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Projected Top Five St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2015

First, we counted down the top 20 stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014. Not surprisingly, the list was dominated by the regular-season and post-season run by the club, followed by the tragic death of Oscar Taveras and the resultant trade for Jason Heyward trying to alter the course of a black-cloud year for the Cardinals’ right field situation.

Now it is time for my annual predictions for the top story lines of this New Year.

As is customary, I will set aside the easiest and most logical entry – the results of the 2015 team on the field. The nature of that story has yet to be determined, shaped by the items discussed here and many more plot lines not yet developed.

As I compiled my list and rankings, I considered the staying power of the story, how long it might remain in the headlines as well as its potential short- and long-term impact – both on the 2015 Cardinals and the organization’s future.

One thing that makes this year’s list a bit different is that Heyward’s arrival created a major impending contract situation hanging over the organization’s head, a problem that did not exist prior.

Without further ado, here are my projected top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2015. As always, your comments are welcome below.

1. Will Broken Wings Fly?

Simply put, the 2015 Cardinals will be dead in the water unless ace Adam Wainwright is healthy enough to make his customary 32 starts and throw 200-plus innings with an ERA well under 3.00.

Despite struggling with a minor elbow problem that was addressed in off-season surgery, Wainwright won 20 games for the second time in his career in 2014. But at age 33 and with over 1500 Major League innings on his right arm, it may be closer to the end of Wainwright’s career than its start.

At the other end of the experience spectrum is Michael Wacha. Only time will tell if rest will be enough to enable the right-hander to return to prior heights. Though the 2014 Cardinals proved they could continue without the talented 23-year-old, a healthy and productive Wacha in 2015 would go a long way toward easing concerns about the starting staff as a whole.

2. Healthy Hitting

The topic of the dramatic downturn in the Cardinals offensive numbers from 2013 to 2014 has already been covered in-depth here and elsewhere. The hope of many is that the middle ground is where the 2015 club might land.

The addition of Jason Heyward to shore up the club’s worst position offensively last season, right field, should help. So would a return to prior levels of production from 30-something veterans Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina and youngsters like Matt Adams and Kolten Wong taking the next step.

The pitching and defense should again be there, but unless the offense can score more runs and take some pressure off them, the 2015 Cardinals may not be as resilient as the 2014 edition. That club had the lowest run differential of any playoff team.

3. Heyward’s Happiness

As noted above, the Cardinals acquired their largest looming contract question in new right fielder Jason Heyward. The 25-year-old will play his first year in St. Louis in 2015 on the final year of his Atlanta contract.

Whether the two sides like the new arrangement and when they might sit down to discuss a new contract is pure speculation. As soon as Heyward has a good game, however, some unknowledgeable fans will cry out for the team to get a long-term deal done – as if it was so easy.

On the field, Heyward should be anxious to put his recent inconsistent seasons behind him and prove he is worth a mega-contract ahead. No one but him and his agent know the level of their resolve to test the free agent market next fall.

Matt Holliday did it but still ended up returning to the Cardinals. If the Heyward-Cardinals marriage is meant to be, both sides have the wherewithal to make it eventually happen.

Between now and then, however, many of us will become weary of the topic.

4. Trevor’s Theatrics

2014 was the best of years and worst of years for closer Trevor Rosenthal. The hard-thrower ranked among the Cardinals all-time single-season save leaders, but also was among league leaders in losses by a closer and blown saves. Too many baserunners, especially early in innings, led to far too many difficult outings for Rosenthal, who threw more pitches than any other MLB closer.

With the Cardinals awash in rotation candidates, Rosenthal’s long-standing wish to return to starting is likely to continue to be ignored.

However, in the Heyward trade, the Cardinals quietly added a former closer in Jordan Walden. They then quickly signed the 27-year-old to a two-year extension, giving them a potential ninth-inning alternative on those occasions when Rosenthal needs rest or on a more recurring basis if his problems worsen.

5. Lynn’s Pending Payday

As we have seen in recent years with Matt Carpenter and less successfully with Allen Craig and Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals have made it a practice to offer long-term contracts to arbitration-eligible players they consider to be core members of the team.

Next up is always-underrated Lance Lynn. With the 27-year-old right-hander hitting arbitration for the first time, it is likely that both sides are already talking about a deal that would be three years minimum, with a couple more club option years.

The rub could be the money, but if the Cardinals see Lynn as a long-term, 200-inning rotation member, the deal will get done. If not, he will see a huge salary increase on a one-year contract for 2015 and this story will return next winter.

Other topics considered among the top stories of 2015 include Molina’s Mileage and Adams’ Bat.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of 2014 countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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22 Responses to “Projected Top Five St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2015”

  1. blingboy says:

    “Simply put, the 2015 Cardinals will be dead in the water unless ace Adam Wainwright is healthy enough to make his customary 32 starts and throw 200-plus innings with an ERA well under 3.00.”

    Quite a serious exaggeration, IMO. If Wainy falls short of his norm or goes down, a number of very good young pitchers will need to have solid seasons, something which is clearly plausible. The offense would need to step it up from last year, also plausible. By no means would we be dead in the water.

