St. Louis Cardinals 2024 Season Preview

The St. Louis Cardinals have nowhere to go but up after a miserable 2023 campaign. Let's check out how they're looking entering 2024.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Nolan Arenado #28 and Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their 11-6 win over the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on September 06, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Entering the 2024 season, the St. Louis Cardinals have virtually nowhere to go but up. Last year, things went about as poorly as they could have for a team that was widely expected to run away with the NL Central.

Wrapping up the year with a 71-91 record, the wheels just fell off of this Cardinals team. Thanks to a multitude of different factors including poor management and severe underperformance of star-level players, 2023 was just a lost year.

On just the fifth game of the season, manager Oli Marmol got into a bit of a spat with outfielder Tyler O’Neill about his lack of hustle on a sacrifice fly. Marmol called it unacceptable, O’Neill responded by saying that he works his ass off 160 games a year, and that it’s “good to know” that the manager said things to the media about him.

A month later, Willson Contreras, the club’s shiny new catcher, was removed from his role as primary backstop thanks to complaints from the pitching staff about how he called games. That lasted about a week, as he was back to full-time catching duties shortly after. There was never a true resolution to this weird storyline, but it points to some communication and chemistry issues all around.

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For the first time in John Mozeliak’s tenure with the Cardinals, he had to steer the organization through a soft sell-off. Jordan Hicks, Paul DeJong, Jordan Montgomery and Genesis Cabrera were sent packing. Each of them netted prospects that could end up helping this squad in a big way in the near future.

How Did the Cardinals Address Offseason Needs?

Pitching Staff

Pitching, pitching and more pitching. That is what the Cardinals needed the most heading into this past winter. After all, their 2023 staff had the second-fewest strikeouts in all of baseball, topping only the pitcher-less Colorado Rockies.

Multiple starters, including Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn, were brought aboard via free agency. Relievers Andrew Kittredge and Nick Robertson were added via trade and Keynan Middleton represented the lone ‘pen addition from the free agent market.

The newest relievers should be enough to help a staff that blew way too many leads last year. Kittredge and Middleton are well-respected veterans who can fill a variety of relief roles.

Moves were certainly made, but few will do much to move the needle. Gibson, 36, led the American League in hits (198) last year. Lynn, also 36, led the major leagues in home runs allowed (44) as well.

The plan was for the Cardinals to add innings-eaters to a rotation that desperately needed them. In a way, that was addressed. However, the quality of players brought aboard leaves a bit to be desired – outside of Gray, of course.

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There were very few true upgrades to be made to the Cardinals’ offense, even though it did not fire on all cylinders last year. O’Neill was traded to the Red Sox, so he is no longer St. Louis’s problem.

Matt Carpenter and Brandon Crawford were both added on low-cost one-year contracts. Each of them are well past their prime, but the veteran leadership should be immensely helpful in a clubhouse that needed some in the worst way in 2023.

Otherwise, we’re looking at largely the same group as last year. This unit was 12th in the majors in home runs, 15th in average, 16th in wRC+ and 16th in fWAR. It seems that management is relying heavily on rebounds from top to bottom in the starting lineup.

Coaching Staff

Don’t sleep on the fact that the Cardinals needed upgrades to their coaching staff in the worst way.

Last year, a lack of big league experience in the dugout was a cause of friction amongst players and management. 10-year veteran Daniel Descalso was added as the club’s new bench coach and internal Marmol replacement if one is needed. He was teammates with the likes of Contreras, Lynn, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the past. That familiarity could be immensely helpful.

“I wanted to hire somebody that can replace me”, Marmol said, as relayed by Katie Woo of The Athletic. “You want to surround yourself with people that can challenge you. … I’m constantly looking at the (bench coach) position as one where they have the qualities to be a manager. He’s a winner. He does a really good job of being direct with players, but he does it in a way where he’s just continuously earning their trust.”

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It seems that Descalso and his ability to replace Marmol will not be needed just yet, though. Reports surfaced that Marmol was set to receive an extension from the Cardinals, and an official announcement later revealed that he’s now under contract through the 2026 season.

Elsewhere on the staff, former big leaguer Dean Kiekhefer was named assistant pitching coach, joining Matt Blake and fellow assistant Julio Rangel. Daniel MacLea was also promoted from the minor leagues to coordinator of technology and systems. There will be many new faces in the big league dugout in 2024.

Front Office

While there wasn’t a ton of movement in the Cardinals’ front office, Chaim Bloom was brought aboard after being let go by the Red Sox. His extensive background in player development, as well as experience in both large and small market teams, is a huge plus.

Bloom played a significant role in transforming the Tampa Bay Rays from bottom-dwellers to contenders, and also took the Red Sox to the 2021 ALCS. He is now on-hand as an advisor to Mozeliak.

St. Louis Cardinals Projected Starting Lineup

Again, the offense was not touched a whole lot this winter. Top to bottom, the current ensemble has the potential to beat you in many different ways. There’s a strong possibility that last year was a fluke, at least on the offensive side of things.

Here’s how the club’s lineup should look on most nights, at least to start the year.

