Though the St. Louis Cardinals need offense and maybe another starting pitcher, they need to figure out who will be closing games next season. Should they search out of the organization for options or look internally?
With the St. Louis Cardinals approaching the offseason, they have a few positions in which they need to upgrade. Some may say the Cardinals need hitters, especially if they let Marcell Ozuna walk. Some are clamoring for starting pitching, primarily the obvious Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole.
During the Cardinals end of season presser, John Mozeliak announced that the Cardinals will be moving starter-converted-reliever Carlos Martinez back to the rotation. Now the Cardinals have another need going to the offseason. The thing that is being overlooked by Cardinals fans is finding a new closer.
With primary closer Jordan Hicks still recovering from Tommy John Surgery, we will probably not see Hicks at all until later in the season, if at all. This means the Cardinals need to find a short term replacement until Hicks is ready to slide back into the role.
There are a few options out there. Some are internal options, which isn’t a terrible thing as the Cardinals boasted one of the best bullpens in the National League last season. There are also a few free agents that the Cardinals could pursue to fix this sudden need.
Gallegos put together an excellent season for the Cardinals, finishing 2019 with a 2.31 ERA as well as a 0.811 WHIP. He has done a great job of limiting base hits with a 5.40 H/9 and also has an 11.3 K/9. Gallegos only has one save during his tenure as a Cardinal though, so putting him a closer role could be potentially throwing him into a fire.
Gallegos has the stuff as well as the makeup to thrive in save situations though. He is in the 92nd percentile for K% and had the lowest opposing wOBA in all of baseball. The 28-year-old might just be the favorite for the role next season.
Since the last offseason, I have been calling for Will Smith to be in a Cardinals uniform, and with the Cardinals also needing another left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, Smith could be a perfect fit.
For the first time in his career, Will Smith will be hitting the free-agent market. He has been pretty solid throughout his career, putting up a 3.53 ERA in a span of over seven seasons; but over the past couple of seasons, Smith has seriously come into his own.
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Last season, Smith made his first All-Star Game appearance and put together a very solid season; compiling a 2.76 ERA with 1.017 WHIP. He also has experience as a closer, earning 34 saves in 2019; which was good for fourth in all of the National League.
If the Cardinals wanted to look elsewhere, Smith would be an ideal choice. He was a strikeout machine, falling in the 98th percentile for K%; mainly due to the nasty slider that he utilizes 42% of the time. It’s so filthy that hitters have no clue on how to deal with it, as they only have a .124 xBA against the pitch. That pitch alone has made him one of the best closers in baseball.
If the Cardinals wanted a mix of previous experience as well as internal options, Andrew Miller would be the guy. Last offseason, the Cardinals inked Miller to a 2-year deal with a vesting option for a third year.
Throughout his career, Miller has been one of the most dominant relief arms in baseball; and has even won the MLB Reliever of the Year award. Miller has regressed from his dominance though, especially last year after posting a 4.50 ERA and free-falling towards the end of the season.
Miller has dealt with multiple injuries over the past couple of years, but when he utilizes his slider instead of his fastball; the veteran is downright filthy. When Miller would throw his fastball, opposing hitters had a .414 xwOBA against it, compared to a .270 xwOBA on Miller’s slider.
Miller used his fastball slightly more than his slider; which has significantly less velocity on it compared to previous seasons. We could potentially see Miller shy away from his fastball next season; especially if he is in the closer’s role once again.
Daniel Hudson is a very interesting as well as intriguing name for the Cardinals. After getting released by the Angels earlier in the season, he found a home with the Toronto Blue Jays.
He put up pretty solid numbers in the first half for the Blue Jays, but due to the team’s lack of success, the Blue Jays decided to dangle him at the Trade Deadline.
The Washington Nationals would end up acquiring the veteran and would soon slide him into the closer’s role after Sean Doolittle suffered a knee injury. Hudson was excellent during his tenure as a National, posting a 1.44 ERA along with a 0.880 WHIP. He was also 6/6 in save attempts.
The 32-year-old still has a lot of gas in the tank, ranking in the 90th percentile for fastball velocity as well as the 91st percentile for fastball spin. He uses his fastball most of the time but also has three other solid pitches in his repertoire. He could be a solid short-term candidate to close out games then slide into an eighth-inning role once Hicks returns.
Since Martinez is sliding back into the rotation, it’s obvious that John Mozeliak will be eyeing a change at closer. If it were me, I would sign Will Smith to an Andrew Miller-esque deal. Also known as two years with a third-year vesting option. I like Smith a lot and he brings another stud left-handed arm to the bullpen in case Andrew Miller or Tyler Webb end up regressing. Regardless, it will be interesting to see who fills the role until Hicks is back in action.