Opinion: How will the Cardinals fare now that baseball is back?

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Baseball is back! After a 99-day lockout – twice the length of National Football League superstar Tom Brady’s retirement – the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and the Major League Baseball (MLB) owners reached an agreement.

The agreement introduced new rules, with one of the biggest changes being the universal designated hitter (DH). Before the 2022 season, only the American League (AL) had a DH, whereas the National League (NL) had their pitchers hit normally in the lineup’s ninth spot. The rule creates 15 more jobs for MLB players and allows them to change leagues without worrying if there is a DH.

One example of this is Nelson Cruz, who has compiled an impressive 449 home runs and 1,913 hits since 2005. However, he has one major flaw: defense. In fact, his defensive plays famously cost the Texas Rangers the 2011 World Series in an amazing moment for Cardinals fans. Cruz is better known as a DH, and the change allowed him to return to the NL during the offseason.

The Nationals acquired good pieces like Cruz over the off-season, but the Cardinals weren’t as lucky. During 2022 Spring Training, closer Alex Reyes and ace Jack Flaherty announced they would be out for the season’s first two months due to shoulder issues, putting the Cardinals at a standstill. Only four players are on the Cardinals’ five-man rotation: Adam Wainwright, Steven Matz, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas.

What the Cardinals should do is package a trade deal for a pitcher, like Sean Manaea from the Oakland Athletics or Luis Castillo from the Cincinnati Reds. Someone like Castillo would be challenging to get since the Cardinals and Reds are in the same division, but the right package might convince the Reds.

What the Cardinals are probably going to do, however, is fill that spot with a player within their own farm system or roster. Jake Woodford, who started a few games in 2021, stands out with his 3.99 ERA between starting and pitching in the bullpen.

For the bullpen, the Cardinals still have a few good pieces. Genesis Cabrera is a young relief pitcher who threw 70 innings for a 3.73 ERA with 77 strikeouts last season. Another Cardinal arm is T.J. McFarland. Although this pitcher wasn’t expected to perform well, he pitched a 2.56 ERA in 38.2 innings last year. The Cardinals can only hope that lightning strikes twice.

Finally, the Cardinals added Nick Wittgren after the lockout ended. Wittgren had an off year in 2021, but his career sports a 3.75 ERA with 265 strikeouts over 271.1 innings. For just over $1 million, this pick should help the Cardinals bullpen in a spot that lacks depth.

Among others, the Cardinals have two standout position players: corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Both players have received multiple All-Star ballots, won Gold Gloves for defense and had OPS’ above .800 last season. The Cardinals also had a record-setting five Gold Gloves last year, including second baseman Tommy Edman and outfielders Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill.

Besides top tier defense and three players hitting above average, the Cardinals also added Corey Dickerson, a veteran outfielder with an .815 OPS and 128 career home runs. Dickerson will most likely slide into the DH spots.

Here is a preview of what the lineup may look like in the 2022 season:

 

  • 2B- Tommy Edman 
  • 1B- Paul Goldschmidt
  • LF- Tyler O’Neill 
  • 3B- Nolan Arenado
  • RF- Dylan Carlson
  • DH- Corey Dickerson
  • C- Yadier Molina 
  • CF- Harrison Bader 
  • SS- Edmundo Sosa 

Where does this realistically put the Cardinals for the 2022 MLB season? With the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs in the NL Central division, the Cardinals aren’t looking terrible. Assuming both Reyes and Flaherty come back healthy and perform well, the Cardinals should win 95 games, especially if their bullpen has a good season.

Like last year, the Pirates will probably lose about 100 games. The Reds have been major sellers in the offseason and could see a .500 average for wins and losses. As for the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers, each team could easily take 85-100 wins. Like the Cardinals, the Cubs are relying on their bullpen to reach 90 wins. The Brewers, assuming their hitters perform well, can win 95-100 games.

With the expanded playoffs from 10 teams to 12 teams, the Cardinals could sneak in as a lower tiered team.

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