For this list I am looking for big picture, not just one season of contributions. For example, if I were measuring best seasons out of an outfielder I would have to give a strong look at the 2008 season posted by Ryan Ludwick (.299/.375/.591 with 37 HR, 113 RBI, and 5.1 WAR), but that was a career year for the Cardinals right fielder which turned out to be one isolated really really good year. I am also only looking at the Cardinals years of a players career. If I took into account years with other teams Larry Walker would be on my list, but only looking at Cardinals years I have to leave him off the list.
Albert Pujols (2002-2003)
You want to know how good Pujols was on the Cardinals? He was an outfielder for basically a year and a half and I could probably justify putting him on this list in many regards. The fact that his name even enters the discussion past on a brief stint in the outfield, giving this list covers 30 years, should say plenty. In 2002 Pujols posted a .314/.394/.561 line with 34 homers, 127 RBIs, and a 5.9 WAR. For his encore in the outfield in 2003, Pujols posted a .359/.439/.667 line with 43 home runs, 124 RBIs, and an 8.5 WAR. He played other positions those seasons, but the majority of his games were spent in left field.
Brian Jordan (1992-1998)
Jordan was a dual sport star at the beginning of his career with the Cardinals. He was a fabulous athlete with loads of potential and really turned out to be a lot better baseball player than many would have guessed when he first arrived in the early 90s. Jordan hit for some power, had some speed, and played a good outfield. Really did everything pretty well, but nothing great. He was also a high energy player. Lots of hustle and no plays off. While statistics point out that his 1998 season was his best, I think he had a huge impact on the 1996 team. Ask a Padres fan about the 1996 playoffs and it's probably impossible for them to describe their playoffs that season without mentioning BJ. Not a Cardinals highlight, but this was exactly what Jordan did every night for the Cardinals........
5. Vince Coleman (1985-1990)
Coleman came up in 1985 as an injury replacement for Lonnie Smith. He ended up stealing 110 bases and took home the 1985 Rookie of the Year award. He followed that up with stealing 107, 109, 81, 65, and 77. Basically in 6 years in St. Louis he stole more than 500 bases and was already in the top 50 in career steals at age 28. Coleman kind of fell off the face of the Earth after leaving the Cardinals, but for six years he was the leadoff man for Whitey Herzog's speed oriented offense which put pressure on pitchers and defenses to field cleanly and concentrate on both the batter up to bat and the runners on base. During this best days with the Cardinals a walk or single for Coleman almost always turned into a double or triple.
4. Willie McGee (1982-1990 and 1996-1999)
This one was a hard one. I could have put McGee third, but I think this is the right spot for Willie. He was a really popular Cardinals player in the 80s and is one of the more beloved former players. There are actually a lot of Cardinals fans who feel like McGee should have his number retired, which is a bit of a stretch. McGee won a World Series in 1982, an MVP and a batting title in 1985, and another batting title in 1990. While his career years were great, his down years were down. All of the Cardinals retired numbers are in the Hall except for Ken Boyer (we could get into an argument here, but not today), but Willie is a stretch. Not to say that I do not love Willie or have great memories from his playing career, but he's not there. I found this news story from 1999 which does a great job of explaining Willie.
3. Matt Holliday (2009-current)
As much as Cardinals fans love Willie, Holliday can be sort of a lightning rod around St. Louis at times. During his 6 years as a Cardinals the team has won a World Series and been to three other National League Championship Series. Holliday does not have an accomplishment like a batting title or MVP award to hang his hat on like McGee, but he has been a far more consistent player during his years as a Cardinal. Holliday has played 800 games a Redbird and has 132 home runs, 201 doubles with a .300/.386/.505 line. There are not many players in the team's history with those types of numbers. Matt Holliday is another Hall of Very Good player, like McGee, but the Cardinals would not have won as much as the have during his 6 years in town with a different player manning left field.
2. Ray Lankford (1990-2001 and 2004)
Is this a homer pick? No. If you looked at the decade of the 90s as a whole, not just individual seasons, Lankford is probably the best Cardinals player during that decade. His career line with the Cardinals was .273/.365/.481 which is not too far off of Holliday's line. However, Lankford played for the Cardinals longer so his counting number stats are much better. Lankford hit 228 home runs, 339 doubles, and also stole more then 258 bases. Do base running and defense count? Yes and Lankford was superior to Holliday in both areas. Mark McGwire once said that Ray Lankford was the best hitter to ever bat behind him during his career, not Canseco or any of those guys on the late 80s A's teams.
1. Jim Edmonds (2000-2007)
I am not going to lay out the whole argument in this post, but Jimmy Ballgame should be in the Hall of Fame. He was the greatest defensive outfield of his generation and his offensive numbers are very similar to Duke Snider (Hall of Famer). He hit 393 home runs during his career and posted a .284/.376/.527 mark while winning 8 Gold Gloves. His best seasons were comparable to Ken Griffey Jr. and he was an important part of a World Series Championship and numerous runs deep into the playoffs for the Cardinals. His Cardinals numbers are .285/.393/.555 with 241 home runs and 234 doubles which are all significantly better than Holliday and Lankford. JAWS has him rated as the 14th best centerfielder ever and frankly, if I did a post on the five best Cardinals outfielders of all time, Edmonds would be on the list along with Lou Brock, Enos Slaughter, and Stan Musial. He was that good.