Let’s get the giant elephant in the room out of the way up front. Fans hate the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. The media spends a lot of attention on both and they’re both largely rich in franchise history success.
So the simple answer as to why some are so down on the Yankees and seem to give the Cardinals a pass going into 2016 isn’t “Because they’re the Yankees”.
Let’s clarify the other obvious fact; The Cardinals won 11 games more than the Yankees in the regular season and finished with the best record in baseball in 2015. So yes, they are falling from a higher elevation.
But it’s a new year and both teams are in difficult divisions. The Blue Jays and Pirates both won a ton of games last season and then didn’t do much in free agency. The Red Sox and Cubs made the biggest splashes in free agency and stand to battle for the division. The Cards would appear to have the two weaker teams in the Reds and Brewers than the Orioles and Rays, but still face a steep three team divisional competition, as they did last season.
Both team have good, not great, farm systems. St. Louis has had years of players like: Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Trevor Rosenthal and Matt Carpenter step up and perform in the wake of injuries and poor performance. But the majority of its top prospects are already on the roster and it ranks just 15th in baseball according to Baseball America, with one player in the top 100.
The Yankees, on the other hand, are ranked 18th, but with three players in the top 100. New York has had years of prospects being overblown, traded, or getting injured, but finally tasted success with Greg Bird and Luis Severino helping keep the team together through injuries en route to the top wildcard spot.
This season, the Yankees could feasibly receive reinforcements from Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, possibly even James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo, in some capacity, as both offer major league tools without the experience. Neither farm system is going to change them from what they are this year into World Series contenders, but both likely have some pieces who can plug some holes for the short-term in 2016.
So what about the roster? The Cardinals had the best bullpen in the NL last year along with the best pitching staff in general, while the Yankees had a top five bullpen and added the best reliever in the game, Aroldis Chapman. It figures both teams will have deep and elite bullpens.
So what then of the rotation? Much has been made about Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow as a 27-year-old, Michael Pineda‘s fragile body, and Luis Severino’s innings. But what about Adam Wainwright‘s tendon at 34-years-old which made him miss all of 2015? Or Carlos Martinez‘s shoulder strain which shut him down at the end of last season similar to Nathan Eovaldi getting shut down in August?
Why is Pineda heavily criticized for his inability to stay healthy but Jaime Garcia is seen as a no-brainer pitcher to step up for the Cards?
Is it OK to assume Mike Leake can throw 200 innings? He’s done it just once (2014) to a career ERA of 3.88 and he’s the main addition for the Cards this year. Yet Severino, being in New York for a full season is doubted to reach 200 innings despite the much higher upside?
Something isn’t adding up.
Maybe it’s the offense? The Yankees’ best hitters are both old. Mark Teixeira rarely stays healthy and is in his mid to late 30’s. Alex Rodriguez is over 40 now and can only DH despite both putting up productive seasons in 2015.
So St. Louis, which scored less runs, must not have similar issues?
Except Matt Holliday is 36-years-old, missed most of last season with injuries and declined in 2014. Yadier Molina‘s health continues to dwindle and his stats have dropped four years in a row. Now, 33-years-old as a catcher, Molina is not getting any younger at the physically most demanding position in the game.
It’s fair to cast concerns over the Yankees. All of the criticisms are warranted to a degree.
But it begs the question, why are we so confident in the Cardinals?