Inbox: Will Molina, Wainwright be re-signed?

Beat reporter Anne Rogers answers fan questions

January 7th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- The calendar has flipped to 2021, but inboxes will remain here on The Cardinals are still in a waiting game without any changes to the roster yet this year, but movement could be coming in the next month as teams begin to get more information on Spring Training and the upcoming season.

Let’s get to some of your questions:

What’s the timeline for a Molina or Wainwright signing? (Or even a Kolten Wong signing)
-- Lucas Smith, St. Louis

The free agent market is still very, very slow, and this is where teams are at: Waiting for clarity on the upcoming season -- when will it start? Can fans be in the stands at some point? How does attendance impact the schedule? -- before making moves for this season’s roster. It remains likely catcher will return, given the length of the contract he’s asking for (two years) and his desire to return to the Cardinals as long as some other team doesn’t swoop in and pull off a surprise offer. Pitcher remains less clear, but he’s also expressed desire to return to the Cardinals if they’ll have him.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak described the door with Wong as “slightly ajar” last month when asked of a possible return. Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu’s market will influence the offers Wong receives, just as catcher JT Realmuto’s market could influence what other teams offer Molina. So the timeline is currently in a holding pattern.

Who is poised for the leadoff spot if does not return?
-- Josh, Belleville, Ill.

Great question and one that doesn’t have an immediate answer right now. Tommy Edman could move there, as his numbers are similar to Wong, and Edman has the speed to go with the leadoff spot. Edman hit .250/.317/.368 with seven doubles last season; Wong hit .265/.350/.326 with four doubles. The Cardinals like how versatile the switch-hitting Edman is in the lineup, so it could be that manager Mike Shildt finds a rotating cast of leadoff hitters until one emerges -- or if the Cardinals sign one.

There has been some discussion about returning Matt Carpenter to the leadoff spot to take advantage of his on-base percentage (.325 in 2020), but Shildt said last month that he hasn’t thought about lineup questions yet because there’s a very real chance that the roster won’t be the same on Opening Day as it is now.

Is there any thought in just letting the kids play this year? What’s holding back from appearing in the Majors?
-- Michelle, St. Louis

Nothing, at least right now. The Cardinals haven’t made any moves to block their prospects from the Majors for all of 2021. I’d caution you in thinking that all the young players will suddenly be in the lineup on Opening Day. The Cardinals haven’t been known to do that in the past, and we could see players like Gorman and Matthew Liberatore begin the season in Triple-A to get a little bit more development in after a year at the alternate training site. But it’s reasonable to think we could see some of those faces halfway through the season.

What are the Cardinals doing to learn from their past mistakes, with Randy Arozarena, Luke Voit and Marcell Ozuna succeeding for other teams while our offense sputters?
-- Richard, Kirkwood, Mo.

This is a big offseason for the Cardinals to dive into those moves and reveal what they have learned from them. The case can be made that they evaluate well -- these players were all on the Cardinals roster or doing well in the farm system. Now it’s about unlocking the talent they have and projecting it well enough to give that talent a chance to play. Arozarena was on the postseason roster in 2019, but the Cardinals saw Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and Harrison Bader as better options for the outfield in 2020, leading to the trade. Ozuna was the Cardinals’ steady cleanup hitter for two years and got plenty of playing time, but what happened between 2019 with St. Louis and 2020 with Atlanta that unlocked his power potential and won him the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award?

If the Cardinals don’t see improvement in their offense this year -- from the players they have, to the players in their system, to the players they have yet to add to their roster -- the organization will likely re-evaluate their approach to their offensive philosophy, including personnel.

What are your thoughts on Scott Rolen’s Hall of Fame chances?
-- Cole, Lexington, Ky.

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote (I’m only two years into this thing, after all!), but I do enjoy tracking the ballots as they are revealed and see how former Cardinals, as well as players I enjoyed watching as a kid, trend. Rolen is both of those things for me, so it’s been exciting to see his name pop up on what seems like a ton of ballots so far. He could receive a significant boost in his support from last year -- he appeared on 35.3% of ballots -- and get a final push in 2022 or shortly thereafter. Ted Simmons, and Larry Walker to an extent as well, received boosts in recent years from Wins Above Replacement as a more common stat when evaluating players, and this could help out Rolen, too. The third baseman accumulated 70.1 WAR, according to Baseball Reference, over his 17-year career.