What do you do this time of year, when your favorite team isn’t in the playoffs? We Cardinal fans haven’t had this problem very often during the Tony La Russa era. When Colorado finished their sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, and we all had to relinquish the title of National League Champions, the time to really start thinking about next season’s roster began. For me, it probably began before the ’07 season even started. I’ll start taking a detailed look at the Cards’ roster, examine who is under the team’s control, and speculate possible options to fill the empty slots. I figure to keep this post from being too long, I’ll break it down into parts, examining only one component of the club at a time. Because of the two recent signings, let’s start with the bullpen.
In 2007, the Cardinals used a total of 25 pitchers, and only 4 of those were never used in relief. That stat really tells how terrible the starting staff was. At times the bullpen seemed to be the only bright spot on the team. Later, in the second half, the pen had a few troubles, due to being overworked, and fell back down to earth. They finished 30-12, with a 4.07 ERA, good enough for 17th in the majors.
The Cardinals generally prefer to carry 12 pitchers, which means 7 relievers. We know that closer Jason Isringhausen is returning. He had a stellar year, converting 32 of his 34 saves, while compiling a 2.48 ERA. Although he had limited save opportunities, he did appear in 63 games, and struck out 54 batters in 65 1/3 innings, while only walking 28. These numbers were far better than his pre-surgery ones of ’06. Having Isringhausen back for next season was a no brainer, and he should continue to experience similar success.
Back in July, the Cardinals signed right-handed setup man, Ryan Franklin , to an extension. He too had a great 2007 season, pitching in 69 games, and finishing with a 3.04 earned run average. Although he was a former starter with Seattle, he hasn’t started a game since 2005. His career ERA is 4.25, much higher than last season’s performance. I’d have to think that’s closer to what we’ll see in ’08.
Russ Springer, also a right-hander, will be back next season as well. The team just gave him a new, one-year deal worth $3.5 million to be a middle reliever. He and Franklin should bridge the gap to Isringhausen quite nicely. I’ve already discussed Springer further here.
The Cardinals already control two lefties. Randy Flores, threw 55 innings, and had an ERA of 4.25 last season, while Tyler Johnson threw only 38, due to some time spent on the disabled list. His ERA was 4.03. Barring a trade, I expect both will be in the pen again next season. The club doesn’t have any major league ready left-handers in the system. Both Troy Cate, and Randy Keisler pitched in limited action in ’07, and have since been designated for assignment.
Here’s how it looks thus far:
1. Isringhausen R
2. Franklin R
3. Springer R
4. Flores L
5. Johnson L
That leaves several to compete for the final two spots. Under team control, Brad Thompson, Todd Wellemeyer, Kelvin Jimenez, Brian Falkenborg, Andy Cavazos, and Dennis Dove, all spent time in last year’s pen. Josh Kinney, didn’t pitch in ’07 due to injury, but will be given every opportunity to earn a spot if healthy. He played an important role during the championship run last October. Mitchell Boggs, who is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League, and Christopher Perez, the 22 year old closer out of the University of Miami, could also be considered, although neither is on the 40-man roster as of yet. Troy Percival is likely headed elsewhere to to be a closer, and I’d rather not see any more of Scott Spiezio or Aaron Miles on the mound next year.
If no relievers outside the organization are brought in, I’d assume the combined salaries of the seven to be somewhere around $16 million.
Overall, I expect the bullpen to be a strength again in ’08. If the Cardinals can solve their rotation troubles, the pen will be less fatigued, and should be better than the group from ’07.