St. Louis Cardinals: Five New Year resolutions for 2018

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Jose Martinez
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Jose Martinez /
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The St. Louis Cardinals must commit to having the best bullpen in the National League.

One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitfalls in 2017 was an unstable bullpen. It’s not that the complimentary relievers weren’t solid; they usually were. It was the lack of a pair or trio of shut-down relievers to preserve late-inning leads.

John Brebbia, Tyler Lyons, Sam Tuivailala, and Matthew Bowman all pitched admirably last season, but the Cardinals didn’t count on any of them to be true stopgaps in the late innings.

Brebbia came out of nowhere to post a 2.44 earned run average and 0.929 WHIP in 51 2/3 innings. He has late-inning stuff, but he never quite settled in to a late inning role.

Lyons emerged as Matheny’s best left-handed option out of the bullpen. In 54 innings, the lanky lefty posted a 2.83 ERA and racked up 68 strikeouts. The Cardinals will lean on Lyons heavily again in 2018 to get big outs in relief.

Tuivailala earned an increased role in 2017, and delivered with a 2.55 ERA in 37 appearances. He cut down on the walks (11), and displayed better control and a variety of pitches in a breakout year. Still with limited major league exposure, his role in the Cardinals’ 2018 bullpen remains unclear.

Last season, Matheny preferred to mix and match late inning relievers rather than hand the role to a certain individual. One can hardly blame him. With Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-Hwan Oh‘s struggles in the ninth inning, Matheny might as well have played roulette with his bullpen selections. Without a dominant closer, building up to the ninth inning was a challenge.

Signing Gregerson early in the offseason signaled the beginning of rebuilding the bullpen. Gregerson should be a capable set-up reliever, but the Cardinals still need a closer and a second set-up man to move from an average bullpen to a dominant one.

Greg Holland and Addison Reed are the best free agent closers that remain on the market. Holland would cost the Cardinals a draft pick thanks to the Colorado Rockies’ qualifying offer, and would also likely cost more money than Reed. Either way, signing a closer will not be cheap.

The Cardinals also have an option in Alex Colome. They would need to execute a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays to land the All-Star closer, but the Cardinals and Rays have already engaged in trade talks this offseason.

If the Cardinals could trade for Colome and sign either Holland or Reed to be an eighth-inning specialist, they would be in good shape. Otherwise, acquiring one of the three aforementioned while leaning on Gregerson, Brebbia, and Lyons to hold leads until the ninth inning would be an improvement from 2017.

A dominant bullpen is all the more important for the Cardinals in 2018 considering the state of their starting rotation. The starters have plenty of upside, but also plenty of question marks.

How many innings can the Cardinals expect from Luke Weaver in his first season in a major league rotation? Can Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha provide enough innings to be workhorses in the rotation? Will Mikolas be an innings-eater?

A strong bullpen can ease some of the concerns surrounding the rotation. Furthermore, given Matheny’s propensity for questionable bullpen management, a greater variety of quality relief options is always better than fewer. Should one set-up man falter, insurance in the late innings is an easy remedy.

As the old baseball quip goes, the two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen. Relief pitchers finish off games, but a complete roster often starts with the bullpen.