Predicting the Cards' Opening Day roster

March 28th, 2021

Believe it or not, Opening Day is just around the corner, meaning the Cardinals are one step closer to brandishing their revamped yet injury-riddled roster to try to compete for the 2021 crown.

The club had a topsy-turvy offseason, not striking a Major League deal until the final week of January and then making three big moves in a span of 11 days: re-signing Adam Wainwright, acquiring superstar Nolan Arenado and re-signing Yadier Molina. During spring, three projected starters have been placed on the shelf and will miss the start of the year.

Suffice it to say, the Cardinals of March look different from the Cards of November or even mid-January. Let’s makes some educated guesses at who will be on the Opening Day roster:

Catcher (2): ,
Molina, 38, is back for his 18th season, and he’ll get the lion’s share of starts as long as he remains healthy, though he has expressed a willingness to split duties. Behind him, the Cards have Knizner, who has been all but confirmed as Molina’s backup for the year. Switch-hitting has impressed and is a prime candidate for the taxi squad.

First base (1):
No surprises here: Goldschmidt will be the Cardinals’ first baseman, and the hope is he can be an All-Star again now that his bat is protected by Arenado. His backup -- if he needs one -- would likely be Matt Carpenter or John Nogowski, if the latter makes the roster.

Second base (1):
Edman, who played six positions the past two seasons, will be the starter at second and will primarily hit leadoff this season. Without a universal designated hitter in the forecast, Carpenter was attempting to win at least a share of the second-base job during spring, but his lack of production has relegated him to the bench to start the year.

Third base (1):
A large question mark at the onset of the offseason is now the club’s most secure position. Arenado, acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Rockies, brings with him eight consecutive National League Gold Gloves and four consecutive NL Platinum Gloves. It remains to be seen how his bat bounces back from a down 2020, but he’s done nothing but fit in with his new club.

Shortstop (1):
DeJong enters his fifth full season as the Cardinals’ shortstop and figures to be a prominent part of the lineup if he can stay consistent throughout the year, primarily batting cleanup. He hit .250 with three home runs and 25 RBIs in 2020 while impacted by a bout with COVID-19. How he works with double-play partner Edman in place of Kolten Wong will be a storyline to follow. Edmundo Sosa or Edman could spell DeJong here as well.

Outfield (3): , , Justin Williams
Possibilities: ,
Harrison Bader’s forearm injury shook up the outfield picture just a week before Opening Day. His projected 4-6 weeks on the shelf means Carlson will take the lion’s share of reps in center, while Williams’ path to right field has been yanked wide open. Thomas can play center, which will allow Carlson to either get a day off or slide to right when he starts. Dean is trying to solidify himself as another outfield option, and Edman could see some reps in the grass as well.

Utility/bench (4): Carpenter, , Thomas, Dean (and Knizner)
Possibilities: John Nogowski, José Rondón,
Carpenter will be the Cardinals’ primary pinch-hit bat, hoping to provide a spark from the left side. Sosa can play every infield position save for first, and though Rondón has impressed in spring, his non-roster status likely gives Sosa the edge. Nogowski, a natural first baseman, has had a fantastic spring, but he might fall victim to the roster squeeze, especially given that he holds Minor League options. He, Rondón and Moroff are prime taxi squad candidates.

Starting pitchers (5): , , Carlos Martínez, ,
When will Kwang Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas return? That’s yet to be determined, but until then these are the five starters the Cardinals will carry into the regular season, as made official by manager Mike Shildt. Kim (back tightness) could return earlier than later, but Mikolas (right shoulder) is well behind. The Cards hope Flaherty’s 2020 results were an aberration and that Wainwright can keep pitching like the ageless wonder he has been during Spring Training. Martínez gets a chance to prove himself in the rotation again, while Ponce de Leon and Gant could find themselves in creative roles when the rotation returns to full health. Dakota Hudson (Tommy John surgery) is out for the year.

Relievers (8): , , , , , , , ,
Possibility: What the Cardinals will need to determine is how big they want their bullpen to be, deciding between 13 pitchers (five starters, eight relievers) or 14 (nine-man ’pen) to start the year. We’ll go with 13 to allow for a larger bench, but if St. Louis opts for the latter route Woodford could then find himself on the roster as a swingman and make some spot starts. Regardless, the Cards are ever-confident in their crop of relievers. The only question: Who emerges as the closer?