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The Cardinals Need to Be Better in 2024

Nolan Arenado smiles toward the dugout while playing defense for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Saint Louis Cardinals mustered just 71 wins in an abysmal 2023 campaign, and it might not get better in 2024.

The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off a rare losing season that left the organization wondering where they went wrong. Instead of sitting on their hands too long, the front office addressed their weakest positions this offseason.

Who’s New?

RHP Sonny Gray
RHP Kyle Gibson
DH Matt Carpenter
RHP Keynan Middleton
RHP Andrew Kittredge
SS Brandon Crawford
RHP Lance Lynn                                                                                                                                    RHP Ryan Fernandez

Out the Door

OF Tyler O’Neill
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Drew VerHagen
C Andrew Knizner
OF/1B Juan Yepez
RHP Dakota Hudson
OF Richie Palacios
RHP Jake Woodford

Offseason Grade: C+

It’s possible to pin most of the team’s failures on their abundance of injuries, but their biggest weakness last season was undoubtedly their pitching. Their 4.79 ERA placed them 24th among all big league teams, besting only the Colorado Rockies (5.67), Washington Nationals (5.02), and Cincinnati Reds (4.83) in the National League. To their credit, the Cardinals went out and addressed that need, signing three starting pitchers to headline their crop of offseason acquisitions. They also added Andrew Kittredge, a career 3.65 ERA relief pitcher from Tampa Bay, in exchange for Richie Palacios.

The pitching staff absolutely got better, but with one major caveat: age. With the exception of Keynan Middleton, every player the Cardinals brought in is at least 34 years old. Sonny Gray is also the only player added not on a one-year deal, and it seems the Red Birds are content to put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole to spearhead 2024. It is worth noting that the severity of their pitching crisis needed immediate fixing, which the Cardinals did, but not in an impactful way.

All told, the Cardinals fixed the biggest problem they had in 2023, but the way they fixed it seems rushed, insufficient, and without serious desire to compete. Their commitment to their offense as it stands could prove well warranted if they stay healthy, so no knock for their lack of additions there. The Cardinals added more than they lost, but not by much.

Potential Opening Day Starters

C Willson Contreras
1B Paul Goldschmidt
2B Nolan Gorman
3B Nolan Arenado
SS Masyn Winn
CF Brendan Donovan
LF Alec Burleson
RF Jordan Walker
DH Matt Carpenter

Starting Rotation:
Miles Mikolas
Steven Matz
Lance Lynn
Kyle Gibson
Matthew Liberatore

Ryan Helsley
Giovanny Gallegos
Andrew Kittredge
Matthew Liberatore
Keynan Middleton
Andre Pallante
JoJo Romero
Ryan Fernandez

Tip of the Spear

Paul Goldschmidt, Willson Contreras, and Nolan Arenado are the bona fide cornerstones of this team, but they’re all alone.

Paul Goldschmidt followed up his 2022 NL MVP with a solid 2023 in which he hit 25 home runs, 80 RBI, a .268/.363/.447 triple slash and a 120 OPS+. Nolan Arenado hit 26 home runs of his own, drove in 93 runs, and hit .266/.315/.459 with a 109 OPS+. Willson Contreras clocked 20 bombs, 67 RBI, and owned a .264/.358/.467 triple slash, good for a 124 OPS+.

These three were among just four players to appear in 125 games or more last season, with Tommy Edman being the fourth at 137. If they hope to have any success in 2024, players like Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, Alec Burleson, and OF Dylan Carlson need to stay healthy and take that big leap forward they’ve been teasing for years. Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman were also both great at the plate last season, but both played in just 117 and 119 games, respectively.

It may not look like it from their 71 wins, but the Cardinals have a lot of potential. Despite the health concerns and lack of consistency in the lineup, seven of their nine qualified batters had an OPS+ of 109 or higher. If they can stay on the field, this lineup can hit with the best of them.

A Question for Ownership

Having such a potent lineup, poor pitching staff, and a free agent class replete with pitching talent sounds like the perfect storm. Especially for a franchise like the Cardinals, worth an estimated $2.55 BB and with tens of millions in salary space before hitting the luxury threshold. If ownership does believe in this next generation of Cardinal hitters, why not make serious efforts to compete?

As of August 2023, the Cardinals had the 22nd best farm system per MLB Pipeline, and only two top-100 prospects in Masyn Winn (32) and RHP Tink Hence (48). They even dropped a spot to 23rd in this month’s latest update. If the Cardinals are going to win, it’s going to be with these guys. No one is coming to help, so why not sign someone who can?

The top four starting pitchers in the rotation are all in their mid-to-late 30s. Four of their starting pitchers are in their walk year or will be free agents after 2025. Their trio of middle-aged starters were all acquired within a week, well before the Winter Meetings. Given their situation, it seemed they were uninterested in even trying to acquire any of the premiere talent available in SPs Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Shota Imanaga, RP Josh Hader, RP Yuki Matsui, or SP Marcus Stroman to name just a few. SP Mike Clevinger is the only name remaining, and he would still help this thin rotation.

The Cardinals might be good in 2024, but they could have been much better.

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