With baseball season starting, what better time to spend irrational amounts of money on merchandise? Well, you shouldn’t, because buying baseball jerseys is an objectively stupid use of money, but if you’re like me, you’re probably going to do it anyway. Look, I’ve blown $100+ at casinos before; at least if I’m going to buy a baseball jersey, I’m getting something out of the transaction.
I am the proud owner of two baseball jerseys (not to be confused with shirseys, the t-shirt equivalent, of which I own many, many more), though neither are of a current St. Louis Cardinals player–I own a Stephen Piscotty jersey and, as of a month and a half ago, an Albert Pujols jersey. But I understand why people would prefer to own a current player’s jersey, so I have taken it upon myself to evaluate what would be the smartest picks.
Obviously, there is going to be some variability depending on your personal tastes and preferences, so I’m selecting jerseys for what I consider a neutral fan, somebody who likes the Cardinals but does not currently own a jersey. Ranked below are the 25 players from the Opening Day roster (I’m writing this before Opening Day, so I haven’t adjusted for the annual Opening Day injury), the four MLB players on the Injured List (I didn’t include Justin Williams, who has never played for the St. Louis Cardinals), plus one more bonus name. Anyway, I’m about to describe 30 people and I’d like to eventually go to bed tonight, so here goes.
30. Luke Gregerson–Best case scenario for a Gregerson jersey was always going to be that you owned a jersey of a middle reliever, but after his dreadful, injury-plagued 2018, the first year of his three-year contract, his stock couldn’t be much lower. His main contribution to the 2019 Cardinals could easily be forcing Paul Goldschmidt to wear a different number from his time on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
29. Drew Robinson–You know that scene in The 40 Year-Old Virgin where Seth Rogen’s character mocks Steve Carell’s character for having a framed poster for the band Asia in his apartment? “You framed an Asia poster? How hard did the guy at the frame store laugh when you brought this in?” This is me when I see you in a Drew Robinson jersey. He’s almost certainly a bad player whose upside is Greg Garcia, but I guess he’s an unknown enough entity to put him ahead of Gregerson.
28. Dominic Leone–He probably isn’t going to be a major part of the 2019 team, and he probably isn’t going to remain in the Cardinals organization much longer, but on the bright side, Leone has an outsized role in Cardinals lore as a living extension of the Kent Bottenfield trade tree. That said, if you’re going to buy a jersey of a member of the tree, you might as well steer fully into it and buy a Bottenfield.
27. Mike Mayers–This is probably too high, but I’m also irrationally high on Mike Mayers, who looked far better as a high-usage reliever in 2018 than he did in his ill-fated cups of coffee in 2016 and 2017. Mayers will likely end his Cardinals career with one start, and it’s one of the worst starts I’ve ever seen, so there’s a certain irony value there.
26. Brett Cecil–Brett Cecil has gotten a bad rap lately. I mean, he’s probably bad, and perhaps extremely bad, but he had a decent first season in St. Louis, and are we really going to take 32 2/3 admittedly awful innings and conclude that Brett Cecil is completely broken? Well, maybe we are, but he’s making $14.5 million over the next two seasons, so the Cardinals will surely make every effort in 2019 to bring him back into a competent bullpen role. That or they’ll keep him on the IL to spare both parties embarrassment. I’d probably invest in Brett Cecil glasses before investing in Brett Cecil jerseys.
25. Matt Wieters–Irony upside! I’m quite high on Matt Wieters, which means he’s actually less likely to stick with the Cardinals long-term: in an ideal world, Wieters shows flashes of his Baltimore Orioles goodness as Yadier Molina’s backup and he signs to be the starting catcher for some middling team next year. Which means this would be a pretty hilarious jersey to own. Imagine owning a Dexter Fowler Houston Astros jersey.
24. John Gant–He probably isn’t going to be more than a back-of-the-rotation starter at best, but this is the #24 spot on this list, so if you’re buying the #24 player on the list’s jersey, you’re obviously a fan of deep cuts.
23. John Brebbia–He seems like fun.
22. Mike Shildt–I don’t understand why people bought Mike Matheny jerseys. I barely understand why people wore those giveaway Mike Matheny jerseys. Likewise, I think wearing the jersey of the manager is downright silly, but if you’re going to go that route, why not Mike Shildt, who is probably about five billion times better at managing a baseball team?
