Goldy, Cards plan to prove '23 struggles a fluke

February 19th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- Never one much for rah-rah speeches or pep talks designed to motivate others, Cardinals first baseman listened intently to the franchise’s state of the team address prior to Monday’s first full-team workout, then quickly shifted his focus to the play on the field.

The Cardinals can say all the right things about 2023 being an outlier season and how the team will bounce back to playoff form in 2024, but the 2022 National League MVP stressed that will ultimately be determined on the field in the season ahead. Goldschmidt’s focus is more on what he can do to be better in 2024 -- hint: he doesn’t feel he was that far away last season and most metrics back that up -- than any sort of bold predictions about a worst-to-first climb in the National League Central or a deep playoff run.

“We’ve got to prove it and go out there and earn it,” said Goldschmidt, a Jupiter, Fla., resident in the offseason, but one of the final few players to report to Spring Training prior to Monday’s first workout. “I’ve been on teams where the projections were good and we don’t live up to it, and on teams you think can’t accomplish much and you end up surprising them. So regardless of what people are thinking, I think it’s on us to go prove it. The scoreboard won’t lie. If we play well enough, we’ll win games.”

The Cardinals didn’t win nearly enough during a 71-91 season in 2023 -- their worst record in 33 years. That led to some massive roster movement, with the Cards adding 15 new players to their 40-man roster. Most of the movement revolved around the pitching staff, with St. Louis signing Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to start, and acquiring Andrew Kittredge and Keynan Middleton to fortify the bullpen. The coming weeks will be used to integrate those new faces and try to build a cohesive unit.

“We covered a decent amount and it’ll stay in house, but I’ll say this: I’m more excited than ever,” manager Oliver Marmol said of the closed-door team meeting the Cardinals held on Monday. “Mr. [Bill] DeWitt, [president of baseball operations John Mozeliak] and myself addressing that group and allowing them to go through that [process]. … I’m pumped.”

Marmol was especially pumped to see Goldschmidt roll into camp on Monday because he thinks he and fellow Cardinal cornerstone, Nolan Arenado, are poised for bigger seasons than they had previously. Though St. Louis signed several veteran players, the Cards will likely go only as far as their superstar first baseman takes them.

“One of the best compliments you can give someone is that they’re consistent,” Marmol said of Goldschmidt. “You know what you’re going to get out of him from a performance and personality standpoint. He’s going to give you everything he’s got, but he’s also going to be intentional with his time and conversations.”

On the surface, Goldschmidt’s numbers appeared to plummet tremendously from 2022 when he batted .317 with 35 home runs and 115 RBIs on his way to winning the NL MVP Award. While Goldschmidt had just a .268 average with 25 home runs and 80 RBIs in 2023, he still had a hard-hit rate that was in the top seven percent of the league, according to Baseball Savant. His whiff and strikeout rates remained low, while his walk rate (12.7%) and barrel rate (12%) were within the top 25 percent. Remarkably, Goldschmidt had a higher average exit velocity in 2023 (91.3 mph) than he did in 2022 (90.8) while he was rampaging toward NL MVP honors.

“It’s not like I was absolutely terrible last year, but I have the potential to play better,” said Goldschmidt, whose run value against four-seam fastballs plummeted from 19 in 2022 to -3 in 2023, per Baseball Savant. “There are some things that I wanted to correct -- with there being a lot more inconsistencies -- and I wanted to clean that up.”

One area that Goldschmidt thought could use some cleaning up in the Cardinals' clubhouse was the need for another proven veteran, so he pushed for the club to bring back 38-year-old infielder Matt Carpenter. Though it might not show up nightly in box scores, Goldschmidt feels Carpenter can be a big benefit to the Cards.

“I’ll be honest, I pushed for Carp -- when he was a free agent -- for him to come back,” Goldschmidt said. “I saw the impact he can have on the field and off it. The best teams always have players like him because they make the players around them better. That can’t always be measured in the stats. I’ll really rely on him a lot and ask what he sees with my swing.”