Bill DeWitt Jr. went into this season preaching fiscal responsibility, given the revenue losses his franchise suffered during the pandemic. The Cardinals cut some corners, particularly with their bullpen, and that tight budgeting contributed to their first-half struggles.
The management team also opted not to spend big in free agency at shortstop and designated hitter — but those decisions weren’t as costly because Albert Pujols went on a second-half tear and Tommy Edman did a nice job filling in at shortstop. Rookies Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan showed notable upside at second base, too.
But when Pujols-palooza filled Busch Stadium night after night and pushed team revenues back to pre-pandemic heights, it became obvious that DeWitt could have spent more on this roster. He seemed to acknowledge that by letting president of baseball operations John Mozeliak kick the expensive Juan Soto tires at the trade deadline. Given all the money the Reunion Tour generated, there will be no excuse not to enter 2023 with a notably higher payroll.
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Mozeliak’s gamble to bring back Pujols for his farewell paid off with El Hombre’s epic second-half push. The free-agent signing of outfielder Corey Dickerson also looked much better after Dickerson’s strong second half.
His free-agent signing of pitcher Steve Matz didn’t help much, due to injuries, and the Drew VerHagen experiment flopped badly. But Mozeliak recovered nicely with the acquisition of starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery plus relievers Chris Stratton and JoJo Romero before the trade deadline.
The Cardinals used a strong second half to win just their second division title since 2015 — and they did so while blending in significant young talent and hanging on their very best prospects for future use.
On the player development side, scouting czar Randy Flores eared more kudos after his 2022 draft and most of the franchise’s top prospects continued developing ahead of schedule.
Manager Oliver Marmol and bench coach Skip Schumaker had to overcome plenty during Marmol's first season at the helm.
Jack Flaherty showed up with a bad shoulder. So did Alex Reyes, who never pitched this season. Matz had a long-term shoulder issue followed by a knee injury. Yadier Molina became a diminished part-time player during his farewell season. Injury-plagued Tyler O’Neill was a shell of his 2021 self and Harrison Bader was hobbled by a foot injury before moving on in the Montgomery trade. Jordan Hicks suffered an uneven comeback from Tommy John surgery. Pujols and Dickerson straddled the Mendoza Line for the first half of the season, Dylan Carlson lost his way from the left side of the plate and Paul DeJong continued his yearslong downturn.
So Marmol had to lean hard on youngsters Donovan, Gorman, Lars Nootbaar and Juan Yepez to find offensive support for MVP candidates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. On the pitching side, he got big mileage from rookies Andre Pallante and some encouraging work from Zack Thompson before veteran reinforcements arrived. Other than his decision to ride closer Ryan Helsley too long against the Phillies in Game 1 of the wild-card series, there was not much to complain about.
Fans want to blame hitting coach Jeff Albert for anything that goes wrong with the offense, but they are slow to credit him and assistant hitting coach Turner Ward for what goes right.
On the plus side, Goldschmidt turned back his clock for five hugely productive months, Arenado pushed his batting average back to his career norm, Donovan had a productive rookie season and Pujols regained his ability to hit right-handed pitching.
On the downside, O’Neill took a big step back (between muscle pulls), Carlson’s switch-hitting splits worsened and DeJong remained terrible. Willie McGee’s guidance of outfield defense became more challenging with the demise of Bader, Carlson’s move to center field, the deployment of Yepez and Donovan as corner outfielders and Dickerson’s more regular usage out in the pasture.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux had his hands full as the Cardinals rotated various youngsters and reclamation projects through the staff before finally gaining sufficient quality and depth for the stretch run. All in all, the field staff met a lot of challenges during a difficult season.
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