Shildt discusses Cards' offseason, 2021 plans

December 19th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- For most of 2020, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt quoted pitching coach Mike Maddux in saying that the club has to be “elite adjusters” when playing through the coronavirus pandemic.

That phrase hasn’t changed in the offseason.

There are more questions than answers right now about 2021, including when Spring Training will start and what the Cardinals’ roster will look like come next season, but Shildt and his staff have continued their evaluation and preparation to be ready for whatever comes at them.

“We’ve got to have multiple different plans for whatever Spring Training looks like,” Shildt said Friday while speaking to the media on Zoom. “Irrespective, we’re going to have protocols. We know this. We just don’t know what they’ll look like. … We’ll wait and see what [the Spring Training report date] announcement looks like, in probably early 2021, and once that go button is hit, it sounds like they’re going to be pretty well committed to it.”

Speaking from St. Simons Island, Ga., on Friday, Shildt addressed a variety of topics during his virtual Winter Meetings press conference.

Background: Shildt knows as well as anybody the kind of effect Wainwright and Molina, who have played for the Cardinals together since Wainwright’s callup in 2005, have on and off the field. Now, the two are free agents, and neither has reached a deal to return to St. Louis or put on a different uniform in '21. The Cardinals have said they want to bring both back, and both have said they want to return. But as the Cards look to bring down payroll for 2021, the right deal has to be made for their legacy players.

Shildt: “I’m optimistic. I don’t think I’m a blind optimist, but I’m an optimist by nature. Clearly, we want them back. They’re multi-generational players for us that have had long-term success and are a big fabric of our club, and have been for a while. So, definitely want to have them back. They both know that. That being said, everybody understands this is a business. I don’t think there’s an entity involved in this that doesn’t want them to come back. It’s just a matter of how it can get worked out. That’s a big part of our organization, but time will tell, and probably relatively soon."

Shildt was then asked if he’s thought about what a roster would look like without Molina on it.

Shildt: “Thinking about life without Yadi, my head’s not there. I don’t choose to put my mindset there, because that’s a hard place for me to go mentally. I’m not naive, and he may not come back. I get that, and I’ll pivot. But as far as putting mental energy toward thinking about No. 4 not being behind the plate for us, I haven’t put a lot of consideration into that.”

Topic: Awakening the offense

Background: It’s no secret the Cardinals need to better their offense if they want to improve in 2021. The club had the lowest slugging percentage of any postseason team for the second straight year, with their '19 figure of .415 dropping to .371 in ’20. Shildt said having a designated hitter -- and thus, a bat that can “anchor the middle of the lineup” -- would give his team a better chance for an improved slugging percentage, but MLB hasn’t announced whether there will be a DH in the National League again in 2021.

If there’s not, there are other places St. Louis can add offense, particularly in the outfield. Whether it’s an everyday player or a platoon-type outfielder who the Cardinals can match with their young outfielders, the club is exploring cost-efficient ways to bring a new look into the lineup.

Shildt said he wouldn’t be opposed to adding a proven bat. But he was clear that he manages with the roster he’s given, and he’s comfortable with the current players he has to improve in 2021.

Shildt: “Any time you can improve your club or put an anchor in the middle of your lineup is definitely very welcoming. Because it just has residual effect, not only helping other people in the lineup, it lengthens the lineup, and it just makes everyone around better when you have that extra bat that can make a consistent difference in your lineup.

“It’s not to say we can’t function if we don’t make that kind of move or whatever that looks like. But yeah, I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t say a strong anchor in the middle of the lineup to support our offense would be a benefit, but I’m also clearly comfortable and confident in what we do have.”

Topic: 2021 pitching plans

Background: One of the challenges for teams heading into 2021 will be handling their pitchers’ workloads after they were so significantly decreased this past season. Jack Flaherty, for example, would likely triple his innings just to get to 139 innings for a full 162-game season, and clubs typically try to avoid huge increases in workload from one year to the next because of injury risk.

But Shildt brought up that the throwing programs during Spring Training, Summer Camp and throughout the four-month-long break would be evaluated in his starters’ workload expectations. He also expects there to be a healthy competition in Spring Training for rotation spots, with Flaherty, Kwang Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas earning three spots, and then having Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Carlos Martínez, Alex Reyes and John Gant among those competing for additional spots.

Shildt: “From a throwing standpoint, while not as intense over a six-month period, the timing of the throwing still took place -- the bullpens and intrasquads -- and those innings and bullets are still real. So, pitchers’ arms were still conditioned over that period of time. I don’t feel like those innings are a one-to-one ratio based on this past season. And then, I think it gets into a more individual breakdown for guys. For example, a guy like Alex Reyes, who missed three seasons prior to last season, that kind of scenario you look at more on an individual basis. But I do think the body of work and guys being able to throw and condition their arms is probably a little more than people realize.”