clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Predicting the 2026 Opening Day Lineup

A fun, but futile exercise

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Back in February of 2021, I thought it would be a fun idea to project what the Cardinals lineup would look like in four years, 2025. How much has changed in two years? Well, back then, I remained in denial about the designated hitter so I didn’t even predict a 2025 DH. And while the players themselves are perhaps still possible, I’d already make changes. Here was my lineup:

  1. Tommy Edman, 2B
  2. Nolan Gorman, LF
  3. Nolan Arenado, 3B
  4. Dylan Carlson, CF
  5. Jordan Walker, 1B
  6. Paul DeJong, SS
  7. Ivan Herrera, C
  8. Juan Yepez, RF
  9. Angel Rondon, SP

If I had to revise this, DeJong is obviously out and replaced by Edman at SS. I thought it was a little premature to assume Nolan Gorman could play 2B since it hadn’t happened yet, and while the evidence for it happening is rather weak still, I’m going to remain optimistic and stick him at 2B. Walker moves from 1B to LF, as he was still a year and half from playing any outfield at this point. And I would not put Yepez as the RF as his defense has proved to not be very good. So a lot of things can change in a short amount of time. How about for 2026?


I could get cute and pick Herrera again, as he may overtake Contreras as a player by this point and certainly on defense. But the smart money is definitely on Contreras. Herrera may not even be here (due to a trade) for starters and he might not be good enough to start even if he isn’t. While I’m still a believer in Herrera as a potential starter, there are just too many outcomes that lead to him not being the Opening Day starter with few outcomes where he is the starter. I would not be surprised if Herrera is the starting catcher with Contreras as the DH though.

Pick: Contreras (2026 age: 34)

First Base

I do kind of get the impression that Paul Goldschmidt may very well sign another deal with the Cardinals before his career is over. It obviously depends on how the next two years go, not to mention how his potential replacements fare alongside him. If, say, Alec Burleson is a 150 wRC+ hitter in 2024 and looks respectable on defense, it’d be somewhat difficult to not hand him the job. There are also a LOT of candidates to take his job. Burleson, Yepez, Nolan Gorman, Jordan Walker and who knows if there will be a new prospect by 2026 to add to that group. And these aren’t far-fetched ideas either, like imagining LJ Jones being ready to steal his job in 2026. These are all MLB-ready hitters with defensive questions that typically lead to them playing 1B, if there’s not a Goldschmidt blocking them.

I’m going to play the odds though. While I would take the field over Goldschmidt as the starting 1B, I think Goldschmidt still being here as the starting 1B is the best odds of any individual choice. Goldschmidt has earned himself a red jacket at this point and possibly a Hall of Fame selection, and that’s the kind of player Dewitt tends to try to keep around if he can.

Pick: Paul Goldschmidt (2026 age: 38)

Second Base

There are two really tough positions for me: this is one of them. It’s not from lack of candidates, which is perhaps why this is a tough decision. The first question I must ask is: will Tommy Edman still be a Cardinal? He is eligible for free agency after the 2025 season. That answer is way too dependent on the viable alternative options. Are Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan still here? Can Gorman play 2B at this point? If both of those questions are yes, Edman is gone. If Gorman is playing 1B or traded by this point, he may very well return.

I am still going to hitch my ride to Gorman as the 2B. The 2023 season will definitively answer for me whether or not that is the correct decision or not. And if he doesn’t look any better at 2B (or again if the Cardinals trade him, probably related to not being able to play 2B), then I will give up on that dream. I feel like all three players are equally viable answers which means the 2026 2B will be Osvaldo Tovalin or something.

Pick: Nolan Gorman (2026 age: 26)

Third Base

I’m going to make this one very short. Pretty much no matter how much Nolan Arenado has declined at this point, he’ll be making $27 million and still have another year of his deal. I don’t foresee just about any situation where he isn’t the starting 3B if healthy on Opening Day. The next year is at least an argument (though Arenado is still the overwhelming favorite, but his salary is just $15 million and it’s his last year)

Pick: Nolan Arenado (2026 age: 35)


This one is also easy for me. There is, at least that I can tell, not a serious contender to Masyn Winn at shortstop especially if you think Edman is leaving for free agency. In fact, Winn may be a reason Edman does leave for free agency. While it’s not clear if Winn will be ready this upcoming season or even the season after, he will definitely be an MLB player in 2026.

