CHICAGO, October 31, 2013 — In 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals went 88-74 and won the Wild Card in Manager Mike Matheny’s first year before being eliminated in seven games in the NLCS. This year, the Cardinals improved their regular season record to 97-65, and made it to the World Series before falling 4-2 to the Red Sox. The time has come to say better luck next year to the St. Louis Cardinals.
What Went Right: Matt Carpenter flat out hit while providing the team with amazing versatility. Carpenter posted a slash line of .318/.392/.481 for an OPS+ of 143 while providing 4.5 WAR for the year. While the bat was a revelation, Carpenter also gave the team options by starting the year at second base and even making the All Star team, but when the team called up second baseman Kolten Wong, Carpenter simply shifted to third base and did not miss a beat.
Catcher Yadier Molina was always viewed as a tremendous player defensively, but over the last three years, he has really emerged at the plate. This year, he hit .319/.359/.477 while providing 5.7 WAR. One of the criticisms of WAR is that it is unable to accurately measure the defensive contributions of catchers meaning it is possible, if not likely, that Molina should have been credited with a larger WAR number.
Adam Wainwright continued to lead the staff while leading the NL in innings pitched, 241.2 IP, for the second time in four years. Wainwright had an ERA+ of 123, while striking out 22.9% of the batters he faced and walking a miniscule 3.7%.
Shelby Miller entered the year ranked as the number two prospect in the Cardinals system according to Baseball America, which they ranked as the best in baseball. Miller did not disappoint in his first full season with the big club throwing 173.1 innings with an ERA+ of 119, while striking out 23.4% of the batters he faced and walking 7.9%.
The contributions of the farm system were not limited to Miller though as Carlos Martinez (#3 prospect), Trevor Rosenthal (#4), Kolten Wong (#5), Michael Wacha (#6) and Matt Adams (#7) all made significant contributions to the big club as well.
What Went Wrong: David Freese will likely always be viewed in a positive light in St. Louis after his 2011 postseason heroics, but he likely played himself out of St. Louis this year with a slash line of .262/.340/.381 good for an OPS+ of 101. These stats are about league average, but the Cardinals can likely get similar production from Kolten Wong as they shift Matt Carpenter to third base.
Shortstop was an issue for the Cardinals in 2013 as Pete Kozma (.220/.279/.277) and Daniel Descalso (.230/.286/.373) both failed to stake a claim to the position. The Cardinals have been linked to both Asdrubal Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki, so they are likely to address the position in the offseason.
Chris Carpenter experienced neck and shoulder nerve damage and did not pitch in the majors in 2013. Carpenter has been a staple in the Cardinals’ staff since he was signed as a free agent in 2002, but he is now 35 and a free agent. It will be interesting to see how his situation plays out in the offseason.
The Cardinals attempted to use Jake Westbrook to fill the void in the rotation left by Carpenter. Westbrook, however, struggled in 116.2 innings as he posted a 79 ERA+, which was his lowest since becoming a starter, while striking out just 8.4% of the batters he faced and walking 9.6%.
Jaime Garcia also succumbed to a torn labrum this year and did not pitch after May 17. Although Garcia isn’t a superstar he does provide league average innings at the back end of the rotation.
What to look for in 2014: The Cardinals are considered one of the model franchises in baseball and will likely contend for a title again next year. Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals’ top prospect, will likely step into Beltran’s spot if he is not re-signed and there are plenty of young arms to fill any starting or bullpen spots if Carpenter and Westbrook are not retained. The Cardinals could also explore trades for a shortstop, Giancarlo Stanton or David Price with some of their young players.
Free Agents/Options: Carlos Beltran, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook (Club Option), Rafael Furcal, Edward Mujica, John Axford
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