The St. Louis Cardinals held a press conference on Tuesday to announce the signings of Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. With many of the questions directed at John Mozeliak being about the remaining moves for the off-season, Mo kept reflecting on the questions by saying ‘we are not done” and "There's a lot of off-season still to happen.”
One of the areas of question is how comfortable he is with the current pitching staff and Mo stated he likes the backend of the bullpen. The current back end consists of Ryan Helsley and Giovanni Gallegos. Obviously, the main focal point is solidifying the starting rotation. It is expected the Cardinals will now go after their number-one starter. But given the off-season approach is “pitching, pitching, pitching”, who is to say they do not tap into the reliever market?
Lynn and Gibson provide lost innings which gives younger unproven arms like Zach Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, and Gordan Graceffo a chance to be swingman starters. The team will have depth in that regard which leaves them having a need for high strikeout and swing-and-miss action. If they do not target that style of pitching with the starters, it will have to be made up from the bullpen. Losing Jordan Hicks at the trade deadline only reduces this quality of pitching so it needs to be made up for. With the available arms in free agency, is Craig Kimbrel a good fit?
Craig Kimbrel is going into his age 36 season, which is already an ideal candidate given Lynn and Gibson. He is a nine-time All-Star, winner of several Reliever of the Year awards (Rolaids, Hoffman, and Rivera), and is the active leader in career saves. He was an All-Star with the Phillies in 2023 with a stat line of 69.0 IP, 3.26 ERA, 23 SV, 94 SO, 28 BB, 3.81 FIP, 1.043 WHIP, 12.3 SO/9, and 3.7 BB/9. He had to split time in the stacked Philadelphia bullpen but made the most of it.
A 14-year career at age 36 is not the most attractive for a reliever. But what makes Kimbrel still worth the gamble is the underlying data. His Baseball Savant page displays elite percentiles. Kimbrel ranks 86th in xERA, 96th in xBA, 80th in fastball velocity, 90 in whiff%, 98th in K%, and 86th in extension. Not only is it in the red, but it's all in the upper echelon of red. He does sit in the middle for chase%, but he clearly makes up for it by just being dominant. The biggest adjustments will have to be in BB% (25th), barrel% (13th), hard-hit% (4th), and ground ball% (11th). Given his long career, he can adjust and work on these issues.
We all know the dire need is starting pitching and that should be the only focal point for this early off-season. But like Mo indicated at the press conference, you just never know what can develop over the off-season. Knowing the pitching staff as a whole needs a revamp, maybe adding someone like Craig Kimbrel can be a step in the right direction. A proven veteran with a future hall of fame case who still has elite stuff? Sounds like a Cardinals move. The red beard already fits in with St. Louis.