Bullpen Grade: B
In my opinion, bullpens are so hard to grade. They are easily the most volatile group in all of baseball, making it difficult to predict who will be good and who will blow up.
For just a moment, let's take a look at all of the relievers who threw 10 or more innings out of the bullpen for the Cardinals last year (some of these names were starters at various points as well).
Of those 18 arms, 12 of them had ERAs north of 4.00, and 8 of them had ERAs north of 5.00. The bullpen was just bad last year, no way around it. During the second half, many of those arms were getting innings because the Cardinals were just trying to grind out the rest of the year, and so the bullpen became even more of a mess.
Of that group of 18, only 7 of them figure to be in the bullpen mix again in 2024, and 5 new relievers have been added to the 40-man roster in their place (along with a few prospects and veterans on minor league deals who could factor into the bullpen at some point as well).
Andrew Kittredge and Keynan Middleton represent two new "high-leverage" relievers that the Cardinals were able to add to their back end of the bullpen for this coming season. Kittredge and Middleton, along with Helsley, Gallegos, and Romero give the Cardinals five different arms that can confidently pitch in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of ballgames.
Along with those arms, they've added guys like Nick Robertson, Riley O'Brien, and Ryan Fernandez who all have intriguing swing-and-miss stuff that gives them a higher upside from their bullpen mix than they had last year. It's assumed that one of Thompson or Liberatore will factor in from the left side along with King as well, so there is a lot of built-in depth here.
Health, as always, will play a key role in the success or failure of this group, but I graded it as a B because of how many different options they have compared to last year. In 2023, it felt like at any given time, it felt like the Cardinals could only trust one or two of their relievers in big spots. On paper, they should have so many more options than they did before, which is a recipe for success when trying to find the best possible bullpen as the season goes on.
I probably see the most variance in outcomes of any group when it comes to the bullpen. The offseason strategy for building it, I would give an A, but it's a B on paper because it's just unknown how it will work out. If a few of the bets the Cardinals made pan out, it's a great bullpen, but if a lot of those bets go wrong, it should be better than last year, but not by a significant margin.