Cardinals: Identifying Offseason Needs – Infielders

Oct 9, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA;St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong (12) and second baseman Kolten Wong (16) celebrate after defeating the Atlanta Braves in game five of the 2019 NLDS playoff baseball series at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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As we move into the offseason, it’s time to look at what comes next for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Over the next few days, I will review all aspects of the roster that the team will be carrying into the offseason — who is leaving, who is returning, who is ascending from the minor leagues — and try to identify the true needs for the team. Of course, my takeaway will be my own opinion, but hopefully the breakdowns will be informative and allow you to form your own.

The third installment of the series takes us around the infield.

2019 Summary

Defensively, only Matt Carpenter at 3B wasn’t above average. The other 3 starters are Gold Glove finalists for 2019, with Wong likely the winner at 2B. When Edman played 3B, the defense was strong all the way around. For what it’s worth, Carpenter was dead even at 0 Defensive Runs Saved and even though his Total Defense was just -0.7, that was his best defensive season — by that measure — over a full season in his career. Unfortunately, his struggles at the plate made living with his average at best defense more difficult for many fans.

Offensively, its been well documented that Goldschmidt was not at his best. Carpenter was the biggest disappointment, dropping from a 140 wRC+ in 2018 to a 95 in 2019 (100 is league average). DeJong had the power that was expected, but struggled with consistency. He also played way too much, logging the 6th most defensive innings in all of baseball. More rest could have served his bat well. Wong matched his career high 108 wRC+ and tapped into a basestealing ability that had gone unused in years past. Edman, of course, was a very pleasant surprise posting a 3.2 fWAR in just 92 games. Yairo Muñoz was largely a non-factor in a limited reserve role. Rangel Ravelo found some success as a pinch hitter late in the year.

Moving into 2020

Returning: Paul Goldschmidt (1B), Kolten Wong (2B), Paul DeJong (SS), Matt Carpenter (3B), Tommy Edman (UTIL)

Free Agents: None

Other Internal Options: Yairo Muñoz (UTIL), Rangel Ravelo (1B), Edmundo Sosa (SS/2B), Ramon Urias (2B/SS), Max Schrock (2B)

Assessment:

Goldschmidt is a fixture as he begins his 5-year extension in 2020. The trade talk fans would have surrounding Wong in the past should be long gone, he is the 2B — and a good one — through his team option for 2021, at least.

Sep 14, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Tommy Edman (19) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) after hitting a solo home run off of Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jordan Lyles (not pictured) during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Paul DeJong has quickly developed into a very good defensive SS. He obviously has power. He needs to find some consistency at the plate to become anything more than a 7-hitter. As I stated previously, Paul played a lot at a very demanding position, and he didn’t need to. I believe DeJong would be better offensively with more frequent rest, sitting at least once a week. He probably doesn’t need to start more than 145 games in 2020. The good news is, Tommy Edman has had plenty of experience at SS as he has moved up through the minors and there is no reason why he can’t start 15-20 games at the position. The team will be looking for ways to get Edman in the lineup and regularly spelling DeJong at SS is a natural fit.

Being a switch-hitter, Edman is really a perfect secondary infielder. He can replace Wong at 2B or Carpenter at 3B when a touch lefty matchup comes along, or give DeJong a break against a tough righty. While I think Edman probably played a little over his head in 2019, I still think he should play quite a bit at several positions in 2020. He actually is the Ben Zobrist-type that the Cardinals have coveted for so long.

As for Carpenter, we saw the Cardinals commit to a rebound opportunity for Dexter Fowler in 2019, and I expect them to offer the same to Carpenter in 2020. Edman’s presence may cut into his playing time, especially against lefties, but for the Cardinals to improve offensively they need Carpenter to return to form. That and more consistency will be major keys to improving the lineup. The “improve from within” thing is boring, I know, but it’s the situation the team is in.

Rangel Ravelo is not needed at the major league level. Goldschmidt rarely takes a day off, and Carpenter can serve as his backup. Carrying a 1B-only (his LF experience is limited) pinch hitter just isn’t a wise use of roster space. Yairo Muñoz should not be a lock for the big league roster. He did very little at the plate and while versatile in the field, is not very good at any of the positions. With a healthy roster, Edman covers the reserve infielder duties, and they have too many outfielders for Muñoz to be in that mix.

What I Think They SHOULD Do:

Stand pat on the infield. There will be plenty of fan angst about going into 2020 with Matt Carpenter projected for a big role at 3B, but sometimes you just have to go with the roster you have already built (and committed to paying).

What I Think They WILL Do:

Stand pat.

Wrap-Up

Offseason Need: None, unless an unexpected (unlikely) trade creates a void.

Look, good luck finding true upgrades over Goldy, Wong, and DeJong that are actually available. If there is a place on the infield to add from the outside, it would be a RH hitting 3B, but that would then push Carpenter into the LF mix, most likely. You also have one of those in Edman. I think staying with Carpenter & Edman at 3B and using actual outfielders in the outfield is the better path there. I’m also going to be very stubborn about thinking Carpenter will bounce back to being a 120 wRC+ hitter in 2020 — though I will save that deep dive for another post.

Now, I’m not saying the position cannot be upgraded. If you are backing up the Brinks truck for Anthony Rendon…well, I might change my opinion here. But outside of Rendon and Josh Donaldson, there simply isn’t much to get excited about at 3B in free agency. Staying the course is likely the best way to go, on the infield.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks to FanGraphs for the stats, Spotrac for the free agent tracker.

Check Out The Rest of this Series:
Starting Pitching
Relief Pitching
Catchers
Outfielders – November 4th

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Cardinals9171.562 -
Brewers8973.5492.0
Cubs8478.5197.0
Reds7587.46316.0
Pirates6993.42622.0

Last updated: 09/30/2019

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