21. Jedd Gyorko–A few years ago, Gyorko would have been a reasonable top ten selection, but at this point, he doesn’t have a starting position and this could very easily be his final season in St. Louis (he has a team option for 2020). He will go down as a competent but hardly legendary Cardinal, and the long-term usefulness of his jersey is somewhat dubious.
20. Yairo Munoz–He’s probably worse than Jedd Gyorko, but he will also probably be around longer, so if you’re into hipster jersey selections with some long-term usefulness, Munoz isn’t a bad choice.
19. Dexter Fowler–Obviously, Fowler’s stock has fallen apart over the last year, but consider the positives. One, he’s under contract for three more years, so this probably isn’t a one-year thing. Two, he’s going to be given every chance to bounce back, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that his decline phase won’t be quite as harsh as his 2018 season implied. Three, he’s a super likable guy, so worst case scenario, you have the jersey of a player with an infectious smile and terrible baseball ability…but hey, infectious smile!
18. Dakota Hudson–I’m not super high on Hudson, and he could probably be rationalized as higher on the list than this, but he’s 24 and in the starting rotation, with six more years of club control, and even I can acknowledge the appeal here, even if his 4.76 xFIP as a reliever last season worries me. Another concern about Hudson is that young players, particularly young pitchers, tend to make a number switch. Fun #43 fun fact: five-time NBA All-Star Brad Daugherty wore the number as a tribute to his favorite athlete, NASCAR driver Richard Petty. And then for some reason ESPN hired him as a NASCAR analyst.
17. Marcell Ozuna–He wasn’t nearly as bad as the persistent “Ozuna disappointed for the Cardinals in 2018” articles implied, and he could still have an excellent 2019. But the big problem is that, especially with Paul Goldschmidt’s extension, the odds that Ozuna stays in St. Louis beyond 2019 are looking long. On the bright side, this could end up being a fun jersey in 2019.
16. Michael Wacha–Wacha will probably not be a Cardinal in 2020, but as an All-Star and NLCS MVP during his legendary 2013 rookie postseason, Wacha has developed into a minor Cardinals legend. He may not have the allure of David Freese, but he has to rank ahead of Tom Lawless.
15. Alex Reyes–Alex Reyes had his obligatory number change and he remains the team’s super-prospect, but the oft-injured Reyes is a permanent going concern given how his career has gone so far. That said, he’s only 24 and while he will probably spend 2019 with an undefined role, if he bounces back, he could end up being an excellent jersey to own going forward, even as he enters his arbitration cycle after this season.
14. Jose Martinez–He is now a full-blown bench player, but Martinez should play plenty, get a ton of pinch hit appearances, and he is officially under contract for the next two seasons. Also, by most accounts, he is among the most liked players on the team, and there’s special joy in rooting for a likable guy.
13. Andrew Miller–Relievers as jerseys, particularly when they aren’t defined relief pitchers, are a risky proposition. But Andrew Miller is making eight figures for the next three years, and for that period, figures to be a safe enough option, as even in his worst relief seasons, he hasn’t been bad.
12. Kolten Wong–He’s entering his seventh season in St. Louis, his career has included being a finalist for Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove, he provided a postseason walk-off home run, and he’s under contract for at least two more years, and potentially a third if the Cardinals choose to exercise his 2021 option. It’s looking less and less likely that Wong emerges as a superstar, but he’s a solid MLB player with flashes of brilliance and while the former irritates some people, the flashes of brilliance mean you’ll get compliments on your taste.
11. Tyler O’Neill–Some people like solid players who are well-rounded and, for better or worse, kind of boring (see #21, and I don’t mean this as an insult!). But there’s appeal in having a player with a special skill, and the absurdly jacked Tyler O’Neill’s raw power makes him a fun player to follow. And he could be a Cardinal under team control for the next six seasons, even if he isn’t currently a full-time player.
