Who rises to the top in this new look bullpen?
Out with the old, in with the new (strikeout stuff), that's my mantra for the Cardinals bullpen mix in 2024.
Gone from the mix are Jordan Hicks, Drew VerHagen, Genesis Cabrera, Chris Stratton, Jacob Barnes, Casey Lawrence, James Naile, Jake Woodford, Dakota Hudson, Andrew Suarez, and Ryan Tepera. While Hicks, VerHagen, and Stratton were valuable contributors last season, the majority of that mix were ineffective in their attempts to stabilze the bullpen.
At the trade deadline and in the offseason are Keynan Middleton, Andrew Kittredge, Nick Robertson, Ryan Fernandez, John King, Riley O'Brien, Josh James, and Jacob Bosiokovic. It's a very different group than the one the Cardinals had in 2023, especially in terms of adding swing-and-miss upside to the group.
Almost every reliever they've acquired this offseason has one or two pitches or tools that can generate a ton of swing-and-miss when that pitcher is "on". Last year, the Cardinals struggled to have more than one or two relievers they could trust at any given time, and at least on paper, that number has grown significantly this offseason.
Paired with the health of Ryan Helsley, a potential rebound season from Giovanny Gallegos, and the emergence of JoJo Romero, the bullpen looks a lot stronger than it did last year when it was a bottom-10 unit in all of baseball.
On top of the mainstays and the newcomers, familiar faces like Andre Pallante, Packy Naughton, Wilking Rodriguez, and Kyle Leahy are hoping to make names for themselves as well. Even potential starters or prospects like Gordon Graceffo, Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, Drew Rom, Adam Kloffenstein, Sem Robberse, Logan Sawyer, Tekoah Roby, Tink Hence, Michael McGreevy, Cooper Hjerpe, Ryan Lotus, and Andre Granillo could all factor in as well based off performance and need.
That's a whole lot of names, but that's the point. Compared to last year, the Cardinals are littered with bullpen options, giving them depth and flexibility to mix and match that group to their desire as they navigate a long 162-game season.