Last offseason I wrote a piece highlighting the best active ex-Cardinal at each position and then compared that team to the 2021 Cardinals. In that piece I did not include releivers but I was surprised to learn that the best team of active ex-Cardinals was nearly as good as the current team at the time. You can read it here.
The fWAR total for the ex-team was 30.0 while the 2021 Cardinals starters were worth 32.4. That’s about a Dylan Carlson sized difference.
Now, I’m bringing the piece back by request. I’m curious to see if the 2022 team can increase it’s lead over the ex-team and I’m curious to see if any new faces have made it into the starting lineup, supplanting a member of the best ex-Cardinals team from last season.
Let’s find out together!
Before I go any further, I want to take a second and give honors to the players who earned them this year.
Ex-Cardinals and now-Orioles third baseman Ramon Urias is a Gold Glove winner. He posted 14 DRS and 7 OAA at the hot corner, beating out Matt Chapman and Jose Ramirez.
Astros shortstop Aledmys Diaz is now a World Series winner after the Astros dispatched the Phillies in 6 games. By claiming his ring, Diaz ensured the Edmundo Sosa, another ex-Cardinal shortstop, would not win one. Neither player was a starter but they both had solid seasons off the bench.
Finally, there’s Sandy Alcantara who is in contention for his first Cy Young award. He finished third in fWAR but first in bWAR by a mile and also led all of baseball in innings pitched, all while keeping a 2.28 ERA.
You’ll see his name later in this piece.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
Catcher — Tyler Heineman (0.5 fWAR)
My immediate reaction to this is...yikes. Some of you reading this may not even know that Heineman was a Cardinal. If you only count the major leagues, then, technically, he wasn’t, but he did play 21 games in Memphis last year.
You probably weren’t expecting to ever see Heineman’s name again on this site, but you’re welcome. And let’s be honest, who were you expecting here? Carson Kelly? Maybe. Past that, who really is there. Yadi’s backups never exactly showered themselves in glory.
If you only want to consider players who played in St. Louis, then Carson Kelly and his 0.4 fWAR is your choice here.
The funny part about all of this is that Heineman was actually better than Molina this year. 5 times better to be precise. And Heineman was over a full win better than all Cardinals catchers combined this season, so even though he’s about as inconspicuous as it gets, that’s a huge win for the ex-Cardinals.
All you ex-Cardinals fans can really savor this one. This is the second year in a row the Cardinals have finished behind the ex-Cardinals.
Cardinals Starter — Yadier Molina (0.1 fWAR)
2021 Ex-Cardinals Starter — Carson Kelly (1.7 fWAR)
Advantage — Ex-Cardinals
First Base — Elehuris Montero (0.2 fWAR)
Another position, another new name. Montero edged out last year’s ex-Cardinals first base starter Luke Voit, who also finished with 0.2 fWAR. Fangraphs ranked Montero higher, though, so I will attribute his lead to a rounding difference.
Montero was one of the pieces the Cardinals sent to Colorado for potential MVP Nolan Arenado and he made his MLB debut this season after tallying a 131 wRC+ in Triple-A. That success didn’t hold at the major league level as he had a 79 wRC+ to go with a 32.4% strikeout rate and 4.3% walk rate.
So...not a great debut for Montero. There were some bright spots, though. More than half of his 41 hits were extra base hits (22) and he played solid corner defense.
Technically I’m stretching here by calling Montero a first baseman since he actually spent more time at third, but I’m making my own rules and Montero is my first baseman. Well, my ex-Cardinals first baseman, but still.
Cardinals Starter — Paul Goldschmidt (7.1 fWAR)
2021 Ex-Cardinals Stater — Brad Miller (1.0 fWAR)
Advantage — Cardinals
Second Base — Kolten Wong (2.5 fWAR)
What if I told you that Wong was a good hitter and a bad fielder? It seems pretty unbelievable but Wong paired a career high 116 wRC+ with -1 DRS and -9 OAA.
It was a very un-Wong-like season yet he matched his WAR total from 2021. He wasn’t even a great defender that year either. Don’t get me wrong, 6 DRS and 2 OAA is still a strong year, but that’s below Wong’s standards.
