As the 2023-2024 MLB offseason progresses, reports have given St. Louis Cardinals' fans tidbits of information about the team's plans for their bullpen in 2024. Using our inductive reasoning skills, we can begin to get an idea of the types of players John Mozeliak wants to target to improve one of the weakest aspects of the team last year.
On October 29th, John Mozeliak made a guest appearance on Tom Ackerman's Radio show on AM 1120. Give it a listen here. In their discussions, Mozeliak touched on a variety of topics including former players in the World Series, depth at key positions, and identifying qualities in free agents this offseason. One particularly interesting topic of discussion was the bullpen. Mozeliak stated that he wanted to target durability and consistency; while the roster has had a lot of firepower (Helsley, Hicks) recently, Mozeliak said that he wants to target pitchers who have a track record of success and health.
Katie Woo also published an article (subscription required) in which she discussed team goals in regard to pitching. Three starters are still on the table, but she got a little more specific with the bullpen discussions; Woo stated that the Cardinals intend to add two bullpen guys, particularly high-leverage relievers to supplement the work of Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos. Andre Pallante could be an additional right-handed pitcher out of the 'pen to provide depth, and JoJo Romero showed flashes of success in limited appearances from the left side, but the team could surely use more help in the back end of the bullpen, particularly with a left-handed pitcher.
I recently discussed relievers the Cardinals should target based on team weaknesses last year, and many of those pitchers are high-leverage arms with a track record of success and health, but the team must be wary of certain big-name pitchers who struggled this past year in one way or another. I'll call this the "Miller-Holland Conundrum". The Cardinals have signed top-end relievers before only for them to face injuries, inconsistency, and have Father Time get the best of them. Andrew Miller and Greg Holland still sting when reflecting on their signings in the past half-decade.
With past top-end signings in mind, here are four relievers the Cardinals should avoid in free agency.
Andrew Chafin finished the 2023 season with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 33-year-old lefty has had a very successful career. He sports a 3.40 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 3.26 WHIP, and a 9.7 K's/9 innings rate. He doesn't have a lot of save experience (19 in 539 relief appearances), but he has pitched in high-leverage innings for most of his career.
Chafin is left-handed, something the Cardinals desire for the 2024 bullpen, and has pitched a large chunk of his innings in high-leverage situations. For his career, Chafin has pitched in 265 games in these types of situations, and he has allowed a slash line of .237/.347/.354 to batters. He has decent strikeout numbers, but his walks ramp up drastically during the most intense moments of a game. He has just a 1.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio during high-leverage situations.
Perhaps the most concerning part about signing Chafin would be his work in high-leverage innings just this past season. In 86 plate appearances, Chafin allowed batters to have an OPS of .863. His strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted to 1.54. He is also getting a bit older, as he will turn 34 in June next year. A two or three-year contract would commit the Cardinals to his mid-thirties, a time when they have seen past big-name free agents begin to fall.
While Chafin may be a lefty with a track record of success, particularly later in the game, his numbers last year show a clear regression from what he typically does. Chafin would be a worrisome signing this offseason.