The St. Louis Cardinals have made plenty of trades in recent years. Some have been good (i.e. Nolan Arenado), some have been even (i.e. Randy Arozarena for Matthew Liberatore), and some have been bad (i.e. Marcel Ozuna). Still, I am not writing this article to bash John Mozeliak and Co. Whatever your opinions about the team’s front office, it has put a good team on the field and has been aggressive on the trade market, bringing Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis.
It takes talent to get talent on the trade market. The Cardinals have certainly messed up sometimes, but that is to be expected. So again, I am not writing this article out of cynicism. Rather, I am curious to see how good of a team can be made out of active ex-Cardinals. This will include players lost in trades and in free agency.
Could a team of ex-Cardinals have beaten the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals? Let’s find out.
Catcher - Carson Kelly (1.7 fWAR)
Our options are pretty limited here. Since Yadier Molina has been the team’s starting catcher for over 15 years, there are very few quality candidates to choose from. Carson Kelly is by far the best. He was traded to Arizona in the Paul Goldschmidt trade following the 2018 season. He was simply MLB ready far too soon. He has been the DBacks starting catcher for three years and he was never going to sit on the bench in St. Louis for all those years.
2021 Cardinals starter - Yadier Molina (1.0 fWAR)
Advantage — Ex-Cardinals
First Base - Brad Miller (1.0 fWAR)
Brad Miller had a good year with the Cardinals in 2020. He was an above average hitter and gave the Cardinals 0.8 fWAR off the bench in a shortened season. He moved on to the Phillies on a one-year contract worth $3.5 million and posted a 105 wRC+ while primarily playing first base.
Even though this spot went to Brad Miller, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Luke Voit since he has been a valuable player for the Yankees when healthy. He was worth 1.8 fWAR in the shortened 2020 season and 1.7 fWAR in the season before that. He has struggled a bit with injuries, so he only played in 68 games last year. Still, when he was healthy he was a solid hitter, though his 11 1 wRC+ was down significantly from the previous two years (126 in 2019, 153 in 2020). New York acquired Voit in the trade that sent Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis. Chasen Shreve was also sent to the Redbirds, but he didn’t exactly shower himself in glory in his 23 appearances.
Cardinals starter - Paul Goldschmidt (4.9 fWAR)
Advantage — Cardinals
Second Base - Kolten Wong (2.9 fWAR)
The Cardinals made a controversial decision last offseason when they let Kolten Wong sign with division rivals Milwaukee instead of re-signing him. The thought was that Tommy Edman could give similar production for much less money. This was true for the most part as Edman was worth 2.3 fWAR while getting paid just under $600,000.
Still, it did sting a little bit to watch Wong go through ups and downs in his Cardinals career only to leave once he was finally a fully appreciated full-time starter.
Cardinals starter - Tommy Edman (2.3 fWAR)
Advantage — Ex-Cardinals
Shortstop - Ramon Urias (1.6 fWAR)
This is another position where there weren’t many options. The Cardinals haven’t had a strong crop of shortstops in the farm system in a while and they haven’t really had a starter at the position who was better than solid. Take Paul DeJong for instance. He was an All-Star in 2019 and he was a solid player before that, but he hasn’t returned to form. Before him there was Aledmys Diaz and before him was Jhonny Peralta. Those are some solid players but they are nothing more than that.
There also have been very few starter-quality shortstop prospects that have come through the system in recent years. As a result, the Cardinals haven’t really dumped any players who have turned out to be good starters. Ramon Urias is the closest player to falling into that category as he put up 1.6 fWAR and a 115 wRC+ last season, but that was with less than 300 plate appearances. Still, he has done nothing but hit with Baltimore since being claimed off waivers in February of 2020. It will be interesting to see if he can sustain his breakout next year.
Cardinals starter - Edmundo Sosa (1.6 fWAR) (Dejong also had 1.6 fWAR)
Advantage — Tie
Third Base - Patrick Wisdom (2.3 fWAR)
Wisdom is also a player to whom the Cardinals didn’t give a real chance and then was sent out of the organization for free. The third baseman spent three season in Triple-A before making his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2018. He went on to hit four home runs in 58 plate appearances and post a 142 wRC and 0.4 fWAR. Following the season, Wisdom was traded to the Rangers for Drew Robinson. He didn’t do much in Texas and then signed a minor league pact with Chicago in August of 2020.
The slugger broke out with the Cubs last year, tallying a 115 wRC+ and clubbing 28 home runs. He also fanned in over 40% of his plate appearances, but when he makes contact it tends to be hard (91.2 mph average exit velocity).
Cardinals starter - Nolan Arenado (4.0)
Advantage — Cardinals
Outfield - Randy Arozarena (3.3 fWAR), Adolis Garcia (2.9 fWAR), Rafael Ortega (1.6 fWAR)
The final outfield spot could also go to Tommy Pham (1.5 fWAR in 2021), but since Ortega was a Cardinals minor leaguer for two seasons (2014-2015), he gets the last spot. The Angels signed Ortega to a major league contract following the 2015 season, but he only lasted one season in Anaheim. He bounced around to the Padres, Marlins, and Braves before landing with the Cubs last year and proving his worth.
