Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Current State of the NL Central

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after the final out in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 23, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after the final out in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 23, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 02: Members of the St. Louis Cardinals react to being down 4-0 during the ninth inning of Game Three of the National League Wild Card Series against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on October 02, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 02: Members of the St. Louis Cardinals react to being down 4-0 during the ninth inning of Game Three of the National League Wild Card Series against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on October 02, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

St. Louis Cardinals

The end of an era might be upon St. Louis. Both Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are free agents, and both could leave the Cardinals behind for another team, or potentially retirement. Up to five teams showed interest in Molina last month and the Atlanta Braves had contacted Wainwright before signing Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.

Although neither Wainwright nor Molina have been huge contributors on the field for a handful of seasons now, their pitchers would definitely miss Molina’s presence behind the plate. Plus, the Cardinals overall team right now is in an odd place.

Currently, the Cards have a few decent players, but few that reach into elite territory. Their top hitter, Paul Goldschmidt, has been solid since arriving in St. Louis, but hasn’t been what they expected when they traded for him and then signed him to a large extension. 2021 will be his age-33 season.

The contracts given out to Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter haven’t worked out as planned. They recently non-tendered long time second baseman Kolten Wong in search for more power after they finished with a team slugging percentage of just .371. Another player they could lose that played a big role in 2020 is utility man Brad Miller.

Their strength is their pitching. Their rotation consists of Jack Flaherty, Kwang Hyun Kim, Dakota Hudson, and potentially Austin Gomber, Alex Reyes and/or Carlos Martinez. In the bullpen, Giovanny Gallegos will close out games for the Cards while Andrew Miller, John Gant, Tyler Webb and Genesis Cabrera return as other bullpen options.

However, there are still a handful of questions surrounding the Cards. Currently, their outfield consists of the aforementioned Fowler, and two young players in Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. Bader is coming off a solid season with a 113 wRC+ and his usual strong defense, but this was in just 125 plate appearances and struggled in 2019. O’Neill won the National League Gold Glove Award for left ifelders after having +9 DRS, a 15.4 UZR/150 and 5.3 range runs above average, but turned in a .271 wOBA and 71 wRC+. Although he showed huge power potential in the minors, he’s yet to show that in the majors over a significant amount of time.

Two arms that could significantly change the course of the season for St. Louis are Reyes and Martinez. Both have been consistently injured the last few years, more so Reyes, but if healthy, they could be two of the Cards’ best pitchers.

The Cardinals have three top 100 prospects including Dylan Carlson who could take over one of the three outfield spots if one of the aforementioned names does struggle. Nolan Gorman is expected to take over third base sometime in 2021 and Matthew Liberatore could be one of the Cards best pitchers in the next few seasons.

Catcher Ivan Herrera is ranked by FanGraphs as the 101st best prospect in baseball and could be Molina’s successor. The next year or so might be a transition period for the Cards so they can get guys like Carlson and Gorman established in the big leagues while letting contracts like Fowler’s and Carpenter’s expire. Still, you can never count the Cardinals and their devilish black magic out.

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