MLB Rumors: St. Louis Cardinals upgrading defense at the trade deadline?

Oct 5, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman (19) fields a ground ball for an out against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 5, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman (19) fields a ground ball for an out against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

MLB rumors suggests the St. Louis Cardinals will make some moves on their pending free agent players, but could they make upgrades for their defense?

Coming into the 2023 season, the St. Louis Cardinals were known as a dominant defensive team largely promoted through their “Cardinal Way.” In 2021, they were home to five Gold Glove Award winners: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman, Tyler O’Neill, and Harrison Bader. In 2022, Nolan Arenado and Brendan Donovan also received the honors. Only one of those players is no longer on the roster. Are the St. Louis Cardinals going to make moves that upgrades their poor defense at the trade deadline?

I think Nolan Arenado provided insights behind the possible issues within the Major League ballclub in an interview during the All-Star game. He is quoted to say on behalf of his own struggles:

“I’m trying to conserve my body, so I’ve taken less groundballs. I don’t want to beat up my body as much. I think that’s helped me because I turned it on to finish the first half. But it also hurt me because maybe I’m not throwing as much as I need to.”

As stars age, this is not an uncommon step to conserve energy and health over the marathon of a season. It is clear though that it has impacted him specifically as he is pacing his worst season ever at third base with a -0.50 WAAf (Fielding Wins Above Average) based on my RPI statistics. In comparison, a year ago where he posted a +1.99 WAAf.

If he is doing it as one of the leaders on the team, are others following in his footsteps as well? This is all speculative and there is no merit to this question because as a fan we are not in the clubhouse or with the players putting in work, but the regression is across the board and it requires an answer.

This season, only first base (+0.20) and shortstop (+0.00) for the Cardinals are currently at Major League average. At every other position, they are below average as a team. It is almost mind-boggling to think about such a drop off like this especially with such limited roster turnover.

Here is a snapshot of the year over year difference based on my WAAf:

1B: -0.11

2B: -1.14

3B: -3.54

SS: -1.47

LF: +0.01

CF: -1.03

RF: -0.39

C: -0.59

Grand Total: -8.25

Their lack of playing excellent defense has been costly across the diamond and has magnified their pitching woes, which is another story for another day.

I know I highlighted Nolan Arenado, but others like Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, and Brendan Donovan have also regressed.

At shortstop, Paul DeJong provided a +0.60 WAAf in 2021 and a +0.52 WAAf in 2022. So far in 2023, he is only at +0.10 WAAf.

Brendan Donovan has proven to be a super utility defensive player, but specifically his second base play has downgraded. In 2022, he provided a league average play with +0.00 WAAf. This season he is -0.30 WAAf.

It is hard to complain about Tommy Edman’s defense, but please St. Louis Cardinals fans, buckle up and take it for what it is worth. He stepped up in a big way playing the outfield when injuries caused disruption, but his primary defensive position play at shortstop and second base have slipped. At shortstop in 2021, he provided +0.10 WAAf, in 2022 he was at +0.63 WAAf, but this season he is -0.10 WAAf. At the neighboring position of second base, which is more of his primary defensive position, he is -0.20 WAAf. Last season, he was +1.26 WAAf, and in 2021 he was at +0.60 WAAf.

There is also speculation as to how much the ban of the shift is affecting overall defensive performance for teams and individuals. However, I think the jury is still out on the true affect without the shift. I personally do not think the shift is too significant, at least from the St. Louis Cardinals perspective. My reasoning stems from the eye-test and Statcast.

The eye-test through watching games suggests they really beat themselves with routine plays they should make. Jordan Hicks play ending the game against the Miami Marlins when he threw the ball into right field made him liable to be sent down to the Muffin game. This has been a common occurrence for 2023 though. It really feels each error turns into a run, which may also be due to a lack of strikeout pitching too.

As always, I am a numbers guy, so I do have some data behind my thoughts. Amongst their fellow foes across the league, prior to the ban of the shift, the St. Louis Cardinals were not among leaders in the number of shifts used.

2019: 25th ranked

2020: 28th ranked

2021: 26th ranked

2022: 21st ranked

Could it affect them still, absolutely, but it is not just the St. Louis Cardinals not able to move around and everything above compared them to other teams on an equal playing field in terms of comparison.

I mentioned above the question of if they will make moves this trade deadline to address their poor defense. I do not have a direct answer, but in order for them to right the ship either the end of this season or in 2024, the defense needs to come back to the forefront. It is pivotal amongst winning teams to play quality defense and help their pitching staff.

Next. Could this Cardinals-Mariners trade make sense?. dark