With the acquisition of Nolan Arenado, the St. Louis Cardinals lineup has improved a decent amount from last season. Additionally, by acquiring Arenado, the Cardinals seem to have a clear plan for the starting lineup. Among the projected group of nine starters, Paul Goldschmidt; Arenado; and Paul Dejong all seem likely to bat in the heart of the order, but it is unclear as to who will fill the leadoff spot for the Cardinals.
It seems likely that Tommy Edman will be given the first chance, as the Cardinals seem to like his combination of athleticism and contact abilities. However, he does not seem like the best choice. He may have had a great rookie season, but when his BABIP stabilized to .301 last year, he batted just .250 with just a .317 OBP. Obviously, he is still young, and he could still improve; but, if he does not improve his on-base skills, then he should not be the leadoff hitter.
However, this question is not an easy one as the Cardinals do not have a clear cut option. It seems unlikely that Goldschmidt and Arenado will hit anywhere except the heart of the order. Batting one of them in the leadoff spot would give that player more plate appearances, but it would also limit his at-bats with runners on base. Additionally, it seems unlikely that Mike Shildt would consider making this tradeoff.
DeJong (career OBP of .319) has a similar OBP as Edman and Yadier Molina is clearly not a fit for the leadoff spot. This leaves the three outfielders as the only other options; however, there are questions to be asked of all of them. Tyler O’Neill does not have enough on-base skills while Harrison Bader has a career .322 OBP (However, he did have a .336 OBP in 2020). This leaves Dylan Carlson as the only real competition for the leadoff spot.
However, Dylan Carlson is just 22 years old and struggled upon initially being called up to the majors last season. Thus, it is understandable if the Cardinals do not want to add pressure to him, or if they want to see him have more success in the majors before elevating him in the lineup.
Carlson has posted solid walk rates and on-base results throughout his minor league career, and he could make a very good option as a leadoff man. However, unless he has a really good Spring Training, it is unlikely that he will begin the year as the leadoff man.
Therefore, the likeliest option is Tommy Edman. However, it would not be surprising to see Dylan Carlson take over if he begins the year well. Additionally, some dark horse candidates could be Harrison Bader (if he can have a consistently above average offensive season), and Lane Thomas (if he can win a starting job).
This creates a lot of intrigue with the starting lineup, and there are a lot of different combinations that Mike Shildt could use. Another option that feels likely for Shildt, is Edman leading off, and Carlson batting second, while Arenado and Goldschmidt bat 3rd and 4th (not necessarily in that order) and DeJong bats fifth.
However, the lineup shakes out, it is clear that the Cardinals offense should be much improved this year. Addtionally, it seems likely that someone will have a breakout season and claim the leadoff spot, whether it is Edman or a young outfielder.