Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina’s retirements signal the end of an era in St. Louis, but their window as contenders is still very open. Nolan Arenado recently opted into the remaining five years of his contract. Reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt has two more years left on his deal. The Cardinals also have a solid farm system that is ranked in the top half of the league that should allow them to sustain success as they have for the past two decades.
Their wild-card loss to the Philadelphia Phillies was viewed as a disappointing season finish within the organization. The 2023 roster will likely look very similar, with the major change being a new face at the backstop for the first time in over a decade. The Cardinals hired a new bench coach, a new pitching coach, and a new hitting coach to begin the offseason. The team ranked dead-last in the MLB in strikeouts last season, but the front office seems set on keeping the rotation mostly in place and hoping for internal improvements.
Franchise legend Adam Wainwright surprised fans with his announcement that he is returning for one final season in 2023, but comes at a hefty $17.5 million price tag. Last off-season’s major signing at pitcher, Steven Matz, missed the entire second half of the 2022 season with an injury. The club traded for Jordan Montgomery at the deadline to supplant that loss and is expected to retain him this offseason. Those three will be counted on heavily in the upcoming season along with the full return of ace Jack Flaherty. Only Matz is under contract past next season making starting pitcher a not-so-sneaky need despite the strength of the organization’s pitching prospects.
Projections widely vary on how much payroll St. Louis will have available to spend this offseason. Most estimates are that the Redbirds’ budget will lie between $20 and $30 million. Do not expect the organization to go crazy with its spending like some in the media are speculating, but one big move and a few smaller notable signings are certainly on the table.
SP Jordan Montgomery- $10.1M, offer arbitration
SP Jack Flaherty- $5.1M, offer arbitration
SP/RP Jordan Hicks- $1.6M, offer arbitration
SP Dakota Hudson- $2.7M, decline
OF Tyler O’Neill- $5.1M, offer arbitration
INF Tommy Edman- $4.3M, offer arbitration
CP Ryan Helsley- $2.4M, offer arbitration
C Andrew Knizner- $1M, offer arbitration
RP Genesis Cabrera- $1.2M, offer arbitration
Montgomery was a revelation for the staff after the all-star break and is a strong candidate to be extended. Flaherty is the Cardinals’ best pitcher and needs to be on the roster for 2023, but tensions between the two sides may prevent a long-term deal from being reached. Jordan Hicks may not be a long-term starting pitcher, but he is a nice bullpen piece. Dakota Hudson has been underwhelming during his St. Louis tenure and is the odd man out in a crowded rotation. Tyler O’Neill is a sleeper trade option for the Cardinals but should be back. Tommy Edman and Ryan Helsley are two of the team’s best players and are locks for next year. Knizner disappointed last season and likely missed out on his opportunity to be the team’s starting catcher, but is serviceable as a backup. Genesis Cabrera had an awful 2022, but has flashed as a left-handed reliever and should get a chance for redemption.
Pending Free Agents:
OF Corey Dickerson, let walk
SP Jose Quintana, let walk
Corey Dickerson had a strong second half of 2022 for the Cardinals, but the team has an abundance of outfielders. They also have a strong group of up-and-coming outfielders, including top-ten MLB prospect Jordan Walker. Nootbar and rising prospect Alec Burleson can serve as left-handed batters in the outfield. Jose Quintana is coming off his best season in several years with a 2.93 ERA.
He should see a sizable market in his last chance at a long-term contract now that he is approaching 34 years old. Like the outfield, St. Louis has an abundance of major-league-level starters but is missing a star. Quintana would be a welcome return to the roster, however, the Cardinals need to prioritize spending at positions other than the middle of their rotation.
Many expect the Cardinals to push for big names this off-season and thus have linked them to several star players in the trade market. As you may remember, the team was one of the finalists for Juan Soto before his trade to San Diego in early August. Catcher is the position St. Louis is most likely to trade for a star.
Sean Murphy of the Oakland Athletics is the most notable name on the market and has drawn significant interest at a hefty price tag. Oakland would likely ask for one of the Cardinals’ top young players such as Nolan Gorman or Matthew Libertore, in addition to a package of prospects to boost their rebuild. That price may end up too expensive for St. Louis.
Another option is Toronto Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk. The 24-year-old was an all-star last year but is considered a trade candidate due to the presence of Gabriel Moreno, formerly their top prospect. Their third catcher Danny Jansen is a less flashy option. Kirk’s trade value is at its highest point, and Toronto would be savvy to move him now.
