Cardinals set 2022 Opening Day roster

April 7th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- While shoulder injuries to Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes and the absence of franchise fixture Yadier Molina defined the opening of Spring Training for the Cardinals, the time since has been dominated by the laser-like focus of superstar corner infielders Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt and the arrival of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.

The Cardinals brought back Pujols -- a two-time World Series champion and a three-time NL MVP during his time in St. Louis from 2001-11 -- more out of necessity than ceremony. The Cards were hopeful that a youngster among the group of Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar and Juan Yepez would fill the team’s DH spot. However, all three struggled early in camp and the organization signed the 42-year-old Pujols to finish his career with cardinals on the bat across his chest.

Usually, young managers -- such as St. Louis’ 35-year-old Oliver Marmol -- shy away from setting lofty expectations, but the Cardinals' rookie skipper has already said that it would be a disappointment if this team doesn’t contend for a World Series this season. The Cards consider themselves to be just that loaded and able to ignite as they did last fall when they strung together a historic 17-game winning streak to slingshot into the playoffs.

Of course, Marmol said that before Flaherty (the 2020 and ’21 Opening Day starter) and Reyes (a ’21 All-Star and former closer) needed inflammation-reducing injections in their right shoulders. Neither will be ready for Opening Day, but the Cardinals are hopeful that Flaherty can get back by the end of April and Reyes should be back in the fold by late May.

Molina, 39, missed the first week of Spring Training because of a personal matter, but he’s back now for his 19th and final season before retiring. He is baseball’s longest-tenured player, and his 19 seasons with one club is a MLB record among catchers. Molina and staff ace Adam Wainwright have already started 304 games and, if healthy, they should pass Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan’s all-time battery record of 324 starts late in the season.

Opening Day -- Thursday at Busch Stadium against the Pirates -- is quickly approaching, so here are our best guesses at the makeup of the Cardinals' roster.

Of note, teams will be able to carry 28 players (29 for doubleheaders), up from 26, from Opening Day through May 1. Additionally, there will be no limit on how many pitchers they can carry as part of the expanded 28-man rosters. However, rosters will revert to 26 players with a 13-pitcher maximum on May 2.

Catchers (2): ,
Molina is one of the most beloved players in Cardinals history -- both among the fans and the players in the locker room. That sentiment was summed up by newcomer Steven Matz when he said recently that Molina’s arrival into camp “turned a house into a home.” Before Molina slips off into retirement and makes his way to Cooperstown, the Cards would love to give the catcher a fifth trip to the World Series and a third championship ring. Knizner has endeared himself to the pitching staff with his work in the offseason and early in camp, and his bat could be much improved this season after altering his swing plane to get more lift.

First base (1):
The first baseman with the Popeye-like forearms and the quiet disposition showed up to Spring Training dialed in and ready to help the Cardinals pick up where they left off last season. Goldschmidt finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting last season after hitting 31 home runs and driving in 99 runs. At 34 years old, he’s still in his prime and would like nothing more than to finally get the Redbirds into the World Series after coming up just short in the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Rookie Juan Yepez will play when Goldschmidt rests or is at DH, but it will be painful taking Goldschmidt’s four-time Gold Glove off the diamond.

Second base (1):
Edman easily won out the starting second base job when Nolan Gorman struggled badly -- both at the plate and in the field. Edman won a Gold Glove last season, had 41 doubles and 30 steals, but his .308 on-base percentage was troublesome -- especially from the leadoff spot. If Pujols and Corey Dickerson can provide lineup protection for Goldschmidt, Tyler O'Neill and Arenado in the No. 5 slot in the order, rising star Dylan Carlson will likely be promoted to the leadoff spot. They are hopeful that he can help a team that was 20th in the league in OPS against right-handed pitching last season. As for Edman, he is likely looking at hitting seventh or eighth, which could turn into a big RBI slot for him.

