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St. Louis Cardinals: New Year, New Team
- Updated: January 13, 2017
St. Louis Cardinals
The 2016 season did not go as well as the St. Louis Cardinals organization, players, or fans would have liked. On top of missing the playoffs by a mere 1 game, the Cardinals also were forced to watch their long time rival Chicago Cubs celebrate their first World Series title in over 100 years. For an organization as successful as the Cardinals have been throughout their history, especially the last 15-20 years, to not only miss the playoffs for only the 5th time since the year 2000 (with four World Series appearances and two Championships mixed in), but to also watch your rival team bask in the glory of ending the futility of a 108-year World Series title drought, a futility that has always been a great source of banter for Cardinal fans to Cub fans, has to be a very tough pill to swallow.
In what was otherwise a disappointing 2016 campaign for the red-birds, there were plenty of positives to take away from the season.
Matt Carpenter did Matt Carpenter things. Jedd Gyorko hit 30 home runs in 2016 to go along with his .243 batting average and 59 RBI’s. He also sported a very impressive .253 ISO with 111 wRC+. Gyorko’s 30 home runs led the team, and he and Brandon Moss‘ 28 were a big reason for the Cardinals very productive offense. Veteran catcher Yadier Molina rebounded from a 2015 campaign in which he had four home runs and 61 RBI’s in 136 games played, to have eight home runs and 58 RBI’s in 147 games played. The 34-year-old led the Cardinals with a .307 batting average, and recorded an above average 2.9 WAR for the 2016 season.
Although he had a bit of a second half let-down, right fielder Stephen Piscotty added 22 home runs and 85 RBI’s to the mix last season, his first full season in the majors. Piscotty proved to be a valuable piece for the Cardinals as they look to compete in the future.
Overall, the Cardinals offense ranked in the top half in baseball. Their 779 runs scored was good enough for third best in the NL, and fourth best in baseball, while their .255 team batting average and .325 team OBP ranked 18th and 11th, respectively. They also out homered the rest of the NL with 225 long balls. The number was second in baseball behind only the Baltimore Orioles who had a robust 253 dingers (Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo…. yeah they hit balls very far and do it very often).
Last season, the St. Louis Cardinals pitching was right around the middle of the pack when it comes to ERA, WHIP, and batting average against. Led by Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals finished the season with a team ERA of 4.08, which was good enough for 12th best in the league. Martinez made 31 starts for St. Louis in 2016 and went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 195.1 innings. He and follow starter Adam Wainwright were the workhorses for the Cardinals last season as Wainwright pitched 198.2 innings over 33 games started in 2016. It’s unknown if Wainwright can bounce back this season and return to form. Last year he appeared to be somewhat of a shell of himself. The Cardinals need him to bounce back to help solidify the rotation. The Cardinals were also sans Lance Lynn last season as he underwent Tommy John surgery following the 2015 season. Any contributions from him this year will be welcome to this team.
Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes broke into the major leagues last season and appeared in 12 games. The fire-balling 22-year-old started five of those 12 games and went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings pitched. A performance like that means that Reyes should find himself in the starting rotation for St. Louis in 2017. The emergence of Reyes foreshadowed a trade of Jaime Garcia in early December. With Reyes, Garcia was expendable and the Cardinals shipped him to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects that included an infielder and two right-handed pitchers. Garcia started 30 games for the Cardinals in 2016, and 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 171.2 innings. Jaime will join a re-building Braves team that has already made plenty of moves this off-season in preparation for the 2017 season.
The biggest move this off-season by the St. Louis Cardinals was the signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler. Fowler spent the 2016 campaign with the Chicago Cubs, and had one of the best seasons of his career. He hit 13 home runs and drove in 48 runs while hitting .276, and leading the Cubs with a .393 OBP. Dexter served as the Cubs primary lead-off hitter and played center field. His 4.3 WAR was the highest he has ever accumulated in a single season in his career. Not only will he give the Cardinals a top-notch lead off hitter, it also improves their defense, moving Randall Grichuk to left field. Fowler never graded out well as a defender until this past season when he started playing deeper. Fowler makes this team better on both sides of the ball.
The St. Louis Cardinals made sure to lock Fowler up for the foreseeable future. He and the Cardinals struck a five-year deal worth $82.5 million. If Fowler can repeat his performance from the 2016 season, he will be worth every penny.
St. Louis also elected to not pick up Matt Holliday‘s $17M team option which came with a $1M buyout, making him a free agent. He eventually signed a one-year free agent deal worth $13M with the New York Yankees. Holliday played in 110 games during the 2016 season, and hit 20 home runs to go along with his 62 RBI’s and .322 OBP. The left fielder is 36 years old and could be on the down-hill slide of his career as he has failed to record a WAR over 0.8 in the last two seasons.
Expectations For 2017:
The Brian Dozier rumors continue to swirl, with the St. Louis Cardinals once mentioned as “in on” Dozier what seems months ago, but nothing has happened. The Cardinals also have not been mentioned lately as likely suitors. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been long rumored to be favorites to land Dozier, primarily because of their willingness to part with pitching prospect Jose De Leon as part of a deal for Dozier (De Leon entered 2016 as Baseball America’s #16 on the Top 100 Prospect List). If that’s the case, any deal the Cardinals would propose for Dozier would have to start with Alex Reyes. I don’t think they’re willing to part with him given the state of the rotation right now and while Dozier would be a terrific addition to any team, you get him for two seasons and trade away six years of control on Reyes. I think the Cardinals are smart to not pull the trigger on that deal. As they are, the 2017 Cardinals should be an interesting team. Their rotation should improve with the addition of Alex Reyes full-time, but questions still loom out of the other starters with the exception of Carlos Martinez. The Cardinals are returning most of the offense from last season and with the addition of Dexter Fowler, scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem for this team. A big problem for the Cardinals last season was the defense. St. Louis was one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. They were 25th in baseball in errors, which is a more arbitrary number than objective. But outside of Kolten Wong, the Cardinals lacked defenders with much range. They’re going to need to tighten up the D this season to be successful. The starting rotation is a bit of a question mark heading in. Yes, the Cardinals have Carlos Martinez, and Alex Reyes. But with the struggles (5.09 ERA(which is somewhat attributed to the defense given his 3.91FIP)) and injury to Michael Wacha (shoulder inflammation) last season, Lance Lynn coming off Tommy John surgery, and Adam Wainwright perhaps slowing down, there’s definite questions in the back part of that rotation.
Bottom line, this team is good enough to compete just as they did in 2016. They will score plenty of runs, but if Wainwright, Wacha, and Mike Leake struggle again, Lynn can’t return to form right away and the defense doesn’t improve, the St. Louis Cardinals may be looking at another year off from the postseason.