Could the Cardinals win nine Gold Gloves -- one at each position -- in 2021?
But of the nine positions, including pitcher, they have a player with gold in their past (either as a winner or finalist) occupying seven spots.
The acquisition of Nolan Arenado only strengthened an area the Cardinals excelled in while concurrently providing a spark in the batter’s box. Arenado brings with him a staggering eight Gold Gloves -- one in every season he’s played -- and four Platinum Gloves.
All told, the trophy case of the Cardinals’ potential starting lineup looks like this:
C: Yadier Molina-- 9 Gold Gloves (4 Platinum), last in ‘18
1B: Paul Goldschmidt -- 3 Gold Gloves, last in ‘17
2B: Tommy Edman -- No Gold Gloves
3B: Arenado -- 8 Gold Gloves (4 Platinum), last in ‘20
SS: Paul DeJong -- No Gold Gloves, finalist in ‘19
LF: Tyler O'Neill/Lane Thomas -- 1 Gold Glove (O’Neill), last in ‘20
CF: Harrison Bader -- No Gold Gloves, finalist in ‘19
RF: Dylan Carlson (after the trade of Dexter Fowler) -- No Gold Gloves
SP: Adam Wainwright -- 2 Gold Gloves, last in '13 OR
Jack Flaherty -- No Gold Gloves, finalist in ‘19
That's a mine’s worth of gold. But even if you don’t buy the accolades (which are imperfect), defensive metrics (which are also imperfect, but they are what we have to work with) back the claims of team-wide aptitude.
And in 2021, it’ll be with many of the same faces that helped the Cards reach high defensive marks the past two years, now bolstered with all-world talent. One key face is gone, however, with Kolten Wong -- a Gold Glover each of the past two seasons -- signed by the Brewers. But St. Louis believes Edman, a super utility player his first two seasons, will thrive in the everyday second-base role.
What must be examined is the relationship Edman works into with DeJong at short. DeJong was part of one of the best double-play duos with Wong over the past four seasons; his chemistry with Edman will be important to monitor, though the duo has had some in-game experience there.
Bader, meanwhile, is seen as one of the most deserving Gold Glove candidates in the game without one already. He’s led or tied for the Cardinals’ lead in outs above average for two consecutive seasons; his 13 OAA mark in 2019 was ninth in baseball. He ranks in the top sixth percentile in three key outfield metrics, and at 26, he shows no signs of slowing down
The rest of the outfield picture became clearer after the Cards shipped Fowler to Los Angeles on Thursday night. Left field will most likely go to the 25-year-old O’Neill, the Cardinals’ most recent Gold Glove winner, after he led all left fielders with nine DRS in 2020. But his bat (90 career OPS+) needs to catch up, or Lane Thomas, Justin William and Austin Dean could squeeze in some playing time.
And right field now belongs to Carlson, the top prospect who can play at any spot but profiles as a plus defender on the corners. The 22-year-old debuted last season and was always expected to impact the big league club in some way in 2021. With Fowler out of the picture, that production will now come regularly out from right field.
Even without Arenado, there was little question where the Cardinals would stand defensively in 2021. Matt Carpenter, who figures to be a DH candidate (if there is one in the National League), would have been in line for third had Arenado not joined the club. His role remains to be seen.
Losing Wong is a tough blow to the defense. But reeling in Arenado can more than make up for any lapse in fielding. Just ask Goldschmidt, a three-time Gold Glove winner in his own right who knows Arenado’s wizardry far too well.
No, the Cardinals won’t win nine Gold Gloves in 2021. But the fact that even around seven is a conversation not too outrageous just indicates how much the organization prides itself on the fundamentals of the game, prioritizing run prevention and clean fielding.
That's something Arenado noticed
“They did the little things to win ballgames,” Arenado said of his impression playing St. Louis over the years. “And that's something that I've always admired about this organization.”