Here are three things the Cardinals need to get accomplished before the start of Spring Training in Jupiter, Fla. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Feb. 12, and position players will be in camp by Feb. 15.
1. Plan extensions for a couple starting pitchers
The franchise is facing something of a mini crisis after not adding to the pitching staff in free agency or via trade. The Cardinals have just one starting pitcher -- left-hander Steven Matz -- signed beyond the 2023 season (though several younger pitchers are not yet eligible for free agency).
The Cardinals likely will head into Spring Training looking to sign veteran pitchers Miles Mikolas and Jordan Montgomery to long-term pacts. An All-Star in 2022, Mikolas had a great bounce-back season, and he has proven himself to be a front-of-the-rotation starter worthy of a multi-year deal. The Cardinals got a steal in the 6-foot-6 left-hander Montgomery, who won his first five decisions as a Cardinal. He should pair with Matz for years to come as the lefties the Cardinals love in the starting staff.
2. Plan how to handle Paul DeJong and Tyler O’Neill
Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said he has been surprised by how many opposing teams have inquired about the availability of DeJong, who struggled again in 2022 -- even after spending a significant period with Triple-A Memphis.
With Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and others scheduled to be away from the team during Spring Training while playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, the Cardinals are planning to use those vacancies as opportunities to get DeJong more reps at third base, second base and shortstop -- and potentially even first base. That showcase could allow DeJong a chance to right a career that once seemed headed toward stardom. Also, the Cardinals could use it to shop the sure-handed fielder to a team in need of a shortstop.
As for O’Neill, he is coming off a season that was marred by shoulder and wrist injuries and two bouts of hamstring issues. Under the strong suggestion of the Cardinals, the muscle-bound O’Neill has spent the bulk of his offseason in St. Louis working to build a body that can better endure the grind of a 162-game season. Keeping O’Neill healthy and productive in 2023 is a major point of emphasis.
3. Figure out an approach for key arb-eligible players
The payroll for the 2023 season is going up following the free-agent signing of catcher Willson Contreras and the retention of veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright, but it didn’t jump nearly enough to keep pace with such NL big spenders as the Mets, Phillies, Padres, Dodgers, Cubs and Braves. One possible reason for that is the gobs of money the Cardinals will dole out to arbitration-eligible players like Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Tommy Edman, Ryan Helsley, O’Neill and Montgomery.
Considering the more than $1 billion committed to shortstops Carlos Correa (Mets), Trea Turner (Phillies), Xander Bogaerts (Padres) and Dansby Swanson (Cubs) in recent weeks, the Cardinals would be wise to try to buy Edman out of his remaining arbitration years and reward the highly valuable infielder with a long-term contract. Flaherty and Hicks are vitally important pieces to the 2023 team, but the club likely won’t talk long-term deals with them until they can prove they can stay healthy for a full season.
Some in the organization believe O’Neill’s disappointing 2022 was partly the result of the outfielder not getting a long-term contract following his career year in 2021 and then also losing a messy arbitration case to the club in-season. The Cardinals would be wise to try to avoid similar financial standoffs with players penciled into crucial roles for the season ahead.