Pick: Masyn Winn (2026 age: 24)

Left Field

I am personally not buying into Jordan Walker, the centerfielder, which seems like a pipe dream, but he will be playing one of the corner outfield spots. Whether it’s left or right remains to be seen.

Pick: Jordan Walker (2026 age: 24)

Center Field

This is the second hardest for a couple reasons. There is some indication Lars Nootbaar will be playing some centerfield this upcoming season and he may very well take the job completely from Dylan Carlson, who may settle into RF. If Nootbaar can stick at CF and if his bat is for real (and it appears to be), he is probably the answer here.

There are also three low level minor players who could emerge by 2026 although assuming they are ready on Opening Day 2026 is a bit optimistic. Victor Scott II looks to have the best chance. Between his excellent approach, speed, and (I assume) defense, that’s a very solid basis for a future MLBer. Longer shots include Won-Bin Cho and Joshua Baez, who even if they pan out, assuming they are by early 2026 would be foolish.

I also look at the free agent list, because it’s kind of a gut feeling that one of the three outfielders will be a free agent by this point. And a very good candidate is Cedric Mullins who seems likely he’ll be a “mid-range” free agent the Cardinals love to get, the one who won’t get $200 million and might get under $100 million.

But I actually really like Victor Scott’s chances.

Pick: Victor Scott (2026 Age: 25)

Right Field

Another easy for me personally. Like I said, it’s just a matter if Nootbaar can play CF or not, but I suspect they’d prefer someone like Scott (or Mullins) if that’s an option. But I would be surprised if Nootbaar isn’t still here in 2026.

Pick: Lars Nootbaar (2026 Age: 28)

Designated Hitter

This could be a mixture of players. While I have Gorman as the 2B, maybe he’s the DH and Brendan Donovan the 2B. Maybe Juan Yepez is the DH. Maybe Walker is the DH, maybe Goldschmidt, maybe Contreras. There probably won’t be a “true” DH as it’ll be used to rest Arenado, Goldschmidt, the regulars. But I think the best hitter of the ones remaining, who may very well steal Goldschmidt’s job, is Alec Burleson, so he’ll be my pick.

Pick: Alec Burleson (2026 Age: 27)

Starting Pitcher

I’m going to have to take the safest bet. The guy I want to pick is Aaron Nola, future free agent. But signing Nola would be very un-Cardinals. At some point, the Cardinals are going to make a move like that, an un-Cardinals news, but until it happens, probably shouldn’t predict it.

I also wanted to select Tink Hence, but the main issue is less that he couldn’t be an ace quality starter by 2026 and more that his workload seems to be managed in such a way that it’ll be difficult for him to progress more than one level at a time. Plus, what are the odds that he’s not only arrived in 2026, but is instantly named the Opening Day starter?

So I’ll go with a pitcher who, by this point, will ideally have over two years experience as a starting pitcher, and who will be the longest tenured starting pitcher unless one of the current Cardinals is still around in 2026. And that pitcher is Gordon Graceffo. The timeline fits. If he’s going to be an ace, or at least the best the Cards have, I’m guessing he’d be that by his third full season. If the Cards at any point though sign an ace starting pitcher like Nola, they are clearly the answer, which is my personal hope.

Pick: Gordon Graceffo (2026: Age 26)


This is such a foolish one to guess, because there is no way to predict reliever outcomes four years in the future, but I’m going to go with the best minor league bet based upon his strikeout rates and that’s Andre Granillo, who struck out 40% of batters in Low A, and 34% of batters in High A, and while he gave up a bunch of runs, he did strike out 5 of the 15 batters he faced in AA as well.

Pick: Andre Granillo (2026 Age: 26)

So there you have it:

  1. Lars Nootbaar, RF
  2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
  3. Nolan Arenado, 3B
  4. Jordan Walker, LF
  5. Nolan Gorman, 2B
  6. Willson Contreras, C
  7. Alec Burleson, DH
  8. Masyn Winn, SS
  9. Victor Scott III
  10. (SP) Graceffo

Pretty good mix of young and old in this group, I have to say. I’m sure Brendan Donovan will be around, he doesn’t feel like a guy that’s going to get traded.

What do you think? How will I be wrong?