ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 11, which means we’re officially in countdown mode for the 2020 baseball season. With that comes questions about the Cardinals' roster and who might get a spot on Opening Day.
There is still more that could happen between now and Opening Day. With that in mind, here is a prediction of what the 2020 Cards might look like. Don’t forget that rosters will expand to 26 players this season.
Lock: Yadier Molina
Possibilities: Andrew Knizner, free agent or trade
Although there have been reports that Molina will want to play past 2020, this will be the final year of his three-year, $60 million contract. The 37-year-old is a lock to continue his stellar work behind the plate. His backup in '19 was Matt Wieters, who is a free agent after signing a Minor League deal last spring with the Cardinals. That deal worked out well for the Cardinals and for Wieters, who was essential when Molina spent time on the injured list last season. The Cardinals have indicated they’d like to add a veteran backup catcher before the offseason is over. Whether it’s Wieters or not remains to be seen; Wieters might be looking for a starting spot after showing he can still produce. Knizner is St. Louis' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and the Cardinals could let him have a full year as Molina’s backup.
Lock: Paul Goldschmidt
Possibility: Rangel Ravelo
Goldschmidt has this one locked down, so it would be more likely for the Cardinals to rely on a player at another position (like Molina, Knizner or third baseman Matt Carpenter) to be Goldschmidt’s backup. But don’t be surprised if Ravelo makes a case in the spring to be on the roster. The 27-year-old rookie played in 29 Major League games in 2019 and impressed the Cards with his power off the bench. He can also play outfield, which gives him a little more opportunity to find playing time if he does come off the bench.
Lock: Kolten Wong
Possibilities: Edmundo Sosa, free agent or trade
Wong has second base covered and figures to build on his career-best year, both defensively and offensively. His backup will depend on what the Cardinals decide to do with Tommy Edman next year, which is explained more below. Sosa, the Cards’ No. 14 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, got only eight at-bats this year (two hits), but he can play second base and shortstop. He will need to have a good spring for St. Louis to consider him for help off the bench in 2020, but his Dominican Winter League production might be helping him already. After a hot start for the Aguilas, Sosa hit .274/.332/.366 over the winter.
Lock: Paul DeJong
Possibilities: Yairo Muñoz, Edmundo Sosa, free agent or trade
DeJong hit 30 home runs and made his first All-Star Game in 2019. He’ll look to build on that in '20. The Cardinals must figure out who will be his backup, though. Muñoz technically filled that role last year, but he spent more time in the outfield (28 games) and third base (21 games) than he did at shortstop (17 games). Meanwhile, DeJong played 159 games last season, shining light on the Cards’ need for DeJong and their view on the alternatives. Whether it’s Muñoz, Sosa or Edman, St. Louis needs a viable backup shortstop to emerge in the spring.
Lock: Matt Carpenter
Possibilities: Free agent or trade
Carpenter isn’t so much of a lock at the third-base spot as he is a lock to be on the Opening Day roster. Despite a year that featured career lows in batting average (.226), on-base percentage (.334) and slugging (.392), Carpenter’s contract runs through 2021 with an option for '22, so he’ll look to have a bounce-back year and has the backing of the organization in his effort to do that. But the Cards weren’t afraid to have Carpenter come off the bench for most of the final months of the season, making third base still up in the air and a potential spot for St. Louis to upgrade offensively. Again, it will depend on what it decides to do with Edman.
Lock: Tommy Edman
Possibilities: Free agent or trade
After his callup in June, Edman asserted himself as a regular and played five positions last year: second base (29 games), third base (55 games), left field (one game), center field (one game) and right field (12 games). His .304/.350/.500 slash line and versatility in the field, in the lineup and as a switch-hitter is likely to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster. The only question is where. If the Cardinals want him to be a true utility man, he can play a different position every day, and that would include shortstop, a position he has history with in the Minors, to give DeJong more breaks than he had this year. Or Edman could take over one position, like third base or an outfield spot, which would cause the Cards to reshuffle the rest of the roster.
Locks: Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader
Possibilities: Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson, Tyler O'Neill, Justin Williams, Austin Dean, free agent or trade
Regarding offense, the outfield is a spot for improvement in 2020. Despite performing below his career average this year, Fowler has a no-trade clause in his contract and will likely be on the Opening Day roster. The rest of the outfield will depend on who has a good spring. Center field will likely be the most competitive during Spring Training. Bader is viewed as the incumbent, but Thomas and Carlson -- the Cards’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- are just one productive spring away from taking over the starting spot. O’Neill and Williams, who hit .296 combined in Double-A and Triple-A this year despite missing time with injuries, could also emerge in corner-outfield spots.
The Cardinals acquired Dean from the Marlins on Jan. 14, and the left fielder is expected to compete for an outfield spot in the spring, too. Dean has spent the last two years shuffling in and out of the Majors, where he hit .225 over 64 games in 2019. In 73 games for Triple-A New Orleans, though, Dean slashed .337/.401/.635 with a 1.036 OPS. Dean has the power; he might just need the playing time to unlock it. Even with the addition of another outfielder, the Cardinals are still interested in bringing free agent Marcell Ozuna back, whose preference has always been to return to St. Louis. Ozuna is reportedly fielding offers from other teams, but the Cardinals are still in the mix.
Locks: Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright
Possibilities: Kwang-Hyun Kim, Carlos Martínez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley, free agent or trade
Flaherty, Hudson, Mikolas and Wainwright, who signed a one-year deal early in the offseason, seem to be locked into the rotation, barring injury. The biggest question is the fifth rotation spot. The Cardinals signed left-hander Kim to a two-year deal in December, and the Korean pitcher will compete for a rotation spot. But he’s also not opposed to going to the bullpen, which gives the Cardinals some flexibility and depth. Martínez, who had 24 saves as the Cardinals' closer last year, is working toward a return to the rotation, but whether his shoulder will stay healthy won’t be known until later this month or closer to spring. Gomber, a lefty who made 11 starts in 2018, was sidelined in '19 with a left biceps injury. Ponce de Leon made eight starts in '19, along with five relief appearances.
Locks: Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, John Brebbia, Tyler Webb, Jordan Hicks
Possibilities: John Gant, Génesis Cabrera, Brett Cecil, Junior Fernandez, Alex Reyes, free agent or trade
The Cardinals’ bullpen was their biggest constant throughout the year, and most of the relievers who made that happen will be back. The Cards have long sought a left-handed arm to add to the bullpen, but that might not be the biggest priority this year. Miller and Webb will be back, and Cecil, who spent the entire year on the 60-day injured list with carpal tunnel syndrome, could return, too. Cabrera was a starter for most of 2019 but is also a left-handed relief option after impressing in September and the postseason. Reyes lost most of this year to a string of injuries, so his power will likely be prepped for relief work. If Martínez does return to the rotation, St. Louis will have to find a first-half closer, as Hicks is not expected back from elbow surgery until the All-Star break. Helsley could start or relieve in '20, perhaps emerging as a closing option. Gallegos also had a breakout year and was excellent in setup situations, so the Cardinals could move him to closer, too. The Cardinals are not closing the door on the relief market, but they also feel good about where their bullpen stands.
Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.