIs in 536 plate appearances. Although he struck out 116 times, he also drew 58 walks, which speaks to his eye and improving plate discipline. Walker’s development was a factor in the Cards trading terrific center field Harrison Bader to the Yankees for hurler Jordan Montgomery.
Scouting Report:Over/Under Wins: 88.5, 1st place in NL Central. This is a great time to be a St. Louis fan. Not only are Cardinals the team to beat in their division, but they have two of the best corner infielders in the game playing at an elite. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt slugged 35 home runs and drove in 115 with a .317 average. Damn! Third baseman Nolan Arenado is coming off a 30-home run, 103 RBI season in which he hit .293.
Add Contreras’s bat to the lineup and you’ve got a three-headed monster that no pitcher wants to face. If DH Juan Yepez comes into his own, he can make the loss of Pujols less of a concern.
As great as Pujols was, he didn’t have a 30-home run season since 2016. Yepez hit 12 homers and drove in 30 RBI in 274 plate appearances. Double that number and we’re looking at a 24-homer, 60-RBI season. Pujols hit 24 with 68 RBI last season. Imagine a lineup with Goldschmidt, Arenado, Contreras, O’Neill and Yepez. Imagine a rotation with a healthy Jack Flaherty, Montgomery, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, and Steven Matz. Like we said, it’s a good time to be a Cardinals fan.
BetBasics Best Bet: This might seem a little crazy, considering the Cardinals have lost two of the franchise’s all-time greats in Pujols and Yadier Molina but we think they’re poised to win the NL Central going away. The Cardinals won 93 games last season, a full seven games over the Brewers. The Brewers can match the Cardinals in starting pitching but if O’Neill returns to form, they can’t touch their St. Louis rivals at the plate.
With key will be the health of fiery starter Jack Flaherty, who is coming off a 2022 in which he only started eight games because of shoulder and oblique injuries. It’s a far cry from the 2019 season when he struck out 231 with an era of 2.75 or the start of the 2021 season, when he opened 8-1 before the injuries kicked in.
If Flaherty can return to his elite self by the middle of the 2023 season, the Cardinals can run away and hide.We’re setting the over/under for wins at 93.5. They won 93 last season in Marmol’s rookie season as a manager. He has a year behind him, a veteran pitching staff and power hitters are the corners.