St. Louis Cardinals: The bullpen solution for the 2018 season


the St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 has been a frustrating season to watch for many reasons. A shoddy bullpen has been a primary cause of supporter frustration on multiple occasions. But fret not, a solution is much, much closer than you might think. 

September 24th, 2017 will go down as one of the five or six days that ruined the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals’ season. Barring a fortunate final week of regular season play, St. Louis is all but eliminated from the postseason for the second consecutive season.

On September 24th, the Cardinals played a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They sat one game out of the second Wild Card position and, with a win and a Rockies loss, could head into the final week of play tied for a playoff spot.

They failed.

In the most crucial game of the season, the ‘leader of men’, Mike Matheny, rested the Cardinals’ leading run producer (Yadier Molina), used Seung-Hwan oh and Brett Cecil as his team’s first two bullpen options after starter John Gant finished his planned three innings, and only used his best reliever (Tyler Lyons) once the game was already out of reach.

In the most crucial game of the season, St. Louis’ inept manager continued his 6-year-long trend of botching game management and has now done his best to all but cost the Cardinals a playoff spot. But, it’s not completely his fault.

Yes, using Oh and Cecil as his first two relief choices is so mind-numbingly dumb that only Mike Matheny could think it a good idea. But the fact he felt the need to use those two speaks to how badly St. Louis needs a re-vamped bullpen.

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Entering 2017, the Cardinals had the appearance of a solid, albeit unspectacular bullpen.

The aforementioned Oh was coming off a dynamite year in which he finished 5th among all MLB reliever in fWAR at 2.6.

Brett Cecil was a big money free agent that looked prime to solve the Cardinals’ problem of not having an effective lefty neutralizer. Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Miguel Socolovich and Matt Bowman were all in tow as well.

St. Louis’ 3.62 bullpen ERA and 3.73 xFIP both ranked 7th among all teams in 2016, so it was reasonable to expect, with the addition of Brett Cecil and a supposed bounce back year from Rosenthal, the Cardinals would be as good or better in 2017 than they were last year.

The Cardinals’ bullpen was neither as good nor better than they were in 2016, but well worse. The 3.91 ERA and 4.37 xFIP both rank 15th out of 30 MLB teams and the K rate of 23.4% ranks 14th. As bad as the St. Louis bullpen has felt at times, it hasn’t been downright awful, but this is not a playoff bullpen.

In the offseason, expect the following: Oh to walk in free agency, Rosenthal to be out for all of 2017 following a late season Tommy John procedure, Kevin Siegrist plays in Philadelphia now, Zach Duke will likely walk in free agency, Juan Nicasio is a free agent, and between Matt Bowman, John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala. None are highly accountable arms heading into 2018.

In 2018, the Cardinals are looking at a current bullpen of Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil as the only accountable arms. There are 5-6 holes to fill, and I strongly believe that fresh blood is needed.

Considering the weak free agent class – Wade Davis and Greg Holland are the only two names of note – and considering that both the Cardinals and I are probably wary of spending big money on a bullpen arm after watching Brett Cecil this year, that fresh blood should come from within an already stacked farm system.

This September, we’ve gotten a sneak peek at one of the many prized arms within that aforementioned Cardinals’ farm system. Sandy Alcantara and his 101 MPH fastball have made quite a statement thus far, with electric punch outs of Joey Votto and a three strikeout inning in Chicago highlighting his short St. Louis tenure.

I know the Cardinals want him to start in the future, but Alcantara should be on the 2018 opening day roster as part of a forthcoming bullpen youth movement. Joining him should be Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes.

Again, all 3 of those players are guys that the Cardinals have pegged as eventual starting rotation arms, but they aren’t immediately needed in the rotation. Besides, does anyone remember the last time St. Louis stacked up their bullpen with young farm system arms?

The 2013 National League pennant winning team sure remembers.

With an aging and ineffective set of relievers on the way out – Marc Rzepczynski, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, Jake Westbrook, Fernando Salas, among others – the Cardinals called up Rosenthal, Lyons, Siegrist, Seth Maness, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez over the course of the season and watched their young hurlers set the league on fire.

The 2013 Cardinal bullpen led the league in FIP, xFIP and BB% at 3.26, 3.36 and 7.4% respectively. Highlighted by Kevin Siegrist’s historic 0.45 ERA, St. Louis rode a rookie heavy bullpen all the way to the World Series, including clinching the National League pennant by having three rookies pitch a complete game shutout in game six against the Dodgers.

Next: 5 Reasons Why the 2017 Season Was Fun to Watch

The bullpen of the 2017 Cardinals and the bullpen of the pre-2013 Cardinals bear striking resemblances to one another and, if history correctly repeats itself in this scenario, the 2018 Cardinals’ solution should be the same as the pre-2013 Cardinals’ solution.

Let the kids play.