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CARDINALS SALUTE: Cardinals make few changes but expect to contend for postseason berth again

“We can’t wait for the moment we are back at Busch Stadium together.”

– President, Bill DeWitt III

St. Louis didn’t make any changes to its major league offensive roster in the offseason but the Cardinals still expect to compete in the National League’s Central Division and earn a postseason bid.

St. Louis has a winning record over each of the last 12 years. In 2019, the team ended its three-year absence from the playoffs with a loss in the National League Championship Series.

The team did make some moves. The Cardinals traded outfielder Jose Martinez to Tampa for pitcher Matt Liberatore. The Cardinals signed pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim, who played last year in Korea.

They finished fourth in ERA [3.80] with 52 saves. St. Louis ranked 21st in runs [764], 24th in home runs [210], and 21st in RBI [714]. 

The Cardinals won the Central Division and advanced to the NL Championship Series before losing to the Washington Nationals.

Can they top that this year?

“I don’t think it’s about trying to go even higher than what went on,” pitcher Jack Flaherty said. “It’s about trying to stay consistent and about kind of how it was in the second half, trying to take the same approach day-in, day-out, and not try to do too much the next time out. It continues off of that and not trying to do anything more.”

The Cardinals have every reason to believe the same approach as last season will carry them deep this season. After all, they have most of the same players back in the fold.

“The last couple years, we have made trades where we’ve given up young players and gotten what we think is a player that fills a need. So we’re not averse to doing trades,” Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said. “But given where we are, we have a good team and we want to maintain that and not sacrifice our future for a short-term fix.”

NEW LOOK

The biggest addition this offseason was left-hander Kim, who signed a two-year deal in December in a major coup for the franchise. The Korean pitcher will be at the front of the line for the last spot in the rotation, but the Cardinals also could use him in their stacked bullpen.

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ROOKIES TO WATCH

Dylan Carlson is the top prospect in the organization and could force the Cardinals’ hand with a big spring. Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler are likely locks in the outfield, but that still leaves Carlson competing with Tyler O’Neill and a handful of others for the final spot in left field.

“Dylan obviously did a great job starting in the big league camp last year,” Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt said. “He had a wonderful big league camp. In the clubhouse, on the field clearly. He went through the season and did his part. He had a nice year in the Texas League and got to Triple-A and had the opportunity to compete there and he did very well.”

THEY’RE SET

Flaherty headlines a starting rotation that should keep the Cardinals in every game. Dakota Hudson and the ageless Adam Wainwright are next in line with Kim likely competing with Carlos Martinez for the final spot. Miles Mikolas sustained a flexor tendon issue early in spring training and won’t be ready for the start of the season. John Gant and left-hander Austin Gomber also are candidates for a starting pitching spot. 

Mikolas signed with St. Louis before the 2018 season, following a successful stint in Japan. He went 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA during his first season with the Cardinals and earned a trip to the All-Star Game. However, he couldn’t duplicate that success last season, going 9-14 with a 4.16 ERA. He acknowledged that the same arm issue bothered him “from time to time” late last season.

Wainwright plans to show everyone he can still be effective.

“I respond well when people have their doubts,” Wainwright, 38, said. “Sometimes I intentionally take something personally that wasn’t meant to be personal to drive me. I’ll do the same thing this year and apologize later.”

THEY’RE NOT

Backup spots across the lineup are up for grabs, and potentially a spot in the bullpen. But when a team trades away the likes of Martinez and Randy Arozarena for prospects – like the Cardinals did with the Marlins – it’s pretty good evidence that St. Louis feels good about its roster.

“I think for most of these guys, hitting the ground running offensively at spring training is going to be a big factor in what their spring looks like and, sort of, how the season begins for each of them,” Cardinals General Manager Michael Girsch said.

ON DECK

The Cardinals rightfully feel good about their chances this season, but they also reside in arguably the toughest and most balanced division in baseball. The Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers all have won the NL Central over the past three season, and the Reds are positioned to be one of the breakout stories of the upcoming season.

“To have another ring, that’s the goal for me,” veteran catcher Yadier Molina said, “and for all of my teammates and for the city.”

ROSTER WATCH

Key additions: LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim [free agent], 2B Brad Miller [free agent]

Key subtractions: OF Marcell Ozuna [free agent], 1B Jose Martinez [trade], RHP Michael Wacha [free agent], LHP Tony Cingrani [free agent]

Baseball America Top-100 prospects: OF Dylan Carlson [10], LHP Matthew Liberatore [42], 3B Nolan Gorman [55]

OUTLOOK

The Cardinals return largely intact after getting swept in the National League Central Series by World Series champion Washington. 

The biggest competition heading into the postponed regular season will be in the outfield, where only Dexter Fowler has a position locked up – mostly because of his contract. Center fielder Harrison Bader probably has another spot under control, and that leaves Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and top prospect Dylan Carlson competing for the last job. 

In the rotation, Kim is the front-runner to join Flaherty, Hudson, Mikolas and Wainwright. 

St. Louis won’t get reliever Jordan Hicks back from Tommy John surgery until midseason, so the early season closer is in question.

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