St. Louis Cardinals: With rotation set, Kwang Hyun Kim for closer?

Kwang-Hyun Kim #33 of the St. Louis Cardinals in action against the New York Mets during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Kwang-Hyun Kim #33 of the St. Louis Cardinals in action against the New York Mets during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

With the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals season just days away, manager Mike Shildt has announced the rotation as well as a home for Kwang Hyun Kim.

On Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals will open their 2020 season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving fans baseball that counts for the first time in 280 days.

With that less than five days away, the Cardinals are beginning to finalize roles on their 30-man roster. This began when manager Mike Shildt announced that Jack Flaherty would be taking the ball on opening day, followed by Adam Wainwright.

One of the biggest remaining questions about how the roster will shape up is about the starting rotation, specifically what the Cardinals will do about Carlos Martinez and Kwang Hyun Kim.

Martinez got about a three-day delay in starting his Summer Camp start, but after he said he had thrown a 95-pitch bullpen in the Dominican Republic before flying to St. Louis, fears of the talented righty being forced into another bullpen year were assuaged.

For Kim, the lefty import threw five innings in one intrasquad game and, as expected, has impressed against Cardinal hitters that have never seen him before.

While there are arguments for putting Kim in the rotation and Martinez in the bullpen to close in a season without Jordan Hicks, Shildt solved the mystery on Monday.

Kim has said he prefers to be in the starting rotation (and was very good there in Korea), but it’s not surprising that the Cardinals jumped at any chance they could to get some forward momentum with Carlos Martinez starting.

Personally, I like Kim at closer a lot; it has worked for the Cardinals before. Back in 2016, the Cardinals signed 33-year-old Seunghwan Oh out of Korea, bringing him in to fill a big role in the bullpen as well.

Oh is different because he was a closer in Korea first, but in the first half of the 2016 season, Oh had just a 1.59 ERA. In the second half, that ERA jumped up to 2.39. In the first half of the 2017 season, Oh’s ERA went up to 3.54, then up to 5.30 in the second half. A similar trend can be seen with Miles Mikolas.

All of that is to say that most likely, Kim’s best stretch of his MLB career will be these 60 games. That could spill over to the first half of 2021 because 60 games is still so short, but the video and scouting reports on Kim just aren’t there, which the Cardinals are smart to leverage to their advantage.

Kim will have to adjust to a back-end role though.

There could be some speed bumps if Kim can’t adjust to high-leverage situations at the end of a game, but I really like that the Cardinals are trying to limit the exposure that Kim will get.

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Again, Kim has made Cardinal hitters look bad so far, but just because he’s done that in intrasquad games while starting, it doesn’t mean that the team should trust him to do that two or three times through the order.

By limiting Kim’s innings this year, the Cardinals will limit the sample of video and statistics that other teams get to try and formulate an approach against the lefty.

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The roles for Kim and Martinez weren’t the only things announced by Shildt on Monday.

There isn’t much to break down here other than that two deserving prospects are getting a shake at the MLB level, hoping to contribute. I’ve long been a fan of Ponce and have been confused about why the Cardinals have continually passed him back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis. For Gomber, his first MLB time after debuting in 2018 will hopefully be for good as the 26-year-old has looked really good in his starts this Summer Camp.

Either one of Ponce and Gomber can be great piggyback or long relief options as well as guys who can jump into a starting role.

As for the order of the rotation, other than having Flaherty start the year, there is no reason to be up in arms about Waino being second and Martinez potentially being the fifth starter. At this point, such a short season isn’t a time to worry about order, I believe the order of the rotation was more set by lining up pitching day schedules rather than by merit.

With what will end up being an 11-man bullpen, if any starter struggles, the team will have plenty of reinforcements.

Next. A six-man rotation could work for 2020. dark

Again, I love the choice to put Kim in the bullpen with a lean towards closer. Minimize the video other teams can get on him and extend his surprise factor. Getting Martinez into the starting rotation again also shouldn’t be overlooked as a huge win for rotation depth.