NL Central Preview

St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Preview

The Cardinals are coming off their first season missing the postseason since 2010. They finished 2016 with a record of 86-76, 17.5 games out of first place.

The Cardinals came up just 1.0 game short of a wild-card spot (the Mets and Giants finished tied), despite winning their final four games of the season. The Cardinals just couldn’t get a big winning stretch together in 2016. They went 12-12 in April, 16-13 in May, 12-13 in June, 16-11 in July, 14-13 in August, and 16-14 in September/October. The Cardinals did have their 9th consecutive winning season, and have been above .500 in 16 of the last 17 seasons.

The Cardinals were decimated by injuries in 2016. They lost Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Aledymys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, and several key relievers for months at a time, not to mention losing Lance Lynn before the season even started. By the time the Cardinals finally got mostly healthy at the end of the season it was too late.

Key additions

  • Dexter Fowler, CF (free agent from Cubs)
  • Brett Cecil, RP (free agent from Blue Jays)
  • John Gant, SP (trade from Braves)

A year after Jason Heyward left the Cardinals to join the rival Cubs, the Cardinals got an outfielder back. Dexter Fowler played CF for the world champion Cubs in 2016, and hit .276/.393/.447, with a 129 wRC+ and 4.7 fWAR. Fowler is not projected to keep up with those numbers however. ZiPS has him at .259/.360/.406, with a 109 wRC+ and 2.1 fWAR.

Key subtractions 

  • Matt Holliday, LF (free agent to Yankees)
  • Brandon Moss, OF/1B (free agent to Royals)
  • Jamie Garcia, SP (trade to Braves)
  • Seth Maness, RP (free agent to Royals)
  • Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF (wavier claim to Diamondbacks)

The Cardinals are losing 60 home runs between Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss, and Jeremy Hazelbaker. Matt Holliday had an emotional end to his time with the Cardinals last season. Holliday hit .293/.380/.494 with 156 HR and 23.1 bWAR over his eight seasons in St. Louis.

Projected Lineup

2017 ZiPS projection courtesy of RotoChamp

The Cardinals don’t have a Joey Votto in their lineup, but they make up for it with a lineup with zero holes. Every Cardinals projected starter has a projected OPS of .718+. The Cardinals also have a nice bench with Matt Adams, Jedd Gyorko, and Greg Garcia.

Projected Rotation

2017 ZiPS projection courtesy of RotoChamp

The Cardinals rotation is chalked full of experience, but they have a trio of starters coming off disappointing seasons: Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Mike Leake. Lance Lynn is coming back from Tommy John Surgery. The new ACE of the Cardinals is Carlos Martinez. He has a 3.02 ERA/3.42 FIP with 6.8 fWAR over the last two seasons.

Alex Reyes is the Cardinals top prospect (#3 pitcher overall), and posted a 1.57 ERA/2.67 FIP in 46.0 IP last season with the big league club. He was supposed to be a big part of the rotation, but now needs Tommy John Surgery.

Projected Bullpen

2017 ZiPS projection courtesy of RotoChamp

The Cardinals bullpen is solid, and deep. They added lefty Brett Cecil this off-season, and Hwan Oh and Rosenthal at the back end is very good.

The Cardinals Farm System

Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver

Top Prospects (MLB Pipeline)

  1. Alex Reyes, RHP
  2. Carson Kelly, C
  3. Luke Weaver, RHP
  4. Delvin Perez, SS
  5. Harrison Bader, OF

Carson Kelly is being groomed to be Yadier Molina’s replacement. Molina’s contract ends this season, but the Cardinals are currently working on an extention. Kelly hit .289/.343/.395 in 96 games between AA and AAA in 2016.

Luke Weaver got a taste of the big leagues last year making eight starts. Weaver had a 1.40 ERA/2.04 FIP in 12 starts at AA in 2016 (also made 1 start at AAA). He would likely be the first guy moved up to the rotation if there is an injury.

