Marmol: Cards' new veteran starters a 'perfect fit' on and off the field

December 5th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the baseball world continues to wait on some of the top free-agent dominoes to fall, a Cardinals club determined to rectify its issues from 2023 acted quickly. St. Louis added pitching depth by signing proven veterans , and  long before the Winter Meetings began.

None of those three names were necessarily at the top of the list of coveted players, in terms of overall demand. But that doesn’t mean that the Cardinals’ pitching pursuit wasn’t nuanced, strategic and specifically targeted to fill the team’s needs. That’s what manager Oliver Marmol stressed on Tuesday. In the skipper’s eyes, St. Louis filled many of its deficiencies by acting swiftly and boldly to add assets who will help on the mound and off of it.

“I don't think [president of baseball operations John Mozeliak] got it done before Dec. 1 for no reason,” Marmol said from the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, where the Winter Meetings are taking place. “They clearly address a lot of the things we were hoping for. The three [pitchers] are the absolute perfect fit from a personality standpoint to what we were looking for.

“When you talk about culture, it's important to have guys that have been around that aren't only thinking about themselves, they're thinking about the club. And those three are known for that. So that's extremely important, especially when you have the young guys that we have. It's really good to have guys that are at the top of their game -- like Sonny -- that know how to lead, and guys that have been around -- like Lance and Gibby. The combination of skill set, but also personality, is what makes those three moves meaningful for our clubhouse.”

An already thin starting staff struggled under the weight of a slow start and injuries in 2023, which played a direct factor in St. Louis’ 71-91 record. The Cardinals finished ranked 24th in ERA (4.79) and 26th in starters’ ERA (5.07). The starters’ difficulties going deep into games also overexposed the bullpen, leading to a 23rd-ranked relievers’ ERA (4.47) and 28 blown saves.

In Gray (eight wins, 32 starts, 184 innings, 183 strikeouts), Lynn (13 wins, 32 starts, 183 2/3 innings, 191 strikeouts) and Gibson (15 wins, 33 starts, 192 innings, 157 strikeouts), the Cardinals added a trio known for their durability and a reluctance to come out of games with the outcome still in doubt. Marmol feels their work ethic, willingness to take ownership of their starts and expectations of greatness will be infectious.

“With Sonny, this is a high, high competitor, and when you are in conversations with him, it’s clear that he cares about being really good and also wants everyone around him to be elite,” Marmol said. “Lance Lynn is an accountability guy. He’s been around awhile and he’s going to make sure things go a certain way. I can’t speak highly enough of Gibby, because he’s a strong clubhouse presence who likes bringing guys alongside him. The three of them together is definitely what we needed.”

Those three starters will join Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz in the rotation. Marmol said he’s gotten good reports from the work Matz is putting in to try to be a similar pitcher to the one who thrived over a seven-start stretch before another injury ended his 2023 prematurely.

The skipper also had talks with many of the Cards’ key position players who should play major roles in their bounce-back hopes for 2024.

Marmol has always said that he thought Tommy Edman could win a Gold Glove as a center fielder if allowed to play there full-time, and those are the club’s plans for now. Marmol also thinks 6-foot-6, 245-pound rising star Jordan Walker is poised for a big leap forward following a solid rookie season.

The only thing that could move Edman from center is if 21-year-old rookie Masyn Winn struggles to hit as the squad’s starting shortstop. Winn flashed his electrifying arm and slick defensive skills in 37 big league games last season, but he slashed just .172/.230/.238 while striking out nearly three times (26) as often as he walked (10).

“In his own words, he said, ‘I know I have to come in and show that I’m capable of handling the league if I want to break camp with you guys,’” Marmol said of Winn. “Do I want him on our club? Absolutely. The way he competes, he’s going to help us win for a long time. But there are certain things that he’s working on to make sure the league doesn’t overpower him.”