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Inbox: Who will be the Cards' breakout star?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers fans' questions
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

Who do you see as the Cardinals' most probable breakout candidate for 2018?
-- Pablo P., Guatemala City

I think things line up well for reliever Sam Tuivailala to be a guy who finally puts everything together this season and, in turn, assumes a critical bullpen role. First off, his status as an out-of-options player means that the Cardinals will give Tuivailala every opportunity to show he's ready to be a permanent piece in the bullpen. Those days of driving back and forth along I-55 are over.

Who do you see as the Cardinals' most probable breakout candidate for 2018?
-- Pablo P., Guatemala City

I think things line up well for reliever Sam Tuivailala to be a guy who finally puts everything together this season and, in turn, assumes a critical bullpen role. First off, his status as an out-of-options player means that the Cardinals will give Tuivailala every opportunity to show he's ready to be a permanent piece in the bullpen. Those days of driving back and forth along I-55 are over.

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Furthermore, the converted position player showed signs in 2017 of a coming breakout. The 25-year-old right-hander showcased improved command of his fastball and was much more liberal with his use of the curveball. That jump in usage paid off. While posting a 2.55 ERA in 37 appearances, Tuivailala also significantly lowered his walk rate. He even thrived late in the season when manager Mike Matheny started using him in higher-leverage spots.

With roles still unsettled in the Cardinals' bullpen, Tuivailala has a repertoire that allows St. Louis to dream of using him as a late-inning arm. I wouldn't be surprised if he shows he's ready to make that a reality sooner rather than later.

Video: STL@NYM: Tuivailala whiffs Reyes in the 7th

Who will lead off for the Cardinals in 2018? Will it be Dexter Fowler or Matt Carpenter?
-- Joe W., Chicago

The short answer is that it hasn't yet been determined. Both Matheny and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak noted last month that this is a discussion that still needs to be had with both players. In fact, it's likely to remain (at least publicly) unsettled until Spring Training.

While both players have stated a preference to hit from the top spot, my best guess is that Carpenter will return as the leadoff hitter and Fowler will slot in right behind him. In essence, it gives the Cardinals two high-OBP hitters at the top of their lineup, ahead of projected run producers Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong. Fowler thrived as a two-hole hitter last season, and Carpenter's numbers (.291/.391/.487), for whatever reason, have always been better when he has hit leadoff. At this point, why mess with a formula that already works?

Video: CHC@STL: Carpenter hits a leadoff homer to center

I'm interested in your perspective on the David Freese - Fernando Salas / Peter Bourjos - Randal Grichuk trade now. Freese, who will start at third for Pittsburgh, seems exactly like the type of player that would put our infield and lineup over the top.
-- Brian J., Indianapolis

There are several layers to this comparison, so let's take a look at them one by one. First, you can simply compare the production the players had after swapping clubs. Over two years, Freese posted a 3.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for the Angels. After that, he became a free agent. Salas produced a 0.1 WAR over his two-plus seasons in Anaheim, while Bourjos recorded a 0.6 WAR with the Cardinals in a little less time. In four seasons with the Cardinals, Grichuk has posted a WAR of 7.0.

Based on WAR alone, Grichuk, even with his consistency issues, has made the biggest overall impact.

The value of each player, though, should also be viewed within the context of cost. For instance, the Angels paid Freese approximately $11.5 million during his two years there. Grichuk, in comparison, has made less than $2 million with the Cardinals. The Angels paid more than $4 million to Salas, and Bourjos cost the Cardinals $2.85 million. In other words, the Cardinals got more bang for their buck. And remember, Grichuk still remains under team control for another three years.

It's also worth noting that even if the trade had not occurred, there's no guarantee that Freese would still be a Cardinal. He became a free agent after the 2015 season, a time in which the Cards had other third-base options. He has also struggled recently when asked to be an everyday player.

Video: MIL@STL: Grichuk homers to plate Cardinals' first run

Are the Cardinals not giving Jedd Gyorko enough credit at third base? Defensively, Gyorko ranked among the top of all third basemen in baseball. In addition, he provided a lot of extra-base hits, which the Cardinals desperately need in the lineup.
-- Josh P.

I don't think the Cardinals undervalue Gyorko's production, but that won't stop them from exploring whether they can add someone who can bring even more. Doing so would not only enhance the offense, but it'd also free Gyorko up to fill in at any of the four infield spots. That would be a plus for the Cardinals.

You are correct, though, to point out how good Gyorko was on the defensive end last season. And perhaps he hasn't gotten enough outside attention for it. In fact, the only third baseman in either league to rank better defensively in terms of Defensive Runs Saved was NL Gold Glove Award winner Nolan Arenado.

The Cardinals would take a hit defensively if they move Carpenter back to third base. However, you'd have to compare that drop-off to whatever would be gained on the offensive end to make a true assessment.

Video: SD@STL: Gyorko makes an impressive ranging stop

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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