Maybe the Brewers broke him. Or broke his glove. Yet they fixed his bat, so I don’t really know what’s going on.
What I do know is that Wong is the ex-Cardinals starting second baseman for two years in a row.
Cardinals Starter — Brendan Donovan (2.7 fWAR)
2021 ex-Cardinals Starter — Kolten Wong (2.5 fWAR)
Advantage — Cardinals
Shortstop — Edmundo Sosa (1.1 fWAR)
Yes, the starting ex-Cardinal shortstop is the guy they traded this year for a reliever who didn’t make the postseason roster.
Maybe that wasn’t the best move but at the time it seemed like Sosa was going to get DFA’d. Again, maybe not the best choice with Paul DeJong still on the roster, but it happened nonetheless. Sosa profiles as a better backup infielder than DeJong in my opinion because of his speed and defense and uncanny ability to get hit by pitches.
If DeJong could find his bat again, I might reconsider but my opinion doesn’t matter because the Cardinals have yet to show a willingness to trade Dejong.
Instead, Sosa got within two games of a World Series victory after being traded. He finished with a 156 wRC+ in 59 plate apperances post-trade. With his glove, that was enough to be worth 1.1 fWAR.
Cardinals Starter — Tommy Edman (5.6 fWAR)
2021 Ex-Cardinals Starter — Ramon Urias (1.6 fWAR)
Advantage — Cardinals
Third Base — Ramon Urias (2.6 fWAR)
Ramon Urias is now appearing on the best of ex-Cardinals team for the second year but this year it’s at a new position. And with a Gold Glove to boot.
He’s not just a good fielder, though. His 104 wRC+ puts his just above the league average while he also clubbed 16 homers.
Urias is the second player on this list who never played for the St. Louis Cardinals, but as a two-year farmhand he qualifies for this team. I would be lying if I said I’m not expecting to see him on the top ex-Cardinals team next offseason too.
For a bit of history, Urias left the Cardinals after being DFA’d and claimed on waivers by Baltimore. So far Urias is the best player on the ex-Cardinals team despite being acquired off the scrap heap.
Last year’s pick for this spot, Patrick Wisdom, finished the year with 1.1 fWAR.
Cardinals Starter — Nolan Arenado (7.3 fWAR)
2021 Ex-Cardinals Starter — Patrick Wisdom (2.3 fWAR)
Outfield — Adolis Garcia (3.8 fWAR), Randy Arozarena (2.7 fWAR), Matt Carpenter (2.3 fWAR)
Total - 8.8 fWAR
Yeah I did that. I counted Matt Carpenter as an outfielder. But, hey, my article my rules. And technically, he is an outfielder. He played 106 innings in the grass, which is nearly as much as he had played out there in his entire career. He also spent fewer than 50 innings at the infield corners, so he was primarily an outfielder this year.
I mean, sure he was primarily a designated hitter, but it’s more fun to call him an outfielder. The outfielder’s 2.3 fWAR this season was a higher total than in his last three years combined (1.9 fWAR) and his resurgence at the plate had me reminiscing on his hot streaks in a Cardinals uniform.
Carpenter is now almost 37 years old but he has proven that he has more to offer.
The best ex-Cardinals outfielder this season was another player who was acquired for virtually nothing — Adolis Garcia. In fact he was traded simply for cash considerations. Since then, all he’s done is compile 7.1 fWAR in two seasons (excluding 2020).
You know who could use a 4 WAR outfielder? The Cardinals! I’m not going to play that game, though. Garcia didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Memphis prior to being traded.
And then there’s Randy Arozarena, who the Cardinals famously traded away for Matthew Liberatore. I saw famously becuase this is one of the deals that seems like it has been and will forever be scrutinized by Cardinals fans.
There was more to the trade, though. The Cardinals also sent over Jose Martinez and the 37th overall pick in the 2020 draft and received the 63rd pick in the 2020 draft and Edgardo Rodriguez.
Jose Martinez didn’t really pan out for the Rays and he was traded to the Cubs before the end of the season but Edgardo Rodriguez didn’t pan out for the Cardinals either and he has already been released. The big difference has been the draft picks.
