The St. Louis Cardinals faced a disappointing end to a hard-fought season when they lost games two and three of the wild card round to the San Diego Padres. Now they must turn to the difficult process of winter roster building.
The Cardinals, however, are in the unique position of awaiting decisions from two franchise icons: Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Both vets have interest in returning, but no decision has been made. Either or both could still decide to return. In a worst case scenario for Cardinals’ fans, it’s possible the pair could explore a new frontier with another club, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That seems unlikely, but Molina and Wainwright are intense competitors who have accomplished more-or-less everything they could hope to accomplish in St. Louis.
For the Cardinals’ part, manager Mike Shildt has repeatedly expressed a desire to see the pair return to Jupiter in the spring. Wainwright and Molina have long set the tone in St. Louis, and it’s hard to quantify the impact their departure might have on the club’s culture. The Cardinals had hoped a sort of passing of the torch would take place in 2020, per Goold, but the young players in St. Louis didn’t quite establish themselves in exactly the way the team hoped. Ace Jack Flaherty still has a sky-high ceiling, but in 9 starts, the 24-year-old went just 4-3 with a 4.91 ERA/4.11 FIP. Given the tumultuous nature of the season, that’s hardly a disaster. Still, when push came to shove, it was Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim taking the ball in games one and two of the playoffs.
Molina, 38, already outlasted one catcher-of-the-future in Carson Kelly, who was eventually traded to the Diamondbacks as part of the package for Paul Goldschmidt. Andrew Knizner, 25, is the closest to usurping the role now, but it’s not particularly close. If Molina wants to come back, he’ll be back, and he’ll be the starting catcher.
Goold notes that Molina desires to play two more seasons. That certainly makes it seem as if he’ll be back in St. Louis. If Molina returns, chances are greater that Wainwright returns as well. They certainly have a need now that Dakota Hudson will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have other options for the rotation – Alex Reyes, Carlos Martinez, Kim, Miles Mikolas, and Austin Gomber – but besides Flaherty, they all come with questions. With Wainwright, the Cardinals know exactly what they’re getting. They’re just waiting for Wainwright to give the word on whether or not they’ll get it in 2021.