Randy Arozarena brought back top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, so even though Arozarena is a good player, Liberatore could be equally as good if not better. Only time will tell.
Adolis Garcia was traded to the Rangers for cash considerations in December of 2019. Though he had a good year in 2021, there are some red flags in his profile. To begin with, his high strikeout rate and low walk rate led to him posting an OBP below .300 (.286). He still managed to be a league average hitter due to his power but he needs to make more contact and/or take more walks for his production to be more sustainable. Secondly, he had an abysmal second half. After tallying a 126 wRC+ in the first half of 2021, Garcia had just a 69 wRC+ after the All-Star break.
He may be one that got away from the Cardinals, but he still needs to prove that his 2021 breakout was for real. Perhaps he could have been given more of a chance with Dexter Fowler starting in right field in 2019, but at the time, the team had Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Randy Arozarena, and Lane Thomas on the roster with Dylan Carlson on the doorstep of the majors. With all that talent, it was unlikely that Garcia would have gotten a real shot.
Cardinals starters - Tyler O’Neill (5.4 fWAR), Harrison Bader (3.4 fWAR), Dylan Carlson (2.8 fWAR)
Advantage — Cardinals
Rotation - Sandy Alcantara (4.2 fWAR), Lance Lynn (4.2 fWAR), Zac Gallen (1.5 fWAR), Micahel Wacha (1.5 fWAR), Austin Gomber (1.3 fWAR)
The Cardinals lost both Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen to the Marlins in the trade sent Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis. In Ozuna’s two seasons with the Cardinals, he accumulated 5.4 fWAR. Gallen and Alcantara combined for 5.7 fWAR just last season. Gallen is now with the Diamondbacks, and even though he had his worst MLB season last year (4.30 ERA, 4.25 FIP), he still has plenty of promise.
Lance Lynn signed a one-year deal with the Twins following the 2017 season. The Cardinals decided to let him leave because they already had six other starters (Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver, Carlos Martinez, John Gant, and Michael Wacha). Lynn was not good with the Twins, but he has been one of the better pitchers in baseball with the Yankees, Rangers, and White Sox.
Michael Wacha struggled in 2019, so the Cardinals let him walk in free agency, where he eventually signed a heavily incentive based one-year contract with the Mets. He didn’t pitch great in the shortened 2020 season before moving on to Tampa Bay for 2021. Wacha didn’t have a great year, but he wasn’t terrible as his 4.47 FIP was much better than his 5.05 ERA.
Austin Gomber helped bring Nolan Arenado to the Redbirds as he was one of the pieces that went to Colorado in return. He had a 4.53 ERA and 4.61 FIP in 115 1⁄3 innings.
Cardinals starters - Adam Wainwright (3.8 fWAR), Kwang-Hyun Kim (1.2 fWAR), Jack Flaherty (0.9 fWAR), Carlos Martinez (0.6 fWAR), Miles Mikolas (0.5 fWAR)
Advantage — Ex-Cardinals
Combined fWAR of ex-Cardinals team - 30.0
Combined fWAR of 2021 Cardinals starters - 32.4
I decided not to look at relievers since they change teams so often. I also limited the rotation to five players even though every team uses more than five starters per season.
A team of ex-Cardinals comes surprisingly close to topping the 2021 Cardinals. The ex-Cardinals team is strong in the rotation and in the outfield, which makes sense because these are also traditional areas of strength for the Cardinals. Since the team often has an overload of talent in these two areas, they often trade from these positions of depth to improve in other areas. Even though the Cardinals have surrendered plenty of outfield talent, the team is doing just fine with its current outfield.
The rotation is a different story. The team was ravaged by injuries last season and projects to have a weaker-than-normal rotation in 2022. Losing Alcantara and Gallen in the Ozuna trade certianly hurt the Cardinals’ pitching depth. It is harder to blame the team for not holding onto Lynn as Lynn never reached the same heights with the Redbirds. He was always a solid pitcher, but he had never topped 3.6 fWAR in a season, much less touched 6 WAR.
The team of ex-Cardinals really makes up ground with players like Adolis Garcia, Ramon Urias, and Patrick Wisdom, who combined for 6.8 fWAR (you could include Rafael Ortega in that group, but there were plenty of other teams that let him go). All three of these players were lost for nothing, or practically nothing, and turned out to be solid players in 2021. Now all three of them need to prove that their breakouts were not flukes, which is no guarantee. Without these breakouts, the two teams don’t match up nearly as closely.
I was surprised to see how well these teams matched up. The Cardinals have certainly gotten rid of a lot of talent in recent years. Kolten Wong and Lance Lynn were the ones that got away in free agency, although there are good arguments that the Cardinals should have let them go when they did. The Marcell Ozuna trade let a lot of talent leave the organization, while an abundance of depth forced out players like Garcia, Wisdom, and Urias. Overall, though, with a stronger and healthier group of pitchers, the Cardinals should outclass their group of former players more significantly next season.