ST. LOUIS -- Opening Day is more than four months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming baseball season. Who from 2019 will still be on the roster? Who will be gone? Who will be added?
A lot could happen over the offseason, as the Cardinals are looking to add to their team through free agency or trades. With that in mind, here is the first prediction of what the 2020 Cards might look like. Don’t forget that rosters will expand to 26 players next year.
Lock: Yadier Molina
Possibilities: Andrew Knizner, free agent or trade
Could 2020 be the final year for Molina? The 37-year-old hasn’t indicated whether he’ll retire at the end of next year, but it is the final year of his three-year, $60 million contract. He’s a lock to continue his stellar work behind the plate. His backup this year was Matt Wieters, who is a free agent after signing a Minor League deal last spring with the Cardinals. Because that deal worked out so well -- Wieters was essential when Molina spent time on the injured list -- something similar could happen again if both Wieters and the Cards are interested. But Knizner is St. Louis' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and the Cardinals might want him to have a full year as Molina’s backup.
Lock: Paul Goldschmidt
Possibility: Rangel Ravelo
Goldschmidt has this one locked down, so it would be more likely for the Cardinals to rely on another position (like Molina, Knizner or third baseman Matt Carpenter) to be Goldschmidt’s backup. But don’t be surprised if Ravelo makes a case in the spring to be on the roster. The 27-year-old rookie played in 29 Major League games this year and impressed the Cards with his power off the bench. He can also play outfield, which gives him a little more opportunity to find playing time if he does come off the bench.
Lock: Kolten Wong
Possibilities: Edmundo Sosa, free agent or trade
Wong has second base covered and figures to build on his career-best year, both defensively and offensively. His backup will depend on what the Cardinals decide to do with Tommy Edman next year, which is explained more below. Sosa, the Cards’ No. 14 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, got only eight at-bats this year (two hits), but he can play second base and shortstop. He will need to have a good spring for St. Louis to consider him for help off the bench in 2020.
Lock: Paul DeJong
Possibilities: Yairo Muñoz, Edmundo Sosa, free agent or trade
DeJong hit 30 home runs and is a finalist for a Gold Glove award. He’ll look to build on that in 2020. The Cardinals must figure out who will be his backup, though. Muñoz technically was this year, but he spent more time in the outfield (28 games) and third base (21 games) than he did at shortstop (17 games). Meanwhile, DeJong played 159 games this year, shining light on the Cards’ need for DeJong and their view on the alternatives. Whether it’s Muñoz, Sosa or Edman, St. Louis needs a viable backup shortstop to emerge in the spring.
Lock: Matt Carpenter
Possibilities: Free agent or trade
Carpenter isn’t so much of a lock at the third base starting spot as he is a lock to be on the Opening Day roster. Despite a year that featured career lows in batting average (.226), on-base percentage (.334) and slugging (.392), Carpenter’s contract runs through 2021 with an option for 2022, so he’ll look to have a bounce-back year and will likely have the backing of the Cardinals in doing that. But the Cards weren’t afraid to have Carpenter come off the bench for most of the final months of the season, making third base still up in the air and a potential spot for St. Louis to upgrade offensively. Again, it will depend on what it decides to do with Edman.
Lock: Tommy Edman
Possibilities: Free agent or trade
After his callup in June, Edman asserted himself as a regular and played five positions this year: second base (29 games), third base (55 games), left field (one game), center field (one game) and right field (12 games). His .304/.350/.500 slash line and versatility in the field, in the lineup and as a switch-hitter is likely to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster next year. The only question is where. If the Cardinals want him to be a true utility man, he can play a different position every day, and that would include shortstop, a position he has history with in the Minors, to give DeJong more breaks than he had this year. Or Edman could take over one position, like third base or an outfield spot, which would cause the Cards to reshuffle the rest of the roster.
Locks: Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, José Martínez
Possibilities: Randy Arozarena, Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson, Tyler O'Neill, Justin Williams, free agent or trade
Regarding offense, the outfield is a spot for improvement in 2020. Despite performing below his career average this year, Fowler has a no-trade clause in his contract and will likely be on the Opening Day roster. The rest of the outfield will depend on what the Cardinals do in the offseason and who has a good spring. Center field will likely be the most competitive during Spring Training. Bader is the incumbent but Arozarena, Thomas and Carlson -- the Cards’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- are just one productive spring away from taking over the starting spot. O’Neill and Williams, who hit .296 combined in Double-A and Triple-A this year despite missing time with injuries, could also emerge in corner outfield spots. Martínez is likely to bolster the bench, with occasional time in the outfield, although he also could take over left field if Marcell Ozuna, a free agent this offseason, leaves. If Ozuna does leave, St. Louis doesn’t have an obvious cleanup hitter on their roster yet, so left field is another spot where it will look to upgrade its lineup in free agency or through trades. The Cardinals will explore ways to reduce the abundance in the outfield once again this offseason, so the Opening Day outfield could look quite different from this year.
Locks: Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas
Possibilities: Adam Wainwright, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, free agent or trade
Flaherty, Hudson and Mikolas seem to be locked into the rotation, barring injury. Wainwright and Michael Wacha are free agents this season, and Wainwright hasn’t officially decided whether he’ll retire, it appears he's leaning toward extending his career. If he returns, he could take the fourth spot on a one-year deal, like he had in 2019. That leaves the fifth spot open for the Cardinals to add a pitcher in free agency -- a lefty would help them tremendously -- or for them to open it up to competition in Spring Training. Gomber, a lefty who made 11 starts in 2018, was sidelined in 2019 with a left biceps injury. Ponce de Leon made eight starts in 2019, along with five relief appearances. Both will have the opportunity to compete for the fifth starter spot if there is an opening. Carlos Martínez, who had 24 saves this year, has expressed interest in returning to the rotation, but he will have to prove his shoulder is healthy enough for that many innings. If he does, he could be in the mix, too.
Locks: Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Carlos Martínez, John Brebbia, Tyler Webb, Jordan Hicks
Possibilities: John Gant, Génesis Cabrera, Brett Cecil, Junior Fernandez, Alex Reyes, Dominic Leone, free agent or trade
The Cardinals’ bullpen was their biggest constant throughout the year, and most of the relievers who made that happen will be back. The Cards have always looked for a left-handed arm to add to the bullpen, but that might not be the biggest priority this year. Miller and Webb will be back, and Cecil, who spent the entire year on the 60-day injured list with carpel tunnel syndrome, could return, too. Cabrera was a starter for most of 2019 but is also a left-handed relief option after impressing in September and the postseason. Reyes lost most of this year to a string of injuries, so his power will likely be prepped for relief work. If Carlos Martínez does compete for a starting spot, St. Louis will have to find a first-half closer, as Hicks is not expected back from elbow surgery until the All-Star break. Helsley could start or relieve in 2020, perhaps emerging as a closing option. Gallegos also had a breakout year and was excellent in setup situations, so the Cardinals could move him to closer, too.
Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.