The Cardinals signed free agent center fielder Dexter Fowler to a five year contract which will likely help out their defense. Fowler rated as a below average defender in 2015, but rated very high as a defensive player last year after learning to play further back than he used to in center field. Fowler was an All Star last season, but did play in just 125 regular season games with an OPS that was as high as it has been since 2012. The Cardinals also signed reliever Brett Cecil to a four year contract which seemed to provide information to other teams on how the market had risen. Left hand reliever Mike Dunn then went to the Colorado Rockies for three years and Marc Rzepczynski received a two year deal from the Seattle Mariners. Unfortunately, other teams collectively (but individually) decided that they were not going to commit that type of terms to a lefty specialist which impacted the rest of the crop of left handed relievers.
The Cardinals pinned a lot of hope on right hander Alex Reyes. The now 22 year-old appeared in 12 games for St. Louis last season, making five starts. He struck out 52 batters in 46 innings and pitched to a 1.57 earned run average. Reyes was to be a starting pitcher in 2017 and could have very easily been the Cardinals second starter behind ace Carlos Martinez. Unfortunately, the Cardinals will have to play the 2017 season without Reyes who just recently underwent Tommy John surgery. This marks the Cardinals' second consecutive season losing a starting pitcher to TJ. Lance Lynn missed the 2016 season, though he expects to be part of the rotation this year coming opening day. Martinez had his second straight solid season in 2016, winning 16 games and striking out 174 batters in just over 195 innings. Adam Wainwright had a down season in 2016, pitching to a 4.62 ERA and 1.404 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched). Optimism exists that Wainwright can return to the form he had when he was the staff's ace, in which he owns a career 3.17 ERA. Right hand pitcher Mike Leake (9 wins-12 losses, 4.69 ERA) signed a five year contract with the Cardinals prior to the 2016 season. His numbers were very disappointing and early returns on this move signals for it to be a bad contract for St. Louis. Michael Wacha pitched in the World Series as a rookie in 2013, but has not gotten back to form since. If Lynn is not ready to go, 22 year-old Luke Weaver is the first to get a shot to fill in. Former All Star closer Trevor Rosenthal is an option to start, an option that became a little more evident with the injury to Reyes.
Rosenthal was terrible last season, losing his closer job to Oh and pitching to a 4.46 ERA and an alarming 1.90 WHIP. As the Cardinals are getting set to start the season, there is no doubt that Oh will be the team's closer. He managed to strike out 103 batters in less than 80 innings pitched. He is joined by an aging Jonathan Broxton, who pitched to a 4.30 ERA and left handed pitcher Kevin Siegrist. Cecil and right handers Matthew Bowman and John Gant- both former Mets prospects- will round out the projected bullpen. The key decision will be what to do with Rosenthal, who completely lost his control last season. He walked 29 batters in just over 40 innings and hit another three batters. If Rosenthal does not improve off his issues from last year, it is not going to matter where he pitches. The Cardinals could use him in their starting rotation, but will be a much better team if he returns to his 2015 form (2.10 ERA, 1.267 WHIP) and attempts to regain his closer's position. It will be tough to dethrone the "Final Boss," who has a reputation of being the most dominant reliever in the history of the continent of Asia.
The Cardinals have decided to move some of their players to different, though familiar, positions with hopes of improving their putrid 2016 defense. Matt Carpenter is moving from third base to first base, Jhonny Peralta moves from shortstop to third base and center fielder Randall Grichuk is moving to left field. The Cardinals had six players hit over 20 home runs, with infielder Jedd Gyorko leading the way with 30. However, Gyorko could lose out on a chance to play everyday as he battles organizational favorite Kolton Wong for the second base job. Right fielder Stephen Piscotty (.273, 22, 85) and shortstop Aledmys Diaz (.300, 17, 85) are coming off very good seasons and are the youthful part of the team's core. Grichuk hit a disappointing .240 after a great rookie season. Catcher Yadier Molina hit .307 last season in 147 games though the Cardinals are looking to lessen hist workload.
All things being equal (batting average, etc.), I take Gyorko's power over Wong. The latter can be a good utility player and is the only one of the two to have any reasonable experience in the outfield. The lineup I would go with is Fowler CF, Grichuk LF, Carpenter 1B, Piscotty RF, Gyorko 2B, Molina C, Peralta 3B, Diaz SS. Matt Adams will be the prominent left hand hitter off the bench, being joined by Wong, Greg Garcia and Tommy Pham. 22 year-old Carson Kelly will be the team's backup catcher. Journeyman Eric Fryer will try to wrestle the job away from him.
The Cardinals top prospects are Reyes and Weaver, with the latter pitching for a spot in the team's rotation. A good amount of the Cardinals prospects are in major league camp, including pitchers Marco Gonzalez, Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara and Chris Ellis. Among position players to look at are outfielder Harrison Bader and third baseman Paul DeJong.
I think the Cardinals, in spite of some solid youth sprinkled in, seem like an old baseball team. Of course, a lot of their players are not the age of the 2015 New York Yankees, but they do seem like the figurative age of the 2012-2013 Philadelphia Phillies. What has impressed about this organization the most is the fact that they have always had the right young players come in to help them at the right time. I do not think it is over by any stretch of the imagination in Anheuser Busch country. I saw this as being a down season from the beginning with the TJ surgery for Reyes being the exclamation point of my feelings. I think they will be a little better defensively with Fowler in center and Grichuk in left in addition to Peralta at third baseman and Carpenter at first. But, they need to pitch better than they did last season, which I am not sure they can do. Rosenthal's numbers last season were scary and I do not mean it in a good way. I think Las Vegas was too high on the Cardinals with their over/ under number of 87.5. I think it was built more on reputation than the construction of their current roster. The number was also set before the team lost Reyes. I am taking the under, predicting the Cardinals will finish the season at 78-84, third place in the National League Central division.