    • crdswmn says:

      I imagine if Waino goes down, Mozeliak will probably try to make a trade for a starter. Might have to make do with what we have for a while, but I can see Mozeliak wheeling and dealing for somebody. Of course it might not be pretty in terms of who we would have to give up.

      • blingboy says:

        Also clearly plausible, likely even. Maybe a steady veteran innings eater type rather than a front of rotation type. The Cardinals certainly have the resources to come up with something.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I stand on my point. If a rookie starter could win 10 games in place of Wainwright, a fairly tall order, that would be a net loss of 10 wins. In 2014, that would have been the difference between the Cardinals posting a losing record and winning the division (80 wins vs. 90).

      Regarding a trade, significant ones are very difficult to make early in a season. Most times, teams need to get to July before they are willing to make dump trades.

      • crdswmn says:

        That’s true, but then my assumption was not that Waino would go down at the beginning of the season. If you are positing an injury like 2011, then that’s a whole other ball of wax. Someone will have to step in for a while, to be followed up by a trade farther into the season if needed.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I see where you are coming from. My fear is an all or nothing thing with Waino, like a second TJ. In reality, the unknowns are probably much greater for Wacha.

          • blingboy says:

            In general, my point is that the Cardinals have so many resources, roster pitchers, prospects, payroll flexibility, proven GM, that it is not accurate to say the loss of Waino, or any other single player, would leave them dead in the water. An accumulation of jey injuries/performance issues would be a different story, of course.

          • crdswmn says:

            Well a second TJ for Waino is certainly something for which there is a non-zero chance. I worry about it too. All through his elbow troubles in 2014 he kept insisting his ligament was fine, but you never know.

            I do think limiting his innings would be a good idea. But that’s because I think ( as I have said before) that his window for winning the CY has closed. 200 innings would be a goal only if he had the CY in mind. Otherwise, you could have him miss a few starts here and there and plug in someone else. This is what I would prefer, though I doubt Waino would. I would just hate to see a second TJ, because the odds of being effective after another one are pretty low.

            Wacha is a worry as well, but in a different way. I think his issues are more chronic than the catastrophic blow a TJ would be.

            • blingboy says:

              The thing I worry about with Wacha is if he will be able to make whatever adjustments to his mechanics will be tried to avoid future injury and still be just as effective. Or injure something else due to the change.

              It is also unknown if martinez will be able to go deep in his starts, as that was the problem before. That will create pressure to get more innings out of the other guys. Even worse, if Garcia makes the rotation . . . You can only have so many pieces of the rotation that need coddling.

              • Brian Walton says:

                I would be delighted if Garcia made the rotation. When he is able to pitch, he has been very good and averages over six innings per start. I wouldn’t call it coddling, but more being on edge, waiting for when he gets hurt again.

                • crdswmn says:

                  It has occurred to me if Garcia is healthy and able to pitch, he would be the perfect person to plug in for Waino every once in while, to limit Waino’s innings.

                  So in that respect, I would love to have Garcia as well. He could be the 6th starter swing man, that way he wouldn’t pitch as much, and it would take longer for him to get hurt. 😉

  2. Bw52 says:

    Interesting conversation.Hope Waino stays healthy.Getting anything out of J.Garcia would be gravy.

  3. Bw52 says:

    Weary of the Heyward and the Cards contract talks? I sure as hell give a damn about that than I do about some 17 year Kid SS playing in the rookie leagues.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Fortunately, one is not limited to just two subjects about which to read.

      Chances are good that if Heyward agrees to an extension during the season, the first time we will know about it is when it is already done. In between now and then, I predict there will be countless articles with no real news, just rehashing the same points. If you dig that, by all means, go for it.

      • Bw52 says:

        What is everyone`s take on Mike Piazza getting so much support and Bagwell (andro) .Plus quite a few people keep voting for Clemens and Bonds.Big Mac and Sosa votes drop a bit this year as expected.The Piazza support puzzles me a bit.Piazza was a damn fin hitter but was a very poor catcher.1400 Stolens bases allowed only 423 caught stealing.23 % while the league average was 31%.Playing in big media areas like LA and NY certainly didn`t hurt him.Like isaid 423 HRs 1335 RBI 12 AS games and .308 BA. nice bat but terrible defense.It funny how some Catchers get passed over repeatedfly because of so-called defensive woes in spite of being good hitters.Different times I guess and different voters.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I will defer to others on this. I am so weary of all the complaining about the voters and the process and the guidelines and the snubs. I don’t really care all that much about the guys who missed. Four players will be inducted this year, which is a good representation. I think they are the ones who deserve the attention.

          Looking ahead, Junior Griffey, Hoffman, Wagner and Edmonds will be among those joining the ballot next year. I think the first two will get a lot of votes and the latter two, much less so. Because of his Cardinals ties, there will be a lot of campaigning for Edmonds, but I don’t think he will make it, nor that he should.

          As a result, perhaps Piazza, Bagwell and Raines will get a bit more support next year.

          On a side point, what bothers me most is that Ted Simmons was off the ballot after one year. While Piazza was a better hitter, the difference is not that great, and an even closer comp, Gary Carter, is already in the Hall. Like you said, it is difficult to rationalize how catchers are measured.

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