Shortstop (2): ,
DeJong worked all offseason with famed hitting coach Lorenzo Garmendia to try and re-work a swing that saw him sink to career lows in several major categories last season. DeJong is trying to recapture the magic that helped him hit 25, 19 and 30 home runs in his first three MLB seasons. Marmol said the starting job is “DeJong’s to lose,” but Sosa made a push with a strong spring. DeJong has since all but locked up the Opening Day job with a stellar spring that has seen him hit for power and hit to all fields again. However, if DeJong falters, Sosa isn’t too far behind. He started the Wild Card Game last fall.

Third base (1):
No Cardinal was more impressive this spring than Arenado, and that’s no accident considering the work he put in during the offseason. Despite hitting 34 home runs and driving in 105 runs, Arenado wasn’t pleased by his .255 batting average in his first season with St. Louis. He’s repositioned his hands to be quicker to the ball, and could be poised for a monster season. And, of course, the nine-time Gold Glover should continue being one of the game’s best defensive third basemen in decades. He’s already made three highlight-worthy defensive plays this spring.

Outfield (3): Tyler O’Neill, , Dylan Carlson
The Cardinals finally seemed to have figured out their revolving door in the outfield when O’Neill and Bader had career-best years at the plate and Gold Glove performances in the field. Also, the 23-year-old Dylan Carlson showed signs of living up to the hype and could be a fixture in the franchise for years to come.

DH/Utility/Bench (5): , , , Sosa
Pujols, who comes into 2022 needing just 18 home runs to move into fourth all time and 21 to reach 700, will likely get the Opening Day start at DH even though the Pirates will almost assuredly start a righty. Pujols crushed left-handed pitching last season with the Dodgers, and he will be used in those situations as a DH and a late-innings pinch-hitter. Nootbar, who worked out during the offseason with Arenado, was one of the biggest revelations of last season, and he played well in the Arizona Fall League. The Cardinals signed Dickerson to an incentive-laden, one-year contract as insurance in the outfield and as the left-handed hitting DH. Dickerson, who played for the Pirates and Blue Jays last season, is famous throughout baseball for being a great bad-ball hitter, but he is hoping to be more selective this season in order to get back to driving the ball for power.

Starting pitchers (5): , , , , Jordan Hicks
Injured list: Jack Flaherty (10-day IL)
Jack Flaherty is the most talented pitcher on the staff, but he was added to the 10-day IL on Monday after struggling with shoulder pain much of the offseason and unable to alert the organization during the 99-day lockout. That ramps up the pressure on Wainwright, newcomer Matz and injury returnees Mikolas and Hudson. Wainwright -- the Opening Day starter -- was back to ace status last season while winning 17 games, while Hudson and Woodford impressed the front office with strong finishes. Hudson, one of the team’s hardest workers, could blossom into a force this season if he can pitch with more efficiency, while Mikolas is finally over the forearm tendon strain that derailed him much of last season. VerHagen, who pitched in Japan the last two years, has been a revelation and might have the job locked down in place. Hicks is close to 100 percent after missing much of the past 2 1/2 seasons following Tommy John surgery, a COVID opt-out season and a second “minor tear,” and he has talked of trying to keep his pitches in the 96-98 mph range instead of the 105.1 and 104.3 mph pitches he threw before the elbow injuries.

Injured list: Alex Reyes (60-day IL)

Gallegos proved to be a season-saver for St. Louis last year when he replaced the struggling Alex Reyes and notched 14 saves. Reyes, who carried last season’s shoulder pain into this spring, recently got a stem-cell injection in his shoulder to help with the fraying of his labrum. With Hicks in the starting rotation, Woodford and VerHagen will now pitch in long relief. McFarland is steady from the left side, while Cabrera can be electrifying when he has his command. Brooks pitched in South Korea last season and the Cardinals like his strike-throwing capabilities and versatility as a starter or reliever. Pallante beat out Jake Walsh for the 28th and final spot on roster. He's made a meteoric rise through the system and the Cards like his ability to induce ground balls with his sinking fastball.