5 bold predictions for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2024

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Examining the five bold predictions made for the 2023 season in this same space a year ago, there’s a mixed bag of success.

Jordan Walker hit third in the last Cardinals lineup of the season, not fifth, though the process to reach that outcome was very different than could have been expected.

Brendan Donovan was second on the team in starts hitting leadoff, but due to injury, didn’t play after July 29. He otherwise would’ve eclipsed Lars Nootbaar, who did in fact lead the team in innings played in center field.

Juan Yepez did not come close to hitting more home runs than Willson Contreras, even including his output at Memphis. The Cardinals absolutely did not lose in the National League Championship Series to the Mets; that outcome would’ve been heartily welcomed by both franchises.

This year’s predictions have room to outpace last year’s, and may be a tad more dire:

St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn takes up his position during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson/AP
St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn takes up his position during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson/AP

1. Masyn Winn follows in Jordan Walker’s footsteps by breaking camp with the Cardinals but returning once to Memphis.

Despite Winn’s arrival last summer, it’s easy to see the parallels between the team’s top two prospects. Winn will have every opportunity to be the team’s starting shortstop as they leave spring training, and whatever competition exists for that role will be weighted heavily in his favor.

As with Walker, though, it’s easy enough to imagine a slow start with the bat which sends him back to the minors for a brief tune-up. Assuming the Cardinals don’t make any major trades (or suffer any major injuries) between now and the start of the season to clarify the middle infield, it will be difficult to find at bats for all the players who might help if the offense starts slow.

Winn doesn’t turn 22 until August and is already an elite defender with top tier speed. For all of the gnashing of teeth that will accompany such a move, it’ll say very little about his long term outlook.

2. Either Brendan Donovan or Tommy Edman is traded by the end of the calendar year.

The road block up the middle will resolve itself one way or another. Edman’s control clock is ticking, and Donovan’s flexibility and reliability make him an appealing target. There are arguments for trading either; it will be very difficult to keep both.

Winn’s permanent arrival, when it comes, will put the roster squeeze in motion. This Cardinals regime has not traded off significant position players with team control in season, so perhaps a deal won’t come until next winter, but a deal will come in some form or fashion.

If pressed for a prediction, lean slightly toward a deal of Donovan being more likely, given the team’s obvious trust of Edman in any number of scenarios.

3. Lars Nootbaar will appear on NL MVP ballots.

Last year’s Nootbaar prediction was the most accurate, and this year’s is likely to be the same. Despite missing nearly 50 games thanks to two freak injuries – a jammed thumb from sliding hands-first into third base and a contused testicle from an ill-placed foul ball – Nootbaar was just one tenth of a win above replacement behind Willson Contreras and Paul Goldschmidt for the team lead, and he’s getting better.

Pair that with increased exposure that will come from his first full winter as an international superstar and the huge spotlight which will be shone next season on players from Japan, and Nootbaar is primed for a full-scale breakout.

It should not come as a surprise if his early season lineup placement sees him hitting third, sandwiched between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, where he will have every opportunity to feast on pitchers looking to dodge those danger spots. And speaking of Goldschmidt ...

St. Louis Cardinals star Paul Goldschmidt be a free agent next year if the Cardinals don’t negotiate a new contract. Matt Marton/AP
St. Louis Cardinals star Paul Goldschmidt be a free agent next year if the Cardinals don’t negotiate a new contract. Matt Marton/AP

4. Paul Goldschmidt signs a two-year extension with a vesting option for a third year.

Goldschmidt is due to hit free agency next winter, but there’s every appetite on all fronts for him to finish his career in St. Louis. Still, thanks to last season’s team-wide debacle, there appears to be no rush to finish things this winter. Spring would be a natural time for those discussions to pick up, but they may well stretch into the season.

Matt Carpenter’s last extension in St. Louis is a looming cautionary tale but also a reasonable model, if scaled up to account for Goldschmidt’s historical successes. He turns 37 in September, so a deal which takes him to the cusp of 40 – and perhaps through 40 if, say, he hits a certain threshold for plate appearances – would make sense for both sides.

It would also likely put at least a pause on the wild, baseless assumptions that Walker has a future at first base, a position which he has never played and for which he has shown little to no natural aptitude outside of simply being tall.

Yadier Molina, right, has signed on as a special assistant for the Cardinals with speculation he’ll someday be the team’s manager. Jeff Roberson/AP
Yadier Molina, right, has signed on as a special assistant for the Cardinals with speculation he’ll someday be the team’s manager. Jeff Roberson/AP

5. Yadier Molina will manage the Cardinals for at least one game.

Oliver Marmol has missed games in each of his first two seasons owing to illness and brief suspensions. That’s normal over the course of 162 games; skirmishes happen, people get ejected, and with the knowledge of a global pandemic, there’s a little more caution around team exposure to infectious diseases. At the end of a long year, it barely goes remarked upon when a manager is on the field for “only” 158 or 159 games.

Molina, back in the organization, will be in uniform and in the dugout for times this season. There are no coaches on staff with experience managing in the big leagues, and bench coach Daniel Descalso has no management experience at any level. Traditionally, as a temporary fill in, the bench coach steps up. It’s clear, however, that the Cardinals remain committed to allowing Molina to do largely whatever he’d like to do, and however much a slight it may be to the rest of the staff, it will not be a surprise to see him take the reigns on a temporary basis.

On a permanent basis? Well, Marmol’s contract is up at the end of the season. Unlike Goldschmidt, to date, there has been seemingly no discussion of an extension. Molina looms, and this front office is undoubtedly skilled at making sure blame is absorbed by other people. If the team starts slow or languishes in the long summer months, his number of games managed might rocket past one.