St. Louis Cardinals
2017 Record: 83-79
Third Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.01 (10th)
Team OPS: .760 (12th)
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What Went Right
Tommy Pham finally had an injury-free year and broke out to the tune of a .306/.411/.520 batting line. The dynamic but often-sidelined 29-year-old registered 23 home runs, 73 RBI, 25 stolen bases, and 95 runs scored in 128 games and placed top-10 in fWAR (5.9) despite spending the entire month of April at Triple-A Memphis. Carlos Martinez reached the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career and earned his second National League All-Star nod, finishing with a 3.64 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and career-best 9.5 K/9. Lance Lynn returned seamlessly from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and looked like his old self, delivering a 3.43 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 33 starts. Matt Carpenter posted a .384 on-base percentage in 622 plate appearances -- his highest OBP since 2013 -- and he slugged 20-plus homers for the third consecutive season. Jose Martinez emerged as a hidden gem, translating his longtime Triple-A success into a .309 batting average and .897 OPS over 106 games as a 28-year-old rookie. Paul DeJong cranked 25 home runs over his first 108 major league games and stabilized the shortstop position, possibly for the long term. Michael Wacha’s shoulder never gave out and he rebounded somewhat from a highly discouraging 2016 campaign. Tyler Lyons established himself as a legitimate late-inning reliever. Luke Weaver definitively put his stamp on a rotation spot for 2018.
What Went Wrong
Alex Reyes, the organization's top prospect, began experiencing discomfort in his right elbow soon after he arrived at spring training in Jupiter, Florida and underwent Tommy John surgery on February 16. He was expected to be a significant contributor in 2017 after posting a lights-out 1.57 ERA across his first 46 major league innings in 2016. Aledmys Diaz went from earning Rookie of the Year votes in 2016 to spending a large chunk of the 2017 season in the minors. He batted just .259/.290/.392 during his time in St. Louis and had an even-more-concerning .253/.305/.388 slash line on the farm. Adam Wainwright looked washed up as he skidded to a 5.11 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 96/45 K/BB ratio in 123 1/3 innings. Trevor Rosenthal recaptured the closer role from Seung Hwan Oh but started feeling tightness in his right elbow around mid-August and became the latest Cardinals pitcher to require Tommy John. Mike Leake fell into an awful mid-to-late summer rut and was moved to the Mariners in a salary-dump waiver trade on August 30. Stephen Piscotty, signed to a six-year, $33.5 million contract extension just before Opening Day, managed only nine home runs and 39 RBI in 107 games. Jhonny Peralta was (rightfully) released 21 games into the final year of a four-year, $53 million deal.
** Tommy Pham was one of the biggest waiver-wire treasures of the 2017 fantasy baseball season. He failed to crack the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster after a sluggish spring but finished the year as the team’s locked-in No. 2 hitter. If he can stay healthy again in 2018 and fully figure out his lingering vision issues, Pham has the goods to make a serious run at 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Mike Trout and Ryan Braun were the last players to go 30-30, back in 2012.
** St. Louis has been a fruitful place for starting pitching values for a long time. Busch Stadium plays pitcher-friendly and Yadier Molina remains among the best defensive catchers in the game. While the staff mostly disappointed in 2017, there are some arrows pointing up for 2018. Alex Reyes will be over 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery on Opening Day. Carlos Martinez has the arsenal to be an ace. Luke Weaver had a 2.05 ERA and 65/11 K/BB ratio through his first 52 2/3 innings this year before hitting a wall in late September. Even a guy like Jack Flaherty belongs on watch lists. Lance Lynn is probably moving on in free agency.
** Dexter Fowler hit the disabled list two different times in 2017 but still managed a career-high 18 home runs in 118 games. Brought in as a table-setting center fielder last winter on a five-year, $82.5 million free agent deal, he morphed into more of a middle-order presence as the summer wore along. The corner outfield would probably suit him better at this point -- Fowler turns 32 years old in March -- and a less-demanding defensive role could maybe keep him healthier and help him unlock more of his power potential at the plate. Consider him a worthy late-round flier leading into drafts next spring.
** There are subtle signs pointing to a possible post-hype breakout for second baseman Kolten Wong. He had underwhelming counting stats this season -- four home runs and eight stolen bases in 108 games -- but the 27-year-old posted the best batting line of his career: a .285 average, .376 OBP, and .412 slugging percentage. Remember that he tallied 12 homers and 20 steals as a 23-year-old rookie in 2014. The dynamic skillset is there.
** Randal Grichuk carried major fantasy buzz into the 2016 campaign after posting an .877 OPS over 103 games as a rookie in 2015, but the 26-year-old outfielder has batted just .239 with a .287 on-base percentage over the last two seasons and he was in and out of the Cardinals’ starting lineup down the stretch in 2017. Grichuk has good raw power, but his plate discipline has not developed to the point where he can be trusted as an everyday player in St. Louis. There’s talk of a possible trade coming this winter. Maybe a change of scenery will get him back on the radar.
Team Needs: A heart-of-the-order bat and a closer.