The St. Louis Cardinals are at a crossroads as it pertains to their 2021 season.
With three months in the books, the club is currently 40-42 and struggling to stay in the playoff picture.
Typically, a team in that position would sell at the trade deadline, but the Cardinals might want to think twice about doing so.
They Need To Give Their Current Core One More Shot At Another Title
The Cardinals are likely going to have a completely new look in 2022.
Most teams lose one or two key players to free agency every year, but St. Louis may get gutted after the 2021 season.
Nolan Arenado has a player option (which he will probably accept), but all of the following players are free agents: Andrew Miller, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and the newly-acquired Wade LeBlanc.
Let’s try to measure the importance of each of those players.
Miller, who was at one time arguably the best reliever in baseball, is still a decent bullpen arm.
He has a 4.15 ERA this season and has posted a 4.13 ERA over his three seasons with the Cardinals.
He is not the player he used to be, but St. Louis will certainly miss him when he’s gone as the club is just three or four arms deep in the bullpen (at least in terms of reliable options).
After Miller, you’ve got a Cardinals legend in Molina.
Following the first pitch, Yadier Molina received a standing ovation for becoming the first catcher ever to catch 2,000 games for one team. 👏 pic.twitter.com/ZnJTj8DC6Y
— MLB (@MLB) April 14, 2021
Molina has spent his entire 18-year career with St. Louis.
He is a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glover, and a two-time World Series champion.
Although age may be catching up with him, he is still a net positive.
He brings tons of value behind the plate and is still able to produce serviceable results as a hitter.
Currently, Molina has an OPS+ of 103, which is slightly better than league-average.
Next up, we’ve got Wainwright.
It’s incredible what the soon-to-be 40-year-old has been able to accomplish at his age.
He posted a 3.15 ERA across 10 starts in 2020 and has a 3.49 ERA across 16 starts in 2021.
The veteran may not be the Cy Young threat that he once was, but he is still a staple in this Cardinals rotation.
Adam Wainwright is through six innings of two-run ball on 85 pitches and is batting for himself in the top of the seventh. He has gone at least six innings in every start since May 29.
— Katie Woo (@katiejwoo) July 2, 2021
Lastly, and perhaps least notably, we’ve got LeBlanc.
St. Louis gave the 36-year-old a shot after the Baltimore Orioles let him go earlier this season.
He has looked very solid so far in a Cardinals uniform, pitching to a 3.27 ERA over four relief appearances and one really good start.
What Does This All Mean?
To be candid, the players we just talked about aren’t the superstars they used to be.
They’re certainly still producing, but not at an irreplaceable clip.
But the big idea is that these players are the identity of this Cardinals club.
Doesn’t the organization owe it to Molina and Wainwright to give this 2021 team a chance at a legitimate title run?
Both players have done so much for the franchise.
What Would Going ‘All-In’ Look Like?
Right now, the Cardinals could benefit from adding some talent in a few areas.
For one, the team could really use one more reliable rotation arm.
We mentioned that the newly-acquired LeBlanc was impressive in his lone start, so he could prove to be a long-term fix, but if that avenue doesn’t pan out, the Cardinals should explore the trade market.
Elsewhere, the team needs some relief help.
Alex Reyes (0.96 ERA) has been outstanding, and the team has some solid options in Giovanny Gallegos (1.93), Genesis Cabrera (2.65), and the aforementioned Miller (4.15), but that’s roughly the extent of the bullpen depth.
Adding one or two more relievers should do the trick in that department.