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St. Louis Cardinals Projected Starting LineupDepth Pieces
1. DH – Brendan DonovanPedro Pages (C)
2. 1B – Paul GoldschmidtLuken Barker (1B)
3. 2B – Nolan GormanJared Young (1B/OF)
4. 3B – Nolan ArenadoAlfonso Rivas (1B/OF)
5. C – Willson ContrerasJose Fermin (INF)
6. LF – Alec BurlesonVictor Scott II (OF, non 40-man)
7. RF – Jordan Walker
8. CF – Dylan Carlson
9. SS – Masyn Winn

For the most part, it’s pretty clear what you’re getting from this lineup. Goldschmidt, Arenado and Contreras bring considerable thump to the mix, while Donovan and Burleson are more contact-oriented.

Arenado in particular was rock solid last year, but only in the first half. He made his 8th All-Star Game and looked like his typical self at the dish. However, he he just .241 in the second half and essentially disappeared. There’s little to no cause for real concern here, but it’s worth noting that he finished the year on a down note.

Nolan Gorman is going to be a name to watch this year. Outside of a historically awful month of June in which he posted an OPS+ of 22 last year, Gorman was money. In non-June months, he had a .933 OPS and 151 OPS+, both of which would’ve been 8th in the league. A lot of eyes are going to be on him this year.

Jordan Walker came out of the gates firing on all cylinders in 2023 but cooled off considerably. Still, he finished his rookie campaign with a .276 average and .787 OPS and he is still just 21-years old. Now that he’s entering his second full season in the outfield, the hope is that he’ll be able to focus more on his offensive progression that learning a new position on the grass.

Masyn Winn provided Cardinals fans with a 37-game cameo in 2023, but failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Most 21-year olds don’t make it to the major leagues and immediately take off. Year 2 is going to be a big one for him and he’s very much still expected to be a huge part of the future for this organization.

Against left-handers the only significant change should be the removal of Burleson from the lineup. The 25-year-old swings it from the left side and historically does not do well against southpaws. In his absence, expect Ivan Herrera to catch with Contreras at DH and Donovan in the outfield for a day.

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Two massive holes were left in the lineup when both Lars Nootbaar (ribs) and Tommy Edman (wrist) went down with injuries. Edman has officially been ruled out for Opening Day, while Nootbaar is still a question mark. Each are very important pieces to this club, and will be sorely missed.

Nootbaar should take back an every day job once he’s healthy and Edman’s ability to bounce around all over the diamond with Gold Glove-caliber defense makes him an immensely valuable asset.

St. Louis Cardinals Projected Bench

FanGraphs projects a mostly left-handed bench for the Cardinals, at least to open the season. Herrera, the top option to be the backup catcher, is likely the only righty-swinging option for now.

Alongside him, we’re looking at a Carpenter-Crawford-Michael Siani trio. Crawford and Carpenter both have reputations that speak for themselves. They’re more veteran presences and leaders than contributors. Any offensive output the Cardinals receive from either player is an added bonus.

Siani, 24, has 17 games of big league experience under his belt, but he is just 4-for-24 (.167). He is not known for his offensive prowess, so he’ll provide the Cardinals with nothing more than speed on the bases and strong outfield defense. Siani has been working with Cardinals legends Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds and right at this moment looks to be sitting pretty for that final Opening Day bench spot.

Speaking of outfield defense, there’s a big red flag that needs to be addressed.

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Defensive Concerns

Last year’s St. Louis Cardinals were, well, dreadful on defense. The fact that Arenado, Donovan and Tommy Edman, all previous Gold Glovers, were not able to carry the team’s defensive statistics says a lot.

The Cards went from 4th in Outs Above Average in 2022 (26) all the way down to 19th last year, when they had -7 OAA.

Looking strictly at Defensive Runs Saved, the club was tied with the Astros for 4th in the majors with 67. Last year, that number dropped dramatically, as they finished 20th in the game with a DRS of -7.

The biggest problem here is the fact that nothing was really done to improve the Cardinals’ defensive issues this offseason. As a matter of fact, they’re set to trot out an almost identical alignment as the one they used for the vast majority of last season.

In the outfield, St. Louis is preparing to trot out on the worst defensive units in the game. Walker, who is still relatively new to right field, posted a -14 OAA last year, fifth-lowest in baseball.

Burleson, another corner outfield option, was at -2 OAA in right field and -5 in left field. Dylan Carlson’s 3 OAA in center field is one of the rare bright spots in the outfield picture, but it’s not going to be pretty this year.

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Where Gorman and Donovan line up on defense will be a storyline to monitor. The Cardinals historically prefer to have one utility player bouncing around rather than multiple on any given day. As a result, Donovan, one of the most versatile players on the roster, is only loosely the club’s “primary DH”.

Gorman took significant strides last year at second base. He was able to improve his -12 OAA in 2022 by 9 points last year, finishing with a -3 at second. Again, not great, but the Cardinals seem to be happy enough with the progress that they’ll give him another look as their primary second baseman.

