Now that the 2018 season has come to a close for the St. Louis Cardinals, here’s a quick look at 10 questions the team will need to address this off-season…
1. Adam Wainwright. This question has been in play since last year as the veteran right-hander is without a contract for 2019. There is no question about his place in Cardinals history, Adam Wainwright will wear a red jacket as soon as he’s eligible for the team’s Hall of Fame. The old adage is you can never have enough pitching, but did his final four starts show enough that the two sides are able to work out an agreeable return for next season? Does Wainwright even want to continue pitching? It appears to be the case, but he was careful only to speak to his belief it wasn’t over in St. Louis this season. Now that things have come to a close, addressing the future is unavoidable for both Wainwright and the Cardinals.
2. Marcell Ozuna’s shoulder. Although the left fielder led the Cardinals with 88 RBIs this season, Ozuna was clearly compromised by the shoulder issues which affected his throwing and to an unknown extent his swing. A couple of weeks ago, he said his rehab program and rest should have him ready to go for next year, but rest didn’t seem to be enough after 2017. Eligible for free agency in 2020, there’s obvious incentive for Ozuna to put up big numbers but if his shoulder will allow that remains in question.
3. Left-handed relief. Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons were not the answer in 2018. Will Chasen Schrieve or Tyler Webb fill the necessary role next season? What about Austin Gomber coming out of the bullpen?
4. Jose Martinez. One of the most popular players in the clubhouse, Martinez led the Cardinals with a .308 average. He can hit. And his contract is very affordable. But the Cardinals need to decide if he will be their everyday right fielder as despite his best efforts, first base proved not to be a viable option. As with so many of these other questions, Martinez situation is influenced by how the team moves forward with Dexter Fowler.
5. Dexter Fowler. The outfielder was seen smiling around the clubhouse the last week of the season and felt like he had figured things out at the plate before fracturing his foot. Three years are left on his contract, which includes a no-trade clause. Regardless of who is to blame, the first two years have not gone as expected. How much faith do the Cards put in Fowler matching the expectations of when he signed as a free agent or do they take the hit but go another direction in right field? Especially when as noted above, other the decision affects other outfielders and potential moves.
6. Kolten Wong’s knee. When he was in the lineup, Kolten Wong provided Gold Glove defense. But due to knee issues, which then are believed to have contributed to the hamstring issues, he had only 353 at-bats.
7. Bud Norris. The finish to his season has overshadowed his overall body of work for some, but early in the season Norris was one of the most reliable arms out of the bullpen for the Cardinals. His 28 saves (33 opportunities) rank 6th in the National League. His earlier hopes for a long term extension seemed to fall on deaf ears and with the hip issues and final games, plus young arms like Jordan Hicks available it would seem unlikely for his return.
8. Carson Kelly. With Yadier Molina showing no signs of slowing down, the Cardinals need to take a long, hard look at what makes the most sense with Carson Kelly. Would he provide more value in a trade or as the backup behind Molina. And with the performance of Francisco Pena that may have a different look than past years.
9. Matt Adams and Greg Garcia. Like Jose Martinez, both are popular amongst their teammates and have been accepting of their roles off the bench without complaint. But both are also eligible for arbitration. Adams hit a career high 21 homers, but figures to have limited starts next season unless Matt Carpenter doesn’t play first base regularly. As a pinch-hitter, Garcia hit nearly 70-points below his career average in 2018. The defensive versatility and left-handed bat helps, but may not be enough. Example-Daniel Descalso.
10. The rotation. Miles Mikolas was one of the best free agent signings in baseball and the young arms like Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson give great hope for the future. Alex Reyes and Michael Wacha should be back healthy, same for Carlos Martinez being ready for nine innings. Does Luke Weaver return to form? Is there another level for John Gant?
The starting five is not set–which isn’t a bad thing to have competition headed into Spring Training, but there’s also the question of who may be needed in a trade to address other needs? Pitching depth is still a strength of the Cardinals, but how will it be deployed?
photo credit: Kamil Krzaczynski, Wendell Cruz, Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports