St. Louis Cardinals: Juan Nicasio’s success offers intrigue for Cards

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 10: Juan Nicasio #12 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the eighth inning during the game against the Miami Marlins at PNC Park on June 10, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 10: Juan Nicasio #12 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the eighth inning during the game against the Miami Marlins at PNC Park on June 10, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The newly acquired relief pitcher found success over his last two appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals. His success offers a few question though.

Make it two for two in save appearances for the newly acquired Juan Nicasio for the St. Louis Cardinals. On Friday, Nicasio came into the game to finish off a 4-1 series-opening win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched 1.1 innings and recorded the save, providing a much-needed boost to the bullpen.

On Saturday, the more exciting of the two appearances, Nicasio once again recorded the save, but this time using his high-octane fastball to pick up a couple of strike outs as well. After allowing the tying run to reach on a single, Nicasio struck out the next batter after a battle.

He then received a fly ball to right field handle by game-hero Randal Grichuk. Finally, Nicasio polished off the hot-hitting Adam Frazier for the final out of a 4-3 win.

You honestly can’t ask much more from Nicasio if you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan. The bullpen has a been a constant source of frustration for the team this season. Nicasio’s arrival helps do to things to the Cardinals bullpen.

The first thing it does is provide another arm in the bullpen. I know it sounds simple, but the bullpen use of manager Mike Matheny has been nothing short of frustrating. Constantly using the same three arms to manage the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.

Just when you think Matheny found a closer in Tyler Lyons, the team’s best reliever in the second-half, he pulls him after a batter in San Francisco. Maddening, right?

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Nicasio helps Matheny expand his options at the back-end of the bullpen. It’s obvious what role Nicasio’s is, but think of the ramifications for the rest of the bullpen.

With Nicasio manning the closer’s role, Lyons can now pitch out of the seventh or eighth. This helps control the bridge until Nicasio. Not necessarily a perfect set-up, but you won’t find any better.

The second thing Nicasio’s arrival does is actually provide the team with a closer since Trevor Rosenthal‘s injury.

While September has started off well for the St. Louis Cardinals, how many times could Nicasio have saved the game? I know it’s more complicated than just asking the question, but providing this team with a closer can do wonders for a team.

For as good as the starting pitching has been these last ten games or so, it becomes a lot easier for the SP knowing they have an arm like Nicasio’s at the end of a game. That sort of confidence breeds big winning streaks late in the season.

However, with all that being said, there still is a bit of intrigue on Nicasio’s role to this team.

Why now?

While Nicasio’s short-term success has been unquestionably great, one would have to wonder why did the St. Louis Cardinals not get him sooner? Remember, because the Cardinals acquired Nicasio after September 1st, he is not post-season eligible. It’s not the best of news for the team, but still the question remains.

Lucky for us, we tackled this very question in our most recent podcast episode on Thursday.

Here is what it comes down to for me. I very well believe the Cardinals could have made a trade for Nicasio in August. However, I think we as fans are forgetting a small detail about such a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I absolutely believe the Cardinals asked the Pirates about Nicasio. As we see now, it makes every bit of sense for the team to acquire a player of his talent, especially in the bullpen. But we can’t expect division rivals to trade just like that, right?

In the podcast episode, I say the Pirates asking price for Nicasio was probably too large for the Cardinals. It’s the same kind of tactic the Cardinals probably used when discussing Lance Lynn in July.

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The Pirates are not going to just give up a player to division rival with the chance of making the playoffs. They will want something good, if not great, in return for Nicasio. Unfortunately, the Cardinals could not meet the asking price of the Pirates and they moved on from him. It wasn’t until the Phillies’ acquisition of Nicasio that the Cardinals were back on his trail.

This time a deal is easier to get done because the player you give up is dispensable in the long run and the Phillies don’t play in your division. Would the Cardinals loved to have him before September 1st? Without a doubt, but I think we shouldn’t just say the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t try hard enough.

However, none of that changes the fact the Cardinals cannot use him in the playoffs, should they make it. So, to answer “why now,” it comes down to the simple fact the Cardinals need help in the bullpen. They didn’t have a closer after Rosenthal’s injury. Plus, given how the bullpen performed over the last couple of weeks, it easy to see why the Cardinals made this move.

The close games, like Saturday, need to be won. It doesn’t matter who they are facing, but the Cardinals are operating in September with a very fine margin of error. If they let the games get away, there is no hope for the post-season. But with Nicasio in the mix, everything changes.

What is Nicasio’s long-term future?

The other bit of intrigue following Nicasio is his contract at the end of this season. He will be a free agent once the season is over, provided the St. Louis Cardinals do not sign him to a deal before then. However, will Nicasio be a part of the long-term future for the Redbirds?

In the podcast on Thursday, fellow contributor, Josh McDonald, asked a great question. What does Nicasio have to do in September to be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals for the long-term? My answer: be consistent.

If Nicasio can be consistent on the mound and provide the Cardinals the opportunity to win games, then there is no reason for the Cardinals not to sign him to an extended deal. Now, there are a couple of things I should mention as to why I think he will be a St. Louis Cardinal next season and beyond.

The first bit is the need in the closer’s role for the St. Louis Cardinals after this season. Rosenthal’s injury will most likely keep him out of action until the 2019 season, given the recovery length of Tommy John surgery. This means the Cardinals will need to fill that void. With how Nicasio’s start with the team has been, I think it’s safe to say he is auditioning for the closer’s role next season.

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The second bit is I don’t believe the Cardinals would trade for Nicasio if they didn’t think they could sign him to a longer deal in the off-season, especially with other free agent closers heading to the market in the off-season. I think the Cardinals wisely made a move for Nicasio because he would sign for a year-after-year contender in St. Louis.

Plus, Nicasio will be cheaper than other free agents like Wade Davis. Am I saying I wouldn’t want Wade Davis on the team? No, but we are talking about the St. Louis Cardinals here. Overspending for a player is not in their vocabulary or DNA. They make the calculated move based on the facts.

Expect Nicasio to receive a deal from the Cardinals in the off-season. I believe it would be wise to sign him to one, given he stays consistent through September. At the end of the day, the need for Nicasio becomes greater with each save he gets the team by the time this season is over.

Next: 2017 comes down to the division

If Juan Nicasio continues his great ptiching, the St. Louis Cardinals will have a great chance to make the post-season. With the Brewers taking it to the Cubs the last two nights, the Cardinals have also taken care of business.