St. Louis Cardinals Projected Starting Rotation

St. Louis Cardinals Projected Starting RotationDepth Pieces
1. RHP Sonny Gray*LHP Matthew Liberatore
2. RHP Miles MikolasLHP Drew Rom
3. RHP Kyle GibsonRHP Sem Robberse
4. RHP Lance LynnRHP Adam Kloffenstein
5. LHP Steven Matz
6. LHP Zack Thompson
* = Projected to open the year on the injured list

Sonny Gray is working through a hamstring strain and is currently a question mark for Opening Day. The 34-year-old is going to be the staff ace once he’s healthy, and is expected to be the leader of this rotation once he works his way back.

Behind Gray, Miles Mikolas has emerged as one of the most durable arms in the league over the past few seasons. In 2023, he made a whopping 35 starts but also led the league in hits allowed and earned runs. He’s going to have to bring both of those numbers down this year if he hopes to be a positive contributor to this rotation.

Gibson and Lynn both come with their fair share of warts, but also are the innings-eaters the Cardinals wanted. As previously mentioned, veteran presences are of the utmost importance to a club like the Cards, who are trying to bounce back from a down year that had very few of them on the roster.

Steven Matz has dealt with a ton of inconsistency since joining the Cardinals prior to the 2022 season. The southpaw has been demoted to the bullpen in each of the past two years but should have a spot in the rotation to open this one. For what it’s worth, he had a 2.81 ERA in 8 relief outings last year and has historically been decent as a reliever.

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Behind the top-four, there are a few different ways the Cardinals go.

Left-handers Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are both deserving of big league innings, but only one of them will open the season in the rotation if Gray can’t go. As of right now, Thompson seems to have a leg up on the competition.

In 47 career appearances at the game’s highest level, Thompson has a 115 ERA+ with a 3.65 ERA across 101 innings. This spring, he has a 2.25 ERA in four appearances (three starts) with 12 strikeouts in as many innings. Liberatore on the other hand, has an ERA over 6.00.

St. Louis Cardinals Projected Bullpen

St. Louis Cardinals Projected BullpenDepth Pieces
RHP Keynan Middleton*LHP John King (40-man)
RHP Ryan HelsleyLHP Packy Naughton (non 40-man)
RHP Andrew KittredgeRHP Logan Sawyer (non 40-man)
RHP Giovanny GallegosRHP Wilking Rodriguez (non 40-man)
RHP Riley O’BrienRHP Josh James (non 40-man)
RHP Nick RobertsonRHP Kyle Leahy (non 40-man)
RHP Ryan Fernandez
RHP Andre Pallante
LHP JoJo Romero
* = Projected to open the year on the injured list

Last year, the Cardinals bullpen had the eighth-highest ERA in the game, coming in at 4.47. They tied for seventh in blown saves (28) and were in the bottom half of the league in BB/9, BABIP and K/9. Point being, there were multiple upgrades needed this offseason.

Keynan Middleton and Andrew Kittredge, two established right-handers, are the biggest additions made to this ‘pen. However, Middleton is dealing with forearm soreness and is going to open the year on the injured list.

Kittredge, a long-time Tampa Bay Ray, has experience in a variety of different roles and will be a swiss army knife for the Cardinals. He’s closed games, he’s opened them, and he’s pitched in every inning between. Look for him to be one of the most oft-used weapons by Marmol in 2024.

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Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley, the two longest-tenured relievers on the Cardinals, are locked in to back-end relief roles. Helsley should be the club’s closer once again and Gallegos is going to be the top set-up option, a role that he’ll share with Middleton once he’s healthy.

Riley O’Brien, purchased from the Mariners in November, has two big league games under his belt but is an otherwise unproven asset. So far in camp, he has impressed the organization and seems to be locked in to a spot, perhaps in a low-leverage role to start with.

Then there’s Nick Robertson and Ryan Fernandez, both of whom come to the Cardinals from the Red Sox. The former was acquired in the O’Neill trade while the latter was selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Robertson is a strikeout-heavy pitcher but scuffled in an 18-game showing in the big leagues last year. He should be able to sneak onto the roster now that Middleton is out, but he’s also likely going to be the first one to be optioned once Middleton returns.

Katie Woo of The Athletic notes that the Cardinals like Fernandez as well, and that he should also be good for a spot on the Opening Day roster.


It seems that the Cardinals are content with the additions they’ve made, primarily on the pitching side. The club’s offense, on paper, is one of the very best in the league, and they are clearly operating under the assumption that the results will show that in 2024.

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It was such a shock to see a lineup as deep as this one struggling as mightily as it did last year. With some new faces in the dugout and a more experienced Oli Marmol leading the charge, there’s no reason to believe this crew won’t be able to turn it around.

The bounce-backs are the biggest story here, and will be the most important things to watch for this year.

Can the likes of Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt get things turned around?

Will the somewhat questionable avenues taken to upgrade the starting rotation be enough?

Will Masyn Winn hit at the big league level despite the fact that he struggled so badly in a brief stint last year?

It’s time to find out.

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