The tension had built to near explosive proportions. Cardinals Nation was on the brink of a meltdown that would’ve made Chernobyl look like a glass of spilled milk. You think Mt. St. Helens was bad? You have no idea the explosiveness of a fan base that’s as emotionally attached to their team like those of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Trade That Saved a Franchise
Without a doubt, a fourth consecutive season with no playoff baseball would set off doomsday alarms everywhere a Cardinals fan occupies breathing space. Thankfully we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. Or can we? That is the big question now.
The Cardinals’ front office pulled off one of the greatest trades in the history of the organization this week. They essentially stole Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks by sending a package of players and a draft pick that weren’t going to impact the team anyway. In return they got one of the top ten players in the game.
Everyone got excited. Just look:
In Goldschmidt the Cardinals have finally acquired the true middle of the order threat they’ve coveted since Albert Pujols left. As quickly as the tension subsided though, it picked back up after Cardinals beat writer Jen Langosch tweeted this:
Cardinals Twitter was again aflame with rage. Make no mistake here. I am firmly in the #Bryce2STL camp. Before we raid Busch with torches and pitchforks though, let’s take a deep breath and look at what the front office just accomplished. It just might be enough.
Best Offense is a Good Defense
In Goldy the Cardinals have gotten another Gold Glove defender. That is a significant upgrade to what we saw in 2018. It does push Matt Carpenter to third base where there are concerns about his throwing arm.
Consider this though. Carpenter played roughly 100 innings less than teammate Jedd Gyorko at third base last year. They both ended the year with a +6 DRS. That was good for fourth in the NL among third baseman behind Travis Shaw (+9), Johan Camargo (+7), and Evan Longoria (+7). It was ahead of guys like Nolan Arenado (+5), Justin Turner (+1), and Eugenio Suarez (+1). All of them played more than twice the innings at third base that Carpenter did with the exception of Turner who still managed over 200 innings more than his St. Louis counterpart. Short story? Carpenter is fine at third base.
The Cardinals already have four regulars who are Gold Glove caliber defenders in Yadier Molina, Harrison Bader, Kolten Wong, and Marcell Ozuna (when healthy). Add Goldy to that bunch with a solid, if not uninspiring Carpenter at third base and this is a really good defensive team on paper. Not to mention DeJong is much better at shortstop than he gets credit for.
Going to WAR
Offensively, Goldschmidt put up a 5.1 WAR last year while Carpenter finished the year at 5.0 WAR. Gyorko put up a 1.4 WAR. That’s a net gain of 3.7 WAR. Add that to the win total from last year and it’s 92 wins if you round up. That would be tied with the NL pennant winning Dodgers, better than NL East Champion Atlanta, and better than the second Wild Card winning Rockies. In short, that’s a playoff team.
Let’s not stop there though. Marcell Ozuna could hardly have been counted on to repeat his 5.1 WAR season from 2017. He also played through a shoulder injury last year. Now that Goldy is there to protect Ozuna, with a healthy shoulder I think we can count on Ozuna to put up something close to the 4.5 WAR he did in 2014. Let’s take the difference as two based off his 2.7 WAR in 2018. Add two more wins and we’re now up to 94. Not enough for the division lead, but it’s really close.
Turning to right field where everyone wants to see Bryce Harper. By all accounts the team is sticking with Dexter Fowler and his -1.2 WAR from last year. Look, I’ll admit I don’t think that’s ideal. However, Dex is a professional and I fully expect a bounce back in 2019. Even if he just puts up a positive WAR this year that’s enough.
He should be closer to the 2.5 WAR he put up his first year in St. Louis. I’m projecting he puts up at least a 2.0 WAR or better. I won’t add that to the win total because of the revolving door in right field last season, but we should be okay there too.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
The last thing that needs addressed is the pitching. Looking at what we have, I can think of at least 5-10 games our bullpen cost us that we should have won. That’s not even counting having to suffer through Luke Weaver’s terrible starts.
The rotation should be Mikolas, Wacha, Martinez, Flaherty, and Wainwright/Reyes/Hudson/Gomber. It should continue to be a point of strength for this team.
Bullpens are not perfect. You can expect a bullpen to cost you some games. That being said, this is a team that blew 21 saves last year. If they can manage to win even a third of those games we’re talking about a 101-win team. Now that’ll play.
So We’re Good Right?
Anything can happen. The front office will address the bullpen. Dex will be better and so will Ozuna. Goldy is a difference maker. A healthy DeJong, full year of Bader and fixed bullpen is enough to win the division and maybe get to the World Series. As long as everyone stays healthy this is a really strong team. Harper would surely put us over the top, but relax Cardinals Nation. We got Goldy. That’ll do Mo. That’ll do.