James Earl Jones once said the only constant in life in baseball. He was right.
Instead of waxing poetically about baseball, which I could do all day seven days a week and twice on Sunday, let's dig into the look of this team.
With March rapidly unfolding, the return of baseball has St. Louis feeling something different. It's a feeling unlike any other in this town.
The Cardinals are in full-blown spring training mode, cutting rookies and hedging bets on veterans returning to form. With apologies to other cities and sports, the Cardinals in St. Louis develop a certain appeal. You can feel it driving around the city, which I do way too much.
What's going on with this team? Let's spin the carousel for a second.
Young arms like Jack Flaherty dare to be something more than just an amazing GIF and a pillar or promise.
Jordan Hicks is trying to turn 103 mph heat into routine goodness.
Austin Gomber will not settle for a bullpen role, but where does he slot in?
Don't forget about the aging bulldog himself, Adam Wainwright. While Fangraphs and any other sabermetrical site will warn you away from investing the feels in his right arm producing positive results this year, there's the good old fashioned "you never know factor" raging war against the projection maniacs.
On paper, Wainwright may not be a good bet, but he's throwing easy for the first time...well, since the last time he said it.
Marcell Ozuna was just fine in 2018. That is, if he hadn't arrived with the hopes and dreams of a Giancarlo Stanton rebound acquisition. With the right shoulder repaired and new expectations, what can he do in a contract year?
Will he solidify his place in the lineup and in left field, warding off young beasts like Tyler O'Neill? Or will he be a disappointment that doesn't put up a bad slash line? Baseball will tell us.
Yadier Molina may be 65 years old in knee-catching baseball years, but he is back behind the plate, swinging a bat, collecting hits, and looking like a guy who won't leave the party without another ring.
Coming off his ninth Gold Glove and a year with more power at the plate than in the past six years, Molina is capable of just about anything.
Don't sleep on that rookie Redbird, Paul Goldschmidt.
Experts expect him to do great things in his first year in St. Louis at first base. Instead of being a hopeful boom stick, like Ozuna, Goldschmidt is the bat you can ship the bet on right now.
The glove work, baserunning and overall leadership qualities are icing on the cake. Remember those one or two run losses the past few years? Goldschmidt is going to fix all of that.
Dexter Fowler may be as useful as the Dexter series finale on Showtime, or he could at least be Season 1 finale worthy. When people are celebrating encouraging at-bats and exploding with glee every time you hit a ball hard, one can guess the career path has changed.
Few baseball players took a harder fall than Fowler in 2018. Going from a surefire 3-4 WAR player to negative production is heinous to watch, but worse to experience from the driver's seat. He will get a full chance to get it back. I mean, he'll get April and part of May.
What about the O'Neill kid?
He can hit it a ball 400 feet with ease, but he can also miss it by 40 feet just as easily. 130 at-bats, nine home runs, and 57 strikeouts last season. He nearly ran through an outfield wall and took out five teammates as well, but showed the promise of a guy who needs more time to see what's there.
O'Neill is 24 years old this year, and while St. Louis should hold off on shaving the sides of their heads and joining a cross fit gym tomorrow, this kid is exciting. Randal Grichuk-like? Sure, but exciting. This is where I tell you the Cardinals have control over the kid's rights until 2022.
Jose Martinez's bat will play, but where does his glove slot in? I'd say right field.
Fowler will get pressure from O'Neill and Martinez, and rightfully so. This league isn't built on fluffy off-field stories and smiles; results build houses in the big leagues.
What about the starting pitching?
It could be great, or become a problem midseason.
Carlos Martinez hasn't thrown in over two weeks, which means half the rotation could be made up of inexperienced parts. The sure things are Mikolas, Flaherty, Wacha, and Wainwright with John Gant, Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson all getting looks this spring.
Martinez, on the other hand, may not be a starter again until June.
A shoulder injury has restricted his entire camp, and reports have him out of rotation work until May at the earliest. He's gone from a possible return to ace status in January to being a guy who could relieve in the early going of the season. Baseball can be mean to some bodies.
This is where I remind you Dallas Keuchel is still out there for the taking.
Which Matt Carpenter will we see?
Matt Carpenter is going to be Matt Carpenter. Don't worry about it. The guy delivered a disastrous three month stretch of baseball last year and still finished with a 5.0 WAR and near .900 OPS.
If that doesn't teach you about the freakness of this guy, I got nothing for you.
Here's the thing about Harrison Bader and Kolten Wong.
Give me the Gold Glove worthy defense and a decent bat, and we are good to go.
Hit .270 with some pop, and find ways to get on base. That's it. Nothing fancy. These two guys save runs in the field. That is what they are great at, and I am completely fine with it.
Who will anchor the bullpen?
One of the biggest X-factors on this team is Andrew Miller.
What is he going to be? If healthy, the guy could turn the bullpen and overall pitching staff into the best in the National League Central Division. If he's not what was prescribed, or what people saw in 2017, he could drag the pen down to the gutter of mere decency.
Here's what a lot of people are forgetting.
Mike Shildt manages this team now.
A guy who has led two different baseball teams in the Cardinals system to the promised land. You don't have to wish upon a star with Shildt and his smart baseball mind, or dig into chess faith or anything else. He is a big deal when it comes to how 2019 can look as opposed to how 2018 started. The Mike Matheny baseball method is dead, and that's a big plus in St. Louis.
The Cardinals are set for a division battle, one that could place them on top in the end. But it won't be easy with the Cincinnati Reds refusing to take up bystander status.
Four teams could be scrapping for first place or a piece of the wildcard, so strap in for a wild ride. The Cardinals are projected to win around 87 games, but could push over 90-92 with some surprises. There are "ifs" on this team, albeit far less than last spring.
Did the Cardinals improve over the winter to make a run? Yes. Goldschmidt alone proves that.
Did they do enough? That will be up for discussion until the winter comes again.
I do like the makeup of this team, worries and all.
2019 could be a fun season, but I wouldn't skip the bourbon and aspirin pickups.