Final thoughts

The Cardinals don’t have the firepower to compete with the Cubs on paper, but no one else in the NL Central does. For the Cardinals to compete for a wild-card spot, they will need to hope the Pirates, Reds, and Brewers are bad, and will need to feast on them. If they can’t, they might be looking at a second straight year of missing the postseason.

16 thoughts on “St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Preview

  1. Lets hope that some out-of-the-ordinary events occur for the Cardinals this year.
    Lets hope that contract negotiations with Molina break off and nothing is agreed to before Molina’s deadline of Opening Day. Then Molina becomes a free agent, signs with Atlanta and becomes a teammate with his buddy BP.
    Lets hope that Carpenter struggles at 1B.
    Lets hope that OF Randal Grichuk repeats his bad 2016.
    Lets hope that 2B Kolten Wang is unhappy in his platoon role and struggles.
    Lets hope that rotation trio of Wainwright, Wacha and Leake disappoint again.
    Lets hope SP Lance Lynn isn’t the Lance Lynn of old after TJS.
    Lets hope that 3B Peralta shows again he is not a 3B.
    Lets hope that Jonathon Broxton is their best reliever.

    • You WV… your post made me realize how vast the divide is right now for the Reds and the Cards. What a position to be in that one would have to think about “here’s what would have to go WRONG” instead of us wishing on our stars about “here’s what would have to go RIGHT.”

  2. You forgot to include the over/under on how many times Harold Reynolds says Yadier Molina should be the NL MVP.

  3. Great preview, Nick.

    Reds fans should hope Yadier Molina signs a long, expensive extension contract with the Cardinals. Molina will be 35 by the end of the season. All the wear from catching nearly every game is bound to hurt his production. He’s still an excellent catcher, but paying for him to maintain value at age 36-39 is risky. Cardinals don’t often make big mistakes with contracts, but this is an opportunity for them to be led by their emotions into a big misstep.

    • That is the other side of the coin. That also could benefit the Reds, if they have too much invested in Molina at those ages. That might keep the Cards from signing some other free agent type for an area of need.
      But I listened to the talking heads yesterday at lunch on MLB Network radio saying how Molina had more value to the Cardinals than to any team he could sign with as a free agent.
      A bad scenario would be the Cards not re-signing him, then trade him at the deadline for a haul of talent, even if he would be a 2-3 month rental.

  4. Until they’re bad, you have to assume they’ll be good. My guess is they’ll play chicken with Molina as the open market value for a 35 year old catcher may be ” limited.” They’re not afraid to spend money, but they’re also not afraid to let guys walk.

  5. Great piece, Nick.

    The Cardinals new TV deal kicks in next season, and they were second in attendance overall, behind the Dodgers.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/news/2016/10/11/cardinals-blues-to-benefit-from-75-billion-sports.html

    That financial firepower can overcome bad signings with more signings, even a possible emotional decision to bring back Molina.

    Since 2000, the Cardinals have had one losing season. One. Truly, a franchise to respect and dislike, all at the same time.

  6. A big key to the Cardinals continued success over the years, first with LaRussa and Dave Duncan as pitching coach, and now with Mike Matheny, is how they have managed their pitchers and made them all pitch to a particular philosophy. When Mike Matheny was the catcher, he controlled the game, and Yadier Molina has succeeded him for many years. Molina is more important to them than just statistics, but a 35 year old catcher is very susceptible to getting injured regularly. It remains to be seen how the manage the succession in catching, as this is a big key to their success.
    I don’t see Carpenter staying at 1st base; his OPS and as good a hitter as he CAN be just doesn’t play well there. I would not be surprised if they find another 1st baseman who can hit and Carpenter moves back to 2nd or 3rd.

    Wacha struggled last year and was out of the rotation for a while. Wainright is not as strong as he was, and appears to have lost velocity last year. Leake was pretty disappointing for the Cardinals last year, and don’t know if he is going to bounce back. And Lance Lynn is coming off TJ surgery, so he is a big question mark.

    Under the surface, there are a lot of questions about the Cardinals, especially their starting rotation. I would expect to see Alex Reyes up sometime this summer.

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