ST. LOUIS — Tommy Edman had been 24 for barely a month when he made his major-league debut for the Cardinals in June 2019. He established himself as an everyday player who could play multiple positions and, four months later, he was a key member of a squad that won its division and advanced to the National League Championship Series.
Edman is 28 now, married to his college girlfriend, Kristen. They are expecting their first child in October. No longer the scrappy rookie, Edman is instead older, wiser and a trusted leader.
He is, however, still incredibly clutch.
For the second straight game, Edman sent the Cardinals home happy by delivering a walk-off hit against Padres closer Josh Hader. On Tuesday night, it was a pinch-hit single in the 10th inning to propel St. Louis to a 6-5 win. Roughly 18 hours later, with two outs in the ninth, a runner on second and the Cardinals trailing by a run, Edman swatted a 1-1 sinker on the outer half of the plate over the right-field fence for a game-ending two-run blast. The opposite-field shot into the home team bullpen secured a 5-4 win and the club’s first series win in two weeks.
“It feels great, especially in this year that we’ve had, to have a couple of big wins like that,” Edman said. “The excitement is awesome and hopefully we can have a great September too.”
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) August 30, 2023
Edman, like the majority of this team, is not accustomed to losing — at least certainly not as much as the Cardinals have this year. He has been a part of a playoff team each season since his debut. That will not be the case in 2023, and a great September won’t change that. But St. Louis will be using its final 28 games to start planning for 2024, and Edman figures to be a central figure.
“He’s extremely important to the core of our group,” manager Oli Marmol said. “One, the versatility is amazing. But he’s a student of the game and you want a lot of those guys, the ones that are just into the nuances of the game, the small details of it. He studies the base-running side, the defense side of it. He’s just really into the competition. He’s a big part of what we’re doing.”
Pitching woes aside, the Cardinals should have a strong positional core next year. That group is headlined by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and top prospect Masyn Winn’s emergence at shortstop has been the club’s most exciting development in the second half. Lars Nootbaar will provide flexibility in the outfield and Brendan Donovan, who should be good to go for spring training after season-ending surgery in August, provides versatility all over the diamond. But Edman’s role is equally important, even if his role is constantly changing.
Throughout his five years in the big leagues, Edman has never spent a full season playing one position predominantly. Even in 2021, when he won the National League Gold Glove award at second base, he also played shortstop and right field. Edman’s defensive journey in the major leagues includes playing third base as a rookie, shortstop and second base in all five years and the corner outfield for four seasons. If that wasn’t enough, the Cardinals also tried Edman in center field when three of their starting outfielders were on the injured list.
After playing there for less than three months, it might be his best position.
This catch from Tommy Edman 🤯 pic.twitter.com/mHshnZIsbu
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) June 10, 2023
“It definitely adds a ton of value,” Edman said regarding his defensive versatility. “If you have something happen, like someone gets injured, if you have a guy that could fill in pretty much anywhere, that’s something just about any team needs. I think I can definitely do a good job of that. And if it turns out where eventually I have a year where I’m able to play one position the whole year, I feel I can be valuable to the team in that capacity as well.”
Could that year be 2024? The Cardinals know they have plenty to answer for this winter if they want to re-emerge as competitors. The organization does not want to break up its core of position players, as the Cardinals believe it’s the key to a winning club next year. However, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has made it abundantly clear he wants to acquire significant starting pitching. He could look to trade away from areas of positional depth.
That’s why Edman’s play — especially in center field — will be so important over the final month of the season. With Winn, Donovan and Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals have plenty of middle infielders. If Edman can cement himself as an above-average center fielder (and the club believes he’s well on his way), it would allow the Cardinals to move him there full-time. That could make outfielders such as Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Alec Burleson available on the trade market. Now, it will likely take more than those three names to land substantial starting pitching, but it’s a good start.
Edman himself is likely to garner plenty of trade interest this winter. He’s a switch-hitting Swiss Army knife who has accrued 30-plus stolen bases in each of his last two seasons and has hit at least 11 home runs in each full season of his career. He is also arbitration-eligible for two more seasons and won’t be a free agent until 2026. Yet the reasons that make him so attractive to other organizations are the same reasons the Cardinals don’t want to part with him. The Cardinals view Edman as an essential player who can do it all. If he can finish the season strong in center field, that belief will only grow.
Edman, too, knows the importance of finishing the year on a high note, though in his mind, it’s less of a personal goal and more of a team one.
“Being able to have a great month to finish the year and carry that momentum over into next year is very important,” Edman said. “I feel like it’s going to be a lot of the same guys who are going to be back next year, and these young guys especially, it’d be really cool for them to get that experience.
“We’ll just continue to build chemistry and get to know each other’s play styles better, and get to know one another as well. That’s something that will be very important as well. I think you look around and you see a lot of the best teams. The teams that get to the World Series, they have that core who have been together a really long time. And it seems like we have the foundation for that.”
The Cardinals have turned the page on their 2023 season, but these games still have merit. With two swings of the bat in two days, Edman showed why.
(Photo of Tommy Edman: Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)