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The Cardinals will still be good at baseball in 2016

Contrary to what you might have heard, the Cardinals are fielding a team next year, and they should be good.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason has been a frustrating one for Cardinals' fans. After being sent home in the playoffs by the rival Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals then proceeded to lose free agents John Lackey and Jason Heyward to the very same team. Yadier Molina just had surgery and will miss Spring Training. The team whiffed on David Price in free agency, and after a drawn out battle for Jason Heyward, even the even-keel John Mozeliak seems a bit frustrated.

"The last month has been trying to play in the big-boy pool, and unfortunately, we just didn't end up getting it done," Mozeliak said. "But I really don't want to dwell on that, because I don't love the sound of finishing second, either. I do think we went out and we tried to make robust offers that we felt were competitive, and it just didn't get it done.

"Sometimes it's not always about what you're doing. You need the other party to want to be there, too. That's sort of the frustration of when you fail; maybe it just wasn't meant to be."

Add in the comments of Jason Heyward, and it certainly looks like doom is approaching:

"You have Yadier (Molina), who is going to be done in two years maybe. You have Matt Holliday, who is probably going to be done soon.

"There were already moves with Jon Jay gone, and then Tony Cruz, and (Adam) Wainwright is probably going to be done in three or four years. I think that's when his contract is up. Not to say he won't play any longer, but guys like that are what really introduced me to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. I felt like if I was to look up in three years and see a completely different team, that would kind of be difficult.

The Chicago Cubs made a bunch of moves to help an already good team. After bringing in John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward, they are going to be favorites in the National League Central, and on paper they are the best team in baseball. That does not mean that the Cardinals are not a good team capable of making the playoffs. That does not mean that the Cardinals are not a young team with room to grow. And it does not mean the Cardinals are significantly diminished from one year ago.

We do not have all of the projections systems available to us at this point, but we do have Steamer, available at FanGraphs. Steamer says right now, the Cardinals project for 40.5 wins above replacement, roughly an 88 win team. That number is sixth in all of baseball.  Last season, the team had 43.5 WAR. A three-win dropoff is not great, but considering there has been only a three-win dropoff when the team has made no significant additions and had significant losses, the players that remain on are on an upward trajectory. The Cardinals had a great amount of luck when it came to suppressing runs with runners on base, but they also had a ton of bad luck when it came to injuries.

The Cardinals might look like a team that is aging with Molina, Holliday, Peralta, and Wainwright all on the wrong side of 30, but the team is actually quite young.

In order, here are the ages of players listed in order of projected WAR:

  • 34 (Wainwright)
  • 30 (Carpenter)
  • 24 (Martinez)
  • 33 (Molina)
  • 25 (Wacha)
  • 29 (Garcia)
  • 34 (Peralta)
  • 24 (Grichuk)
  • 36 (Holliday)
  • 25 (Wong)
  • 27 (Adams)
  • 26 (Rosenthal)
  • 32 (Moss)
  • 28 (Pham)
  • 25 (Piscotty)
  • 24 (Gonzales)
  • 28 (Lyons)
  • 27 (Gyorko)
  • 26 (Siegrist)
  • 25 (Cooney)
Four out of the top nine projected players on the Cardinals are 33- to 36-years old. That is the aging core we keep hearing about. However, of the 20 top-projected players for the Cardinals next season, just five are older than 30, eleven are 27 and younger with seven players 25 and younger. The average age of players listed above: 28.1.

Dropping down into production as opposed to just age, less than 1/3 of the Cardinals expected production is projected to come from players older than 30 years old next season. The Cardinals still-productive aging core are also all under contract for 2017 before Holliday (a year earlier if the Cardinals do not pick up his option), Molina, and Peralta are no longer guaranteed money. Wainwright is signed through 2018, giving the team incredible financial flexibility that they presumably use at some point. Breaking it down even further, the Cardinals are projected to get more production from players Age-25 and younger than from their aging core.
Cardinals WAR by age

The Cardinals are behind the Cubs. There is no other way to put that, but so is everybody. The Cardinals have been behind the Dodgers for a long time. They have been behind the Nationals, but the team has consistently found a way to compete and win at a high level. The second wild card makes it easier to get into the postseason. The Cardinals can make more additions this winter to help them compete next year, but as it stands, the Cardinals are a solid team with a young core. And as you no doubt have heard, the team still has plenty of money to use at some point in the (hopefully near) future.