Once again, the Cardinals and GM John Mozeliak got their Christmas shopping done early. Last year, Mo made his big moves in November (trading David Freese for Peter Bourjos and signing Jhonny Peralta) and he did the same this year (trading Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden).
Other than maybe a couple more tweaks, it appears that the roster is complete. But are the Cardinals better off than last year? Do they have what it takes to win it all? Lets take a look at the changes and see.
The main goal for Mozeliak this offseason was to find a right handed bat who could play first and potentially platoon with Matt Adams. Mo filled that hole with the signing of Mark Reynolds to a one year, $2 million contract.
Reynolds will not provide much in terms of batting average (career .229 hitter), but he has 224 homers in 1118 games and has fared a bit better against lefties in his career (.809 OPS compared to .772 vs righties). This is far better than Adams' numbers against lefties (.553 career OPS), making Reynolds a good option to platoon with Adams.
Free agent Mark Ellis and his .180 average will not return and the Cardinals finally moved on from Daniel Descalso and his career .654 OPS. Replacing them will be veteran minor leaguer Dean Anna, who finally got a cup of coffee in the majors last year at the age of 27 and hit just .136 in 22 at bats. However, he does have a career .380 OBP in the minors, with nearly as many walks (310) as strikeouts (319) in 2448 plate appearances.
Another addition, is 26 year old Ty Kelly, who the Cardinals acquired from Seattle for Sam Gaviglio. Like Anna, Kelly showed the ability to get on base in the minors (.387 OBP) and had more walks (434) than strikeouts (431). Both Anna and Kelly project to be utility infielders, with Anna capable of playing second, short, third and corner outfield, while Kelly is capable of playing second, third and corner outfield.
Pete Kozma will also compete for a backup spot and is a career .236 hitter in 522 at bats.
Overall, I would have to say that infield is a bit better than last year, as the bench has improved with the addition of Reynolds, while the combination of Anna, Kelly and/or Kozma should be able to improve upon the meager outputs of Ellis and Descalso.
After losing top prospect and likely starting right fielder Oscar Taveras to a tragic car accident, the Cardinals filled the void with the trade for Heyward. Heyward is an excellent defender, but has seen his OPS drop in each of the last 3 years from .814 in 2012, to .776 in 2013 and .735 in 2014. The main culprit for this drop is a serious power outage during that time that has seen his home runs drop from a career high of 27 in 2012 to a career low of 11 last season.
Randall Grichuk seemed to find his stroke in the second half last season, hitting .318/.338/.485 after the break and should provide some pop off the bench. Peter Bourjos will also fill a reserve role, with resurgent Jon Jay (.303/.372/.378) having reclaimed his starting job.
The Cardinals will also have highly regarded prospect Stephen Piscotty and defensive wiz Tommy Pham as extra depth at AAA Memphis, while Shane Robinson, who was released in November, along with his career .612 OPS, will not be missed.
Overall, Heyward should be an upgrade over the Cardinals 2014 right fielders (mostly Allen Craig and Taveras) who hit a combined .237/.283/.326. Bourjos and Grichuk will provide the backup, as they did for most of 2014 and will look to improve on their 2014 numbers.
The Cardinals started the overhaul of their rotation last July, with the acquisition of John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. He will slot into the rotation that will also feature holdovers Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha.
With the trade of Shelby Miller, the 5th starter job will likely come down to a battle between Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales. Martinez made 7 starts last year and has the best stuff of the two, whereas Gonzales made 5 starts in 2014 and may be more polished.
One key to the Cardinals rotation will be the health of Wacha, who missed over two months last year due to a stress reaction in his shoulder. Should he prove healthy, he will give the Cards a quartet of starters that would match up well with most other teams in the league.
Another key will be Lynn proving that his 2014 season (15-10, 2.74 ERA) was not a fluke. He has been troubled by inconsistency throughout his career and must prove that he can put another strong season together.
Overall, with a healthy Wacha, the Cardinals rotation should be better. The emphasis should be on keeping these guys healthy, as the Cards showed in 2014 that their pitching depth isn't all that its cracked up to be, using 4 different guys (Martinez, Kelly, Gonzales and Tyler Lyons) to replace the injured Wacha and Jaime Garcia.
The bullpen appears to be the biggest question mark for the team heading into the 2015 season. Closer Trevor Rosenthal showed some signs of wear and tear after being leaned on heavily the last two seasons. His walk rate jumped from 2.4 BB/9 in 2013 to 5.4 BB/9 in 2014. He was able to wiggle out of numerous jams while posting 45 saves, but he was often walking a tightrope.
The Cardinals most effective reliever, Pat Neshek, is gone, taking with him a sparkling 1.87 ERA and 7 wins in 67.1 innings. While there are questions regarding Kevin Siegrist's health and who will replace Martinez' innings, should he move to a starter role.
To fill these voids, Mozeliak brought in Walden, who has a career ERA of 3.10 in 211.2 innings, and veteran Matt Belisle, whom the Cards hope will follow the Neshek rejuvenation path, after posting a 4.87 ERA in 2014.
The Cardinals will also return groundball specialist Seth Maness, along with lefties Randy Choate (4.50 ERA) and Sam Freeman (2.61 ERA), although Choate may be on the trading block.
Overall, this is the one area where I think the Cards may have taken a step back, especially if Martinez earns a starting rotation spot. Replacing Neshek and Martinez with Walden and possibly Belisle is definitely a downgrade and, even if Martinez returns to the bullpen, the Cardinals may have only 3-4 reliable bullpen arms. I would love to see Mo add at least one more proven guy to the pen.
Based on all of the above, I think the Cards should be improved over last year, but there are still concerns surrounding the bullpen. As we saw last year, when the Cardinals bullpen went 1-3 with a 4.96 ERA in the LCS compared to the Giants 3-1, 1.69 performance, a good bullpen can make all the difference.