Unlike Oakland, Toronto is in a position to take on starting players like Lars Nootbar as the centerpiece of a Kirk trade as opposed to prospects. The Blue Jays have a glaring hole in left field after dealing Teoscar Hernandez to Seattle. Nootbar is a fan favorite but is the most likely trade candidate if the Cardinals opt to trade for a catcher instead of signing one.
St. Louis has an abundance of borderline Major League caliber arms in their bullpen, and at least one should get dealt to free up room for free agents. Drew Verhagen makes the most sense. He was signed to a two-year deal last offseason and had a near worst-case scenario season. He was injured often and gave up 5.8 walks and 2.1 home runs per nine innings. Ideally, Verhagen is rotation depth and a bullpen piece. He has the potential to bounce back in 2023, but the Cardinals would benefit by moving on for a higher upside option.
C Willson Contreras: 4 years, 76 M
Nothing would make the Cardinal faithful happier than replacing legendary catcher Molina with a three-time all-star and spiting their archrival in the process. Former Chicago Cub Willson Contreras has been heavily linked to St. Louis to start free agency. Contreras has spoken publicly about a possible deal with the Cardinals, and it makes a lot of sense for both sides. The 30-year-old would fill their most pressing need and add another dangerous hitter to the lineup, and he would get the opportunity to compete for a World Series.
The one aspect of his game that could prevent the signing is defense. Molina is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. Contreras would be a noticeable downgrade in that area despite the benefits he would bring to the plate. Contreras could be the catcher for the near future before balancing a field and DH role when Ivan Herrera, or another of the Cardinals farm system catchers, is ready to man the backstop.
INF/DH Matt Carpenter: 1 year, 8 M
A reunion with the longtime Cardinal would almost be too perfect, especially after Pujols’s success at designated hitter (DH) last season. 37-year-old Matt Carpenter is no Pujols but would be a welcome addition as a left-handed batter that the lineup desperately needs. His Cardinal career ended with a sputter, slashing .169 in 2021 before St. Louis declined his option. Carpenter spent the offseason working with hitters around the league, including his former teammate and recently hired Cardinals bench coach Matt Holliday.
He signed with the New York Yankees in May and had a bounceback season hitting 305 and slugging 15 home runs. Carpenter is not the all-star he used to be, but he can still boost the St. Louis lineup. Carpenter still refers to St. Louis as home. The Cardinals should prioritize a reunion with their former star infielder.
RHP Miguel Castro: 2 years, 5 M
28-year-old Miguel Castro would complete the St. Louis bullpen. Andre Pallante and Jordan Hicks can provide the rotation depth and long-inning ability that Drew Verhagen was signed to be. That leaves an opening for a more traditional right-handed reliever. Castro perfectly fits the swing-and-miss profile the Cardinals are looking for in their bullpen next year. His 23.7% strikeout percentage may not stand out, but his slider had a 40% whiff rate in 2022.
He comes at a discount after a season-ending shoulder injury. He does not come without his deficiencies, having a less-than-stellar fastball and 12.3% career walk rate. Still, he has the potential to be a dominant reliever. It is unlikely the Cardinals organization will open up their checkbooks for a big-name pitcher, and Castro is one of the best options from the bargain bin.
C: Willson Contreras RHH
1B: Paul Goldschmidt RHH
2B: Tommy Edman SH
3B: Nolan Arenado RHH
SS: Paul DeJong RHH
LF: Tyler O’Neill RHH
CF: Dylan Carlson SH
RF: Lars Nootbaar LHH
DH: Matt Carpenter LHH
UTL: Brendan Donovan LHH
2B/DH: Nolan Gorman LHH
OF: Juan Yepez RHH
C: Andrew Knizner RHH
SP: Jack Flaherty, RHP
SP: Miles Mikolas, RHP
SP: Jordan Montgomery, LHP
SP: Adam Wainwright, RHP
SP: Steven Matz, LHP
RP: Jordan Hicks RHP
RP: Andre Pallante RHP
RP: Chris Stratton RHP
RP: Jojo Romero LHP
RP: Miguel Castro RHP
RP: Genesis Cabrera LHP
RP: Giovanny Gallegos, RHP
CP: Ryan Helsley, RHP