Cards' roster set ahead of Opening Day

March 30th, 2023

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- wanted nothing more than to be on the mound one final time on Opening Day, hoping to pitch in that first game for a seventh time in his career and hear the roar of the Busch Stadium crowd once more.

Or, at least, that’s what the veteran Cardinals pitcher of 17 MLB seasons initially believed that he wanted until he thought things through a little more and ultimately came up with an optimistic spin.

“I’d like a full postseason more than I’d like a full April. That’s what the ultimate goal is,” Wainwright said of the strained groin that will keep him out of the Cardinals opener against the Blue Jays on Thursday. “That’s the way I’m looking at it; that’s the way I have to look at it to take a positive out of this.”

While the 41-year-old Wainwright -- a 6-foot-7 native of Georgia -- won’t be active Opening Day, 20-year-old rookie -- a 6-foot-5 native of Georgia -- will be. The Cardinals top prospect made the Opening Day roster after smashing three home runs and five doubles in Spring Training, and Cardinals fans are hoping he is the kind of middle-of-the order star who can make the franchise a serious World Series contender again. The club hasn’t won a playoff game since 2018, and Walker -- a five-tool athlete ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline -- could provide just the bat to give the Cardinals one of the deepest and most potent lineups in baseball.

The questions about the team usually revert to the pitching staff -- especially with Wainwright expected to miss the first month of the season because of the groin injury, suffered while working out for Team USA.

, an All-Star for a second time in 2022, will start on Opening Day, and he will be followed in the order by , , and . Flaherty and Montgomery will be free agents at the end of the season, so they are pitching with added motivation this season. A retooled Woodford and a healthy Matz were the Cardinals’ two most consistent pitchers in Spring Training, and they could hold the keys to the season.

President John Mozeliak, who made the call on bringing Wainwright back for a final season and had the final say on Walker making the team without having ever played at Triple-A, feels the Cardinals have a deep team loaded with talented and versatile parts. How those parts work and fit together will play out over the next seven months.

“I feel really good about our roster and all the things we can do,” Mozeliak said. “So, here we are and here we go.”

Here is a look at the 26-man roster the Cardinals will open the season with on Thursday:

Contreras, who is planning to honor idol Yadier Molina in Thursday’s opener, passed up a chance to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic to stay in camp with the Cards, and it paid big dividends. He was able to build strong chemistry with the staff while also finding his stroke at the plate.

First base:
Two days after playing in Team USA’s loss to Japan in the WBC title game, Goldschmidt was back in the lineup for the Cardinals. Despite spending much of camp with Team USA, Goldschmidt had a home run, a double and five hits this spring.

Second base:
Even though he had one of MLB’s top rookie seasons, Donovan worked hard in the offseason to improve. He added muscle and bat speed, and those new features helped him smash four homers in Spring Training.

Edman spent much of Spring Training while playing for Korea in the WBC. When he was with the Cardinals, he mostly struggled to find his stroke. He did much of the same thing last spring, but quickly got going once the season began.

Third base:
A fiery player who tends to burn hot regardless of the competition, Arenado was dialed in this spring. He hit .524 with two home runs in Spring Training and .385 with five RBIs in the WBC.

Outfielders: , ,
O’Neill, a two-time Gold Glove winner as a left fielder, will be the Opening Day starting center fielder, but the team will hold its collective breath in hopes that he can stay healthy. Nootbaar became an international star while leading Japan to a WBC title, and now the Cardinals want him to pick up the momentum he had late last season. Walker, who jumped from Double-A to MLB, smashed three home runs and five doubles in Spring Training to earn his way onto the roster.

If not for Walker’s exploits, Gorman would have been the Cards' most-discussed player in Spring Training. He smashed his fourth home run of the spring in Monday’s finale versus the Orioles. He was easily the team’s most improved player in camp.

Bench/utility: , , ,
Carlson showed lots of improvement in the spring after adding muscle and bat speed this offseason, but he will move into a utility outfield role. His ability to play all three outfield spots and hit from both sides of the plate makes him extremely valuable. Burleson came on strong late in camp and finished with six doubles and a home run to make the roster. Motter made the team because of Paul DeJong's hurt back, and now the veteran could see time at six positions.

Starting pitchers:  RHP , RHP , RHP , RHP , LHP
Wainwright’s injury means that Jake Woodford -- the team’s best pitcher of the spring -- will get several starts from the rotation. Mikolas will be making his second Opening Day start after giving up five runs and three home runs in 2019 in Milwaukee. Flaherty had a troubling outing in his final spring tuneup, and the Cardinals will need him to be much better -- especially with Wainwright out. Matz, who was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA this spring, is a dark horse to be the staff leader in wins this season.

Relief pitchers: RHP , RHP , RHP , RHP , RHP , LHP , LHP , RHP
Helsley, an All-Star and an All-MLB performer last season, is hoping to be available more this season to make himself more valuable to the team. Gallegos had a rough ending to the WBC, but he still has tremendous value to the Cardinals. They need him to carry the bullpen on days when Helsley is out. Thompson, who is combining his 96-97 fastball with a reliable curveball he is landing for strikes, could be the breakout star. Hicks recently hit 104.6 mph on the radar gun in the spring, but the Cardinals want to see him throw more strikes.