As we continue to preview the upcoming season, we begin to take a look at the other teams in the NL Central, we turn to the St. Louis Cardinals, who look to head back to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year.

 

For the longest time the St. Louis Cardinals were the class of the NL Central, and the model franchise for the entirety of the league. Despite not being in a big market, the Cardinals always managed to have a moderate payroll and they drafted extremely well, which set them up well year after year. But now that the Cubs have surged and seemingly are set with young talent for many years, the Cardinals seem to have had their model franchise tag stripped from them. But don’t let recency bias sway how you view the Cardinals. They are still a very talented team that has proven over the long-term that they should never be doubted.

This off-season the Cardinals had to re-tool a bit. Their splash move was signing Dexter Fowler, who will take over an outfield spot with long-time Cardinal Matt Holliday left in free agency to sign with the Yankees. Slowly the Cardinals are getting younger, but they always manage to have the right mix of youth and experience. Adam Wainwright is still a force to be reckoned with, although he is coming off an uncharacteristically poor season. And they still have Yadier Molina manning the backstop. Couple those two with mainstays Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and others, and the Cardinals will compete for a playoff spot this season.

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 Major Off-Season Moves

  • The Cardinals lost Matt Holliday in free agency, who chose to sign with the Yankees on a one-year deal.
  • To replace Holliday, the Cardinals signed former-Cub Dexter Fowler to a five-year deal.
  • Outside of Holliday, the Cardinals also traded Jaime Garcia to the Braves and chose not to re-sign reliever Seth Maness or slugger Brandon Moss. Garcia logged 30 starts last season, but he didn’t seem likely to make the rotation this year.
  • They also signed Brett Cecil to a four-year deal, who will fill a bullpen spot vacated by Maness.

Projected 25-Man Roster

With some help from MLB.com, and some educated guesswork, this is how I see the Cardinals’ 25-man roster at the moment, if they choose to go with a seven-man bullpen and a five-man bench:

Starting Rotation

Adam Wainwright

Carlos Martinez

Mike Leake

Lance Lynn

Michael Wacha

Position Players

C – Yadier Molina

1B – Matt Carpenter

2B – Kolten Wong

SS – Aledmys Diaz

3B – Jhonny Peralta

LF – Randal Grichuk

CF – Dexter Fowler

RF – Stephen Piscotty

Bullpen

Seung-Hwan Oh

Kevin Siegrist

Jonathan Broxton

Brett Cecil

Matt Bowman

Trevor Rosenthal

John Grant

Bench

Carson Kelly

Jedd Gyorko

Matt Adams

Tommy Pham

Greg Garcia

Expert Projections

The Cardinals are a bit of a wild card in the National League. They’re expected to be better than the Pirates, but not by much, and to fall somewhere in the 85-90 win area. While the Pirates are relying on a few players bouncing back, the main concern for the Cardinals is health. If they can stay healthy, there’s a good chance they get back into the playoffs.

For some actual projections, make sure to check out those from Fangraphs, Bleacher Report, and USA Today.

Strengths

The Cardinals clearly have talent, but they’re relying on many guys staying healthy and a few players having bounce-back seasons. What shouldn’t be hampered by health issues is their ability to score runs. They finished third in the NL in runs scored last season, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue their scoring ways this year. And if any of their starters get injured, Gyroko, Adams, and Pham can knock in runs off the bench.

The back-end of their pen is also scary good. Last off-season the Cardinals signed Korean pitcher Seung-Hwan Oh, and he immediately became one of the best relievers in baseball. He’s now the closer after taking over for Rosenthal, who battled injuries and control issues last season. Behind Oh there’s Kevin Siegrist, who posted his second-straight sub-three ERA season, and the newly-acquired lefty Brett Cecil, who was fantastic from 2013-2015 with the Blue Jays before a bit of a down year last season. Those three should prove to be quite the group at the back-end.

Weaknesses

If you were looking up and down the Cardinals’ roster and just saw the names, you’d think they were loaded with talent and were a serious World Series contender. They have names we know like Gyorko, Adams, and Pham off the bench. Their bullpen seems deep with former closers Rosenthal and Broxton now pitching as middle relievers. And their rotation seems full of aces. But the key for the Cardinals is staying healthy. Michael Wacha missed time last year. Adam Wainwright had a poor season after missing almost all of 2015. These are two key pieces of the Cardinals’ rotation.

2nd base is also a big hole for the Cardinals. Kolten Wong is trending in the wrong direction, even though he always manages to beat up on the Pirates. And they need many players to have bounce-back seasons, including Wong, Wainwright, Wacha, and Jhonny Peralta, all starters. And having former-star closer Rosenthal return to form would be a plus as well.

Putting it All Together

The Cardinals, like the Pirates, have the upside to be a threat in the National League. But they need a few key players to stay healthy and they need more than a few key players to have bounce-back seasons. The reason more people have confidence in the Cardinals than the Pirates is because they have players who have many years of proven success anchoring their team. And we all know some young players will come out of nowhere to play key roles for the Cardinals down the stretch. There’s really no reason to think they won’t compete for a playoff spot this season.

Image Credit – Francisco Diez via Flickr Creative Commons

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Tyler Waite

Tyler is a data analyst by day and an aspiring sports writer by night. He’s been a Pittsburgh sports fan his entire life, but has a special place for the Pirates. He is fascinated by the analytical side of the game, and wants to impart his analysis as both a writer and as a fan to Pirate fans everywhere.