The Cardinals enter the 2023 season as the NL Central favorites.
The St. Louis Cardinals are a model franchise when it comes to consistency. They seem to have the innate ability to sign stars, replace legends, and infuse young talent without missing a step. And while the recent Cardinals may not be as dominant as the powerhouse squads of the early 2010s, they have made the postseason the last four seasons and are looking to continue that trend. While there are a few question marks heading into 2023, the Cardinals’ strong roster has them poised for another run at a division title.
St. Louis Cardinals
2023 record: 93-69 (1st, NL Central)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 91-71 (1st, NL Central)
Change can be difficult. For the 2023 Cardinals, their biggest change heading into the season will be having a catcher not named Yadier Molina behind the plate for the first time in nearly two decades. In typical Cardinals fashion, they saw a need and addressed it quickly, signing Wilson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million contract this offseason. Many in Chicago felt that Contreras’s defense and game-calling skills were a liability, and thus the reason for letting him walk in free agency. Only time will tell which franchise was right, but for now, Contreras is tasked with replacing a legend in Molina, one of the all-time great defensive catchers. While no one can replace the leadership and defensive skills of Molina, Contreras’ offensive upside could provide an added boost to a position that was lacking offensive production in the latter years of Molina’s career.
Contreras will also have to adjust to a new pitching staff that has a mix of experience, top-end talent, and solid bottom-of-the-rotation starters. The Cardinals’ projected starting five, Jack Flaherty, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, and Adam Wainwright, have all had established success in their careers. The biggest concern is if the rotation can last a full season. Flaherty has the talent to be the ace that the Cardinals need, but he has not had a full, healthy season since 2019. His repeated shoulder issues give you pause, but all signs indicate that he is healthy heading into 2023. If the Cardinals are going to make a run through the postseason, Flaherty will have to play a major role. The Cardinals are also looking for a bounce-back season from Steven Matz, who struggled with injuries in 2022. If healthy, these two pitchers will help bolster a rotation that consists of three fairly dependable starters in Mikolas, Wainwright, and Montgomery.
An area of little concern for the Cardinals, and their biggest strength, is the infield. Easy to say when you have one of the best defenders, and players, in all of baseball at third base, and the reigning NL MVP at first. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt anchor the infield, with Tommy Edman likely to be the Opening Day shortstop. It appears that the Cardinals will deploy a two-player system, in Paul Dejong and Nolan Gorman, to fill second base this season. Paul Dejong has struggled offensively, but he does provide a more reliable glove at that position. However, Gorman is young, a lefty bat, and has more offensive upside. Gorman seems to have an open track to fill that role if he can find consistency at the plate this spring.
Competition is at the forefront of the Cardinals outfield this spring. It is projected that Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Lars Nootbaar will be the starting outfield for the Cardinals at the start of the season, but what position each will be playing is still to be determined. O’Neill is a two-time gold glove winner in left but is in a center-field position battle with Dylan Carlson this spring. The ability of each outfielder to play all three positions is seen as a strength, and you can expect there to be a consistent rotation between the three as the season progresses.
Waiting in the wings is one of the top prospects in baseball, Jordan Walker. He will get ample opportunity to play this spring with Nootbaar and O’Neill participating in the World Baseball Classic, but if all goes according to plan this spring regarding the Cardinals outfield, I expect that the organization will lean towards having him to play every day in Triple A. A lot can change in a month though, and his talent is unquestioned.
Led by Oliver Marmol, the Cardinals appear to have the best roster in the NL Central and should be the favorites to win their division. How their season plays out will fall heavily on the health of their rotation and the continued success of their veterans.