So J.P. Hill laid out the 2022 payroll commitments and project budget here. STLCARDSFAN4 helps lay out how the 40 man roster might play out heading into the Rule V draft here. Seems like a prime time to take these two together with the just-finished season and start gauging what exactly the Cardinal's might adopt as a strategy to get better in 2022.
Caveats first. Budget, payrolls, 40-man rosters are all written in really light pencil this time of year, subject to change, which could cause a whole re-write. But where we are at today is the same starting point that Cardinal's management uses, so we can find a way to do the same. Second caveat: I try and think along with management, and follow their normal tendencies, so you won't see me really going down the big FA contract rabbit hole. It's not their speed, particularly when you realize all the money coming off the books soon doesn't create as much payroll flexibility as we might to dream on.
That said, let's begin. What do the Cardinal's need?
Offensively, they were decidedly average in 2021, but how they got here is interesting, and I think telling. The numbers suggest to me that two distinct deficiencies must be addressed, and if done, this team could be a top-5 in the NL offense. Let's look. In the first half, their team OPS was .681 vs. .779 in the second half. Their OPS increased every month but one as the season went on. The trendline showed consistent improvement. They were a .696 OPS club at home (horrid) and .752 on the road (pretty good). Interesting. Leads to the first strategy choice for management. Change the field to try and a neutralize the now-extreme park factor that favors pitchers? That is a two-edge sword. Making the offense better worsens the pitching. As extreme as Busch III has become, I'd lean toward adjusting the park a bit.
A second set of splits produces a second strategy option ... that .652 OPS by LH batters against RH pitching, led by weak showings by switch hitters Carlson and Edman against RHP, with a little bit too much Matt Carpenter and Justin Williams thrown in. That was 400 almost completely wasted AB's all concentrated in one area of weakness (LHB vs. RHP). In this case, Carpenter's contract is NOT expected to be renewed, and we have addition by subtraction. I wonder if Williams will survive the roster purge. The next LH hitter who replaces MCarp will undoubtedly result in overall improvement in this stat. I would argue that the Cards need at least 2 LH batters for their bench (although Nootbar might be one of those). I would argue for a LH hitting outfielder...a Joc Pederson type, if not the actual model, that would allow for mixing and matching line-ups more creatively than just having Carlson and Edman swing from the left-side.
Another offensive area to be addressed is that .313 OBP in the lead-off spot. That number is at least 40 points below what a good offense needs to run consistently.
A potential ace-in-the-hole with these needs is the potential that 2022 will see the DH be a thing in NL games. A LH bat, who can play OF dependably and even lead-off w/ good or better OBP would be a magical fit for this lineup. I don't know if such a Frankenstein exists, but it is nice to know the Cardinals could improve OBP and LHB OPS vs. RHP and not diminish their defense one iota if the option arose.
This completes Part I - The Offense. The series will resume with Part II - The Pitching. Stay tuned (please).