St. Louis Cardinals left-handed relief options for the 2011 season


With only one left-handed reliever on the major league roster, the St. Louis Cardinals need more lefty options to join Trever Miller in the bullpen. In today’s game, where every situation is analyzed and managers often rely on righty-lefty match-ups in making decisions late in the game, a second left-hander is a necessity.

The Cardinals signed Raul Valdes to a minor-league contract. He will get a chance to become that second lefty at spring training.

Valdes has major league experience. Pitching out of the bullpen for the New York Mets last season, he compiled a 3-3 record and 4.91 ERA in 38 games. Valdes was lit up by left-handed hitters who hit .330 and slugged .625 against him.

Not exactly ideal, but he’s an option and another arm if the Cards can’t find someone better.

St. Louis should keep the left-handed reliever market on its radar. Adding a few more options can’t hurt, and Valdes looks like a last resort right now. He hasn’t proven anything in the majors or minors in his career and it’s hard to see him finding himself at 33 years old in St. Louis.

The Cards could look for some young pitchers, hungry for a chance. Or they could keep an eye on proven veterans that wouldn’t break the bank. Dennys Reyes is still an option, but the Cards haven’t made an offer to the free agent. In the past two seasons in St. Louis, he compiled a 3-5 record and 3.42 ERA.

Other lefties on the market include Scott Downs and Brian Fuentes. Downs is considered the best left-handed reliever on the market. He was just offered arbitration by the Toronto Blue Jays. Downs has been a top reliever for the last four seasons in Toronto and went 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 67 games in 2010. Fuentes had been among the best closers in the game for a five-year window. He was great for the Rockies and turned it into a nice deal with the Angels in 2009.

Fuentes saved 48 games his first year in Los Angeles, but his production and value dropped off in 2010 when he was put on waivers and claimed by the Minnesota Twins. He recorded 23 saves with a 3.52 ERA in Los Angeles, but only appeared in nine games and earned one save with the Twins. His days as an elite closer are likely over, but he still has tremendous value as a middle reliever. Fuentes would also give the Cardinals another option at closer if Ryan Franklin falls apart.

Fuentes and Downs may be too expensive for the Cards this year considering their current financial situation and the looming Pujols contract. St. Louis could also target Arthur Rhodes who had a renaissance for rival Cincinnati or Hisanori Takahashi, and Pedro Feliciano.

All of these options are intriguing and better than Valdes. It would be smart to have at least one of them in Jupiter to provide some competition and depth heading into the season.