The 2016 St. Louis Cardinals finished 10 games over .500, while also finding themselves 17.5 games behind the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. With the calendar having rolled over to 2017, the Cards will look to a veteran rotation and talented group of young position players to reclaim the division.
St. Louis Cardinals 2017 Season Preview
Key Additions and Subtractions
The biggest addition for the red birds this off-season was the signing of center fielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million deal. Fowler is coming off a solid offensive season which was highlighted by a .393 on-base percentage. With the struggles Randal Grichuk experienced in 2016, he will slide over to left to make room for Fowler. Mike Matheny finally has the top-of-the-order bat he’s been searching for.
With strong, versatile bullpens becoming all the rage last season, the Cardinals moved swiftly to strengthen theirs by signing free-agent lefty Brett Cecil to a four-year deal in November. Cecil’s numbers regressed after posting a sub-three ERA from 2013-2015, but he remained a solid arm for Toronto. With a plethora of strong lefty bats in the NL Central (Rizzo, Schwarber and Votto, just to name a few), Cecil could prove to be worth his weight in gold for the Cards in 2017.
The most glaring absence in Jupiter this spring has to be outfielder Matt Holliday. After eight years in St. Louis, Holliday signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees this off-season. He was considered by many to be one of the faces of the franchise, but look for the Cardinals to become much more athletic in years to come.
Young, Talented Position Players
The Cardinals come into 2017 with a young group of position players that expects to contribute more to an offense that was ranked fourth in MLB in runs a year ago. While Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter remain household names in St. Louis, the Cards have several young bats that are making their names known around the league.
Piscotty is a 26-year-old outfielder the Cardinals drafted in 36th overall out of Stanford in 2012. 2016 was his first full season in the big leagues and he didn’t disappoint. In 153 games he hit .273/.343/.457 with 22 homers and 85 RBI.
A 26-year-old shortstop from Cuba, Diaz burst onto the scene in 2016 as yet another shortstop with a high ceiling. He hit .300/.369/.510 in 111 games, finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
While the Cardinals aren’t moving on from Molina just yet, Kelly will eventually force the club’s hand. The No. 65-ranked prospect (according to Baseball America) was drafted in the second round in 2012. Just 22 years old, Kelly split time between Double and Triple-A last season before appearing in 10 big league games in September.
Starting Rotation Questions
This spring was a rocky start to 2017 for the Cardinals’ pitching staff, to say the least. Top prospect Alex Reyes (ranked No. 4 by Baseball America) underwent Tommy John surgery in February. The 22-year-old was brilliant for the Cards last season, going 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 games.
The absence of Reyes is glaring, but a familiar face will be replacing him. Lance Lynn, who was sidelined all of 2016 due to Tommy John, is expected to make a return to the rotation. The 29-year-old was a solid performer for the red birds from 2012-2015, winning at least 12 games each season and earning a 2012 NL All-Star nod. The coaching staff may keep the training wheels on for a while, but his presence will surely give the rotation a boost.
With the addition of Lynn, questions for the usual suspects at the top of the Cardinals rotation still remain. Although Adam Wainwright was just shy of 200 innings in 2016, he wasn’t his usual self. He gave up the most hits in the league (220) and allowed the most earned runs (102), while his ERA ballooned to a career-high 4.62. Wainwright is entering his age-35 season, but one should expect his numbers to return closer to his career averages.
Mike Leake’s 2016 season wasn’t incredible, either. The 29-year-old went 9-12 with a career-high 4.69 ERA, while allowing one less earned run than Wainwright. His ERA+ of 87 was also a career-low. Michael Wacha also had a career-high ERA at 5.09, but battled shoulder inflammation during the season.
The Bottom Line
The Cards can score all the runs in the world, but if the horses at the top of the rotation continue to underperform, they may wake up in October 17.5 games behind the Cubs again. This ball club may very well go as far as this rotation takes it, which could mean the postseason or meaningless games in September. There is enough experience on this staff and talent in this lineup to make the Cubs or Dodgers sweat during a short series.