2020 Cardinals Post-Mortem: Their strengths, their biggest need (s) for 2021, and who they could target
It’s been just over a month since the Cardinals were ousted from the playoffs by the young, upstart San Diego Padres. The 2020-21 offseason is upon us, and there are questions aplenty for the Birds. In an already shortened season that featured a 17-day layoff after a COVID outbreak, the Cardinals came close to advancing on to the NLDS, but ultimately snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory and saw their season come to an abrupt end in Game 3 of the NL Wild Card Series. In order for the Cardinals to return to the postseason for a third straight year, some big changes will need to be made.
The Cardinals are coming off a season in which they finished in second place in the competitive NL Central with a 30-28 record, three games back of the Chicago Cubs, and clinched seed number five in the NL. Coming into the year, there were question marks. The greatest of them all was where would the team get their offense from. With such an emphasis on improvement, the Cardinals did next to nothing after Marcell Ozuna left for the Braves. Instead they relied on internal options such as Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas, both of whom had massively disappointing seasons, while Ozuna put up MVP caliber numbers in Atlanta. They also traded away Randy Arozarena, who earned ALCS MVP honors and broke the single postseason home run record with the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, heading into 2021, three of their biggest offensive contributors from this year, catcher Yadier Molina, second baseman Kolten Wong and utility infielder Brad Miller, are all free agents. So once again, the question is, how will the Cardinals upgrade their offense?
Of course, the Cardinals are still a good enough team to remain in postseason contention. Their bullpen, as it was in 2019, was elite, despite the loss of John Brebbia and Jordan Hicks choosing to opt out due to health concerns. Their offseason acquisition from 2018-19, Andrew Miller, pitched much more like his old self after a disappointing 2019. Giovanny Gallegos also remained steady. With Brebbia and Hicks returning in 2021, the bullpen should be the least of their worries. Their starting pitching remains strong despite Adam Wainwright hitting free agency and Dakota Hudson being forced to miss next year due to Tommy John Surgery. They could potentially lose Wainwright, especially if Molina doesn’t resign, but Miles Mikolas is returning after missing 2020. Jack Flaherty still has a ton of upside, lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim proved to be another hidden gem found by the Cardinals front office, and Austin Gomber took some major steps forward after missing all of 2019. They could still probably use a veteran starter to anchor the rotation. Their top choice would of course be Wainwright, as they likely won’t pursue Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman, but if Wainwright leaves, Charlie Morton could be an option. They could also potentially pursue Jake Odorizzi, who grew up in Breese, IL, just over 40 miles east of St. Louis
What the Cardinals really need is an impact bat or two. The main reason the Cardinals barely finished over .500 and didn’t last long in the playoffs was due to their anemic offense. If Molina leaves, they’ll need to find a backup catcher, as they believe that Andrew Knizner is Major League ready. James McCann would make sense, coming off a year in which he hit .289 with 7 homers with the White Sox and someone who has been an All-Star before. However, it would make more sense to keep Matt Wieters. The Cardinals will need to find an infielder with some pop if Kolten Wong doesn’t return. Brad Miller has expressed interest in returning to St. Louis, so a reunion isn’t out of the question, but the Cardinals should probably look for someone who can be an everyday player, as Miller is mainly a utility man. Names like Didi Gregorious, Marcus Semien, and Cesar Hernandez stand out. Gregorious would be an attractive option due to him being a left-handed bat, something the Cardinals have searched for many times. They also need to address the lack of production they got out of the outfield. Dylan Carlson got hot at the end of the year, so he should help some, but players like Harrison Bader underachieved. Anne Rogers, the Cardinals MLB.com beat writer, mentioned Joc Pederson, Adam Eaton, and Jackie Bradley Jr, all of which would be solid options, but they may go after Michael Brantley, someone they’ve been linked to in the past.
The Cardinals already have a solid team that’s capable of at least reaching the postseason, but if they want to go farther, moves will need to be made. In order to get back to the NLCS as they did last year, they need hitting, and they need it desperately. If no moves are made, it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals being the favorites in the ever competitive NL Central heading into 2021. It remains to be seen if Wong, Wainwright, or Molina will return, but the Cardinals and their fans should expect a different look for the 2021 season.