St. Louis Cardinals: The State Of the Bullpen

Feb 18, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Seung Hwan Oh (26) looks on during warm up drills at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Seung Hwan Oh (26) looks on during warm up drills at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals head into Spring Training with a good idea of who will be sitting in the bullpen at the start of the 2017 season. However, that doesn’t mean the relief corps is without its questions.

Spring Training is finally upon us after the longest offseason the St. Louis Cardinals have had since preparing for their 2011 Championship season. Pitchers and catchers will begin formal workouts Tuesday as the first official step of readying for Opening Day.

February is a time of optimism for Major League clubs. Front offices have had all winter to construct rosters to their liking, and every team has an equal shot at the beginning of the year. February is also a time where questions begin to be answered, but along with that other questions emerge.

One question Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and field manager Mike Matheny should be asking is just how good will this bullpen be? Nearly all the pieces are in place, but don’t be fooled – the pen should be raising some questions nevertheless.

Let’s take a look at who will be warming up beyond the outfield fence to begin the season.

Seung-Hwan Oh will return as the closer. He converted 19/23 saves last year after taking over closing duties from Trevor Rosenthal mid-season. The “Final Boss” compiled a sterling 1.92 ERA in his rookie year and struck out 103 batters in 79 2/3 innings.

Lefties Kevin Siegrist and Brett Cecil  will anchor the late innings for Matheny’s club. Siegrist led the 2016 team with seventeen holds and posted a 2.77 ERA, but allowed a career-high ten home runs and saw his strikeout total decrease from ninety to sixty-six (in thirteen fewer innings pitched) from 2015-2016.

Despite these subtle statistical notes, Siegrist had a solid 2016 and will be counted on to preserve late-inning leads for Oh.

Cecil was signed in the offseason after pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays for the previous eight seasons. From 2013-2015, he posted sub-3.00 ERA’s out of the bullpen and earned an All-Star appearance in 2013. Last year, however, his ERA ballooned to 3.93 in a season interrupted by a torn triceps muscle. Like Siegrist, Cecil will be pitching in critical spots in the late-innings.

The success of Cecil, Siegrist, and Oh will be very important for the Cardinals this season and will be something to keep an eye on as regular-season games begin.

Former Rule-5 draft pick Matt Bowman had a surprisingly solid year for the Cardinals in 2016, and that has earned him a spot in the pen again this season. Bowman took over the role of ground-ball specialist after Seth Maness succumbed to injury. Maness’ release at the end of the season was a vote of confidence in Bowman to repeat last year’s performance in 2017.

Burly right-hander Jonathan Broxton returns for the second-year of his two-year extension he signed at the end of the 2015 season. Broxton wasn’t a model of reliability in 2016, piecing together a 4.30 ERA. At times, he was pitching well in close ballgames, but at other times he was getting shelled, putting games out of reach.

Given Matheny’s often bizarre use of Broxton, I can see why many Cardinals fans aren’t too excited for watching another season of big No. 30 on the mound.

Two bullpen spots remain, and one of them figures to be given to former closer Trevor Rosenthal. 2016 was a struggle, as he posted career highs in ERA (4.46), WHIP (1.91), and BAA (.293). He walked too many batters, surrendered too many hits, and ultimately lost his job mid-summer. He also spent time on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Rosenthal’s role will be different in 2017, that’s for sure. Reports indicate that the team intends to “stretch him out” this spring, meaning he’ll likely be available for multiple innings at a time out of the pen if need be. The idea is he could replicate the role Andrew Miller had with the Cleveland Indians during the second half of last season and the postseason.

Will the change of scenery benefit Rosenthal? That awaits to be seen. The Cardinals certainly hope so.

The last spot in the bullpen will probably go to whoever loses the battle for the fifth slot in the starting rotation, either Michael Wacha or Alex Reyes. I agree with a previous article on Redbird Rants that Reyes will begin the year in the pen, whether he deserves it or not.

Ultimately, whoever lands this role will likely be used for multiple innings and maybe even high-leverage situations, similar to how the team plans on using Rosenthal.

There you have it, the seven relief pitchers likely to break camp in the Cardinals’ bullpen:

  • (RHP) Seung-Hwan Oh
  • (LHP) Kevin Siegrist
  • (LHP) Brett Cecil
  • (RHP) Matt Bowman
  • (RHP) Jonathan Broxton
  • (RHP) Trevor Rosenthal
  • (RHP) Alex Reyes/Michael Waccha

Case closed, right? Not necessarily. Mozeliak has made moves for relief reinforcement in the days leading up to Spring Training in the past few years, signing Pat Neshek in 2014, Carlos Villanueva and Matt Belisle in 2015, and drafting Bowman in 2016.

The relief market has thinned out since big names such as Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Kenley Jansen have already signed. Nevertheless, it would be prudent of Mozeliak to scope the market for fortification.

Cecil and Rosenthal dealt with arm injuries last season. Oh and Broxton are on the last years of their respective contracts. Unexpected injuries occur.

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Also in camp are Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala, who have seen time with the big-league club in previous years. Socolovich is out of minor-league options, so if he doesn’t break camp with St. Louis, he’d be available on waivers to all 29 teams.

Tuivailala has closed games for the AAA Memphis Redbirds the last three years, but has yet to demonstrate consistency at the major-league level.

A trio of injuried lefties who would otherwise be getting looks at the pen to begin the season are Zach Duke, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzales.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Duke, who had Tommy-John surgery in November, could return late in the season. April is the targeted return for Lyons. May is the target for Gonzales, who recently threw off of a mound for the first time since surgery last year.

All in all, the pen has the chance to be solid if a lot of things go right. But if recent successful postseason teams have taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too dominant or too much relief pitching.

Next: Maybe Mike Leake Won't Improve in 2017

The Cardinals bullpen is more or less put together at the onset of Spring Training, but only time will tell how long that will last. Stay tuned for more coverage as the Redbirds begin workouts in Jupiter, Florida.