ST. LOUIS- The Cardinals had a brief shot at a “Red October”, which came to an end with Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Wild Card game at Chavez Ravine. Just the possibility of playing in the game seemed like a long shot not that long ago. While the season has come to an end, there are now a series of questions confronting the franchise as the offseason begins in earnest. Here’s a brief review of a number of them, in no particular order.
ARMING THE ROTATION: 2021 proved (again) that you can never have enough pitching. Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson would seem to be penciled in for 2022. How will Alex Reyes, eyeing a return to the rotation, respond to a second half that included too many walks and too many home runs, including the one which ended the team’s season Wednesday? Is Jordan Hicks rebuilt as a starter? How will Johan Oviedo, still winless in the majors after parts of two seasons in St. Louis, respond after being sent back to Memphis for the remainder of 2021 so as not to stunt his growth? Where will Matthew Liberatore start in 2022? In St. Louis or back in Memphis? Would KK Kim return on a new deal, with the knowledge that he could swing between spot starts and the bullpen? JA Happ and Jon Lester will also get consideration for a return.
BYE-OUT: Carlos Martinez has most likely thrown his last pitch as a Cardinal, with the expectation the team will buy out the 2022 option on his contract for $500,000. Matt Carpenter, who has struggled under the weight of a 2 year, $39 million option, will likely also get the buyout treatment to the tune of $2 million. While the Cardinals have plenty of internal candidates to replace Martinez, and could also still be opportunistic in the free-agent starter’s market, the team will need to find a left-handed bat off the bench who can improve on Carpenter’s performance in recent seasons.
DH DESIGNS: The collective bargaining agreement that will be hammered out in the offseason (hopefully without damaging the start of next season) will most likely include the adoption of the Designated Hitter across baseball. How will the Cardinals approach that? Bring in the best hitter they can find and hand him the job? Use it as a timeshare among a group of players depending on rest and matchups? Expect at least some speculation that the team will approach Albert Pujols about coming back to mash left-handed pitchers. The idea of (potentially) walking off into the sunset with Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina would be tempting and a potential marketing bonanza for the club. Another name to consider if they go outside: Former Cub Kyle Schwarber.
MIDDLE INFIELD: Injury and inconsistent hitting from Paul DeJong helped Edmundo Sosa win over the starting shortstop position over the course of 2021, but most observers expect the Cardinals to explore the historic shortstop market available in free agency. Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa are the big names. But if the current rules hold over, all but Baez would cost the Cardinals draft pick compensation. If Nolan Gorman is ready to break camp in the spring with St. Louis, he’s doing so to play, not to sit. Do you plug him in at second base, with some time at DH and move Tommy Edman to shortstop?
THE LEADOFF MAN: Edman does not always have the statistical look of a leadoff hitter, ranking fifth on the team in On Base Percentage and On Base + Slugging Percentage. He does have speed (30 SB team lead in 2021) and hits a ton of doubles (team lead in 2021 with 41). Edman had his own struggles offensively just like the rest of the team did in June and July, and briefly vacated the top spot, which was filled by Dylan Carlson who could be a candidate again. There’s a statistical argument to be made that Tyler O’Neill and his team-leading .912 OBS would be an intriguing leadoff option. Or even the aforementioned Schwarber.
The Cardinals deserve a lot of credit for reaching a postseason that once seemed out of reach. Now the work begins on shaping the roster which will try to do it again in 2022.