It’s World Series or bust for the Cardinals in 2022.
With three consecutive postseason appearances, a new manager and a roster of Gold Glovers and even some MVP candidates, the pieces are in place for a run to October.
Now that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been reached, let’s take a look at the five most pressing questions facing the Cards ahead of the 2022 season.
1. How will the new regime lead?
Oliver Marmol is the new manager of the club, hired in October after the dismissal of Mike Shildt. Marmol will be the youngest manager in the big leagues, but his years of rising through the Cardinals’ coaching pipeline has the club confident he can take the reins in stride.
Here’s what’s readily apparent: Marmol has respect across the organization and clubhouse, with relationships forged during his time as a Major League bench coach and Minor League manager. He’ll be surrounded by a large contingent of returning coaches, as well as the additions of Skip Schumaker (bench coach) and Turner Ward (assistant hitting coach).
2. Is there enough pitching?
Adding Steven Matz on a four-year pact was an important move for the Cards, not just because it shored up the crop of starters, but also because it added the first left-handed look to the projected Opening Day rotation. Alongside Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas, the Cards should have one of the better rotations in the National League. But that is under the assumption of health, which was tested in 2021.
The last stage of this offseason will see if the Cardinals deem it necessary to add more rotation depth, something they didn’t do last year. On the free-agent front, Zack Greinke could be a fit, or another lefty, Sean Manaea of the A’s, could present a more high-caliber move if the trade market is a preferred route. Otherwise, the likes of Jordan Hicks, Alex Reyes, Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo and, eventually, top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore will be competing for starting roles as well.
3. Any bats on the horizon?
For as much as the Cardinals’ lineup clicked in the second half -- with the emergence of Tyler O’Neill as an MVP candidate, Paul Goldschmidt on a tear and Harrison Bader breaking out -- for the majority of the season, there was much left to be desired. With the introduction of a designated hitter in the NL for 2022, St. Louis has a chance to add an impact bat to a lineup that, prior to this new CBA, had no real openings. Top of the list should be a left-handed hitter, given that the club has just two such bats (Lars Nootbaar and prospect Brendan Donovan) on its 40-man roster (along with switch-hitters Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson).
Adding another home run threat should also be of utmost importance, and to that end, Kyle Schwarber may be a match. Otherwise, Joc Pederson, whom the Cardinals were rumored to be interested in last offseason, could be a more modest approach. It all depends upon where priorities lie -- and how much spending flexibility the front office has.
4. Which prospects make an impact?
Perhaps the answer to question No. 3 is none of the above and should instead be top prospect Nolan Gorman. The lefty slugger is expected to contribute in St. Louis at some point to 2022, perhaps on Opening Day. He’d fill two needs -- offering a burst of power and a left-handed look to the lineup -- but it remains to be seen how quickly the Cards progress him in spring. He’s earned rave reviews for his learning of second base; time will tell when he’s able to go out and show it.
Otherwise, Juan Yepez could also stand to serve as a de facto DH, but as a right-handed option. He was arguably the Cards’ best prospect in 2021. Do he and Donovan, who had a torrid Arizona Fall League showing, make the Opening Day roster? And when does Liberatore make his highly awaited debut? Spring Training will start to bring those answers.
5. Will Yadi and Waino go out in style?
It’s the last ride for Molina. He said as much. It’s likely the final go for Adam Wainwright. He’s all but confirmed it. They have been the heart and soul of the club for almost two decades, and that will be the case once more in 2022. With 21 more starts together (entering the year at 304), the duo will overtake Tigers battery Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan for the most for a battery in AL/NL history.