10. Matt Carpenter–How is Matt Carpenter’s place in Cardinals history defined? It’s hard to say. His “Cardinals moments” are harder to articulate if you weren’t there–his super-long Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS at-bat against Clayton Kershaw, his go-ahead double against Kershaw in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, cases and cases of overpriced salsa at St. Louis-area Schnucks grocery stores–but he’s going to go down as one of the best fifteen or so Cardinals position players ever by Wins Above Replacement. He’s still a terrific player and should be around at least through 2020. Some weirdos don’t like him, but as somebody with intimate knowledge of St. Louis Bullpen’s demographics, you statistically probably aren’t one of them.
9. Miles Mikolas–He could be rationalized on Cy Young ballots last year, and now he’s under contract through 2023. I still fear regression, but there’s a very realistic chance that if you buy a Miles Mikolas jersey, you’re buying the jersey of the team’s ace for the next half-decade.
8. Carlos Martinez–Martinez has become oddly forgotten for being the team’s Opening Day starter last season. But despite his injuries and despite grumblings about him and despite persistent rumors that he may wind up in the bullpen, he’s still the most consistently electric Cardinals pitcher since, I don’t know, Bob Gibson? Is that too far? Maybe it is, but when Carlos Martinez is on his game, he will make you think irrationally.
7. Harrison Bader–Bader instantly became a highly marketed Cardinal for good reason last season. While he was very productive, he also exudes fan favorite: he’s exhilerating in the field and on the basepaths, he has a killer smile and terrific hair, and he is a source of countless dumb “MORE LIKE BAE-DER” jokes. He may take a step back from his surprising rookie excellence, but even if his bat slumps and he isn’t able to jump above league-average, he has the style to transcend that from a popularity standpoint.
6. Jordan Hicks–Dude throws 105 MPH. Remember that stuff I said about Tyler O’Neill and having a dynamic skill set? Yeahhhhhhhhh. Even if Hicks never becomes a truly great pitcher–heck, even if he completely burns out–he’s still going to be the dude that made Aroldis Chapman look like Josh Tomlin.
5. Paul DeJong–25 and coming off a sophomore season which helped to assuage fears that his rookie season may have been a fluke, the shortstop is under contract through at least 2023, possibly 2025 depending on team options. While DeJong is probably never going to be the guy on a good Cardinals team, he could wind up being the equivalent to owning a Dustin Pedroia jersey during the height of David Ortiz-mania.
4. Jack Flaherty–He’s 23. The last time he pitched in a meaningful baseball game, he was 22. He was a good prospect, but what he showed in 2018 made it look like he was dramatically undersold, and that he is the future ace of the Cardinals. There is famously No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, but Flaherty looks like a reasonable bet to remain a part of the Cardinals rotation, even if he never takes that extra step, for the forseeable future.
3. Paul Goldschmidt–The super-affable slugger who will be a Cardinal for the next six seasons? Yeah, that’ll do. Pre-extension, Goldschmidt wouldn’t be ranked nearly this high–he probably wouldn’t be in the top ten–but at this point, he’s the safe future pick. If you had to pick a current Cardinal to put up the most WAR on the team from this point forward, the safe answer is probably Goldschmidt.
2. Adam Wainwright–He might be bad now. This could very well be his last season. But Adam Wainwright is undeniably a Cardinals legend, arguably the second-best pitcher in franchise history, and thanks to his relatively brief time in the bullpen of the 2006 Cardinals, he has big postseason moments. The big benefit to picking Wainwright is that when he retires, this remains a fair jersey. In fact, you’ll probably be able to buy them as readily-available throwbacks for years.
1. Yadier Molina–Take everything I said about Wainwright, and add the following. Yadier Molina remains a good player, and thanks to FanGraphs, his reputation may improve even more for the remainder of his active playing career. Yadier Molina has a particular intangible benefit to St. Louis: Wainwright is also popular, but his popularity isn’t really dissimilar to that of similarly talented, similarly tenured pitchers in other big baseball markets, while Molina is given superstar treatment despite his top Baseball Reference comparable being A.J. Pierzynski (his former backup). Also, Wainwright’s number probably won’t be retired, and he probably won’t be a Hall of Famer (though I suspect it’ll be out of circulation for a few years after he retires)–Molina’s Hall of Fame case is bolstered every year, and he could easily be the final player to wear the #4 jersey for the St. Louis Cardinals.