St. Louis Cardinals Face the Dawn of the Super Bullpen


Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The age of the starter-marginalizing uber bullpen is upon us, and the St. Louis Cardinals are about to see what it all means. (Hint: To start building your own. Quickly.)

With the acquisition of erstwhile Cincinnati Reds closer and gun enthusiast Aroldis Chapman, the New York Yankees have effectively given opposing hitters six innings (and maybe even just five) to get their act together and put runs on the board before they see the likes of Chapman (15.7 K/9 in 2015), Dellin Betances (.157 opponents average last season) and Andrew Miller (0.86 WHIP in 2015).

It seems almost laughable now that one storyline heading into and during the Baseball Winter Meetings earlier this month was the Yankees looking to unload Miller. GM Brian Cashman is either a master of disinformation, secrecy — or both.

Cashman surprised everyone with the Chapman trade and was almost universally lauded for fleecing the Reds. There was a fair amount of static on Twitter about Chapman’s domestic violence case that’s still up in the air. Keith Law chirped up about the bad message it sent. Hopefully, Chapman gets the kind of punishment that deters the behavior he’s being accused of.

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But former St. Louis Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty didn’t have to sell Chapman for a bag of beans (actually, 4 so-so minor leaguers but same diff). He could have held onto the Cuban closer, let Chapman take his punishment and reestablish his value, then trade him at the deadline, when contending teams are more frantic anyway.

But no, and now I tend to agree with this Miller tweet in the wake of the trade:

"Time to go get #28. Welcome to the Bronx @AChapman_105 #iwantaparade 🍾🍻🎉 — Andrew Miller (@a_miller48) December 29, 2015"

As I’d mentioned a month or so ago, super bullpens devalue starting pitchers, which leads to the extinction of huge David-Price-like investments (again, the Boston Red Sox gave him $217 million for 7 years of service if he doesn’t opt out after three years) in free agent aces.

Investments in pitching can be spread out more — diversified, if you will — making an injury to a starter less damaging than it is these days.

If I’m Brian Cashman and the Yankees, for instance, I worry less about Masahiro Tanaka‘s balky elbow. I don’t mind that Nathan Eovaldi can only throw straight fastballs. Having the ghost of CC Sabathia and his gimpy knees in the rotation isn’t much of a concern anymore.

Ask yourself whether the St. Louis Cardinals could have made it to the promised land in 2015 with a healthy Adam Wainwright.

We’ll never know, but probably. Now, we’re left to hold our breath that he holds up in 2016 with the loss of Lance Lynn, a guy we all thought was pretty durable. Now, Lynn is just a reminder of what we all know. No starter is durable. Not really.

In a small sample gathered from CBS Sports, the year-end disabled list for all Major League teams includes 53 players, 23 of whom are starting pitchers. Relief pitchers, meanwhile, total 15. No other position on the diamond has more than three, and that was just for catchers, who take more of a daily beating than anyone else.

The St. Louis Cardinals already have an excellent bullpen heading into 2016. But it may behoove them to make it even better. Because slowly but surely, Major League Baseball is crawling out of the dark ages.

Teams like the Yankees are realizing that with all the stress pitchers put on their pitching arms now, relying on one guy to go six or seven innings isn’t realistic.

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So the St. Louis Cardinals have a choice. They can bury their heads in the sand and keep putting faith in guys like Carlos Martinez (insert horror movie music here).

Or they can fortify their pen and diversify their pitching portfolio. Like it or not, the age of the super bullpen is here.