The Rays selected Alika Williams who hasn’t shown much with the bat but the Cardinals selected someone by the name of Tink Hence, who is, in my humble opinion, the best pitching prospect in the Cardinals system.
Liberatore may or may not turn out to be better than Arozarena but Tink Hence is a pretty good consolation prize.
Still, the ex-Cardinals take this spot by more than 2 WAR.
Cardinals Starters — Lars Nootbaar (2.7 fWAR), Dylan Carlson (2.4 fWAR) Tyler O’Neill (1.3 fWAR)
Total - 6.4 fWAR
2021 Ex-Cardinals Starters — Randy Arozarena (3.3 fWAR), Adolis Garcia (2.9 fWAR), Rafael Ortega (1.6 fWAR)
Advantage — Ex-Cardinals
Rotation — Sandy Alcantara (5.7 fWAR), Zac Gallen (4.3 fWAR), Lance Lynn (1.9 fWAR), Michael Wacha (1.5 fWAR), Austin Gomber (1.0 fWAR)
Total - 14.4 fWAR
The Cardinals traded Sandy Alcantara AND Zac Gallen for Marcell Ozuna. It’s a good thing Marcell Ozuna’s career didn’t fall off a cliff and the Cardinals don’t need a frontline starter, otherwise I would think they lost this deal in a landslide.
That’s a Cy Young caliber pitcher and an all-star caliber pitcher who combined for 10 fWAR this year. That’s almost half of Ozuna’s career WAR and Ozuna is about to turn 32.
That’s...not great. That trade could be one of the worst ones the Cardinals have ever made.
The good news is that the exits of the other three pitchers in the ex-Cardinals rotation didn’t come in such a regrettable manner. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha both left in free agency and Gomber was part of the the Arenado trade.
It’s hard to be mad about any of those, though Lynn has put together a strong post-Cardinals career. The thing is that Lynn got caught up in some free agency weirdness, turning down a qualifying offer and then signing for less money in the spring.
It was a tough and weird situation that left no one happy.
Back to the task at hand; for the Cardinals starters, I am only counting fWAR accumulated while in a Cardinal uniform. That means the ex-Cardinals team has a huge advantage in this area for the second year in a row.
Cardinals Starters — Adam Wainwright (2.8 fWAR), Miles Mikolas (2.8 fWAR), Jose Quintana (1.8 fWAR), Jordan Montgomery (1.4 fWAR), Dakota Hudson (1.0 fWAR)
Total — 9.8 fWAR
2021 Ex-Cardinals — Sandy Alcantara (4.2 fWAR), Lance Lynn (4.2 fWAR), Zac Gallen (1.5 fWAR), Michael Wacha (1.5 fWAR), Austin Gomber (1.3 fWAR)
Advantage — Ex-Cardinals
Combined fWAR of Ex-Cardinals Starters — 30.1
Combined fWAR of Cardinals Starters — 39.0
Last year, the team of Ex-Cardinals nearly surpassed the 2021 Cardinals team. That was not the case this year. The 2022 Cardinals, anchored by Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tommy Edman gave the team a 9 win advantage.
This exercise went about as you would expect. The Cardinals dominated in the infield while the ex-Cardinals beat them in the outfield and on the mound.
Led by Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen, and Adolis Garcia, the strength of the ex-Cardinals was the weakness of the 2022 Cardinals.
The Marcell Ozuna trade really did damage but so did letting Adolis Garcia leave the team for nothing. Moves are clearer in hindsight, though. At the time, the Cardinals needed a big bat and Ozuna certainly qualified as one and Garcia had nowhere to play.
These are the moves that have haunted the Cardinals this year and they will continue to haunt them in the years to come. But that’s the price of doing business. Sometimes players leave and become good, sometimes the players you bring in underperform.
It’s still a good sign that the Cardinals are outperforming the best of the exes, and that the gap is growing despite some exes coming into their own.
Thanks for reading VEB! I hope you enjoyed this exercise again this year and I can’t wait to see what the team of exes will look like next year!