The Cardinals seem to regret their Rule 5 draft selection

The St. Louis Cardinals grabbed Ryan Fernandez in the 2023 Rule 5 draft, but their reluctance to utilize their top pick suggests that the team wishes it had a do-over.

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals made their pitching philosophy known for 2024, emphasizing strikeout stuff over the pitch-to-contact strategy that had worked for the team for so long. To add the finishing touches to their project, the Cardinals grabbed right-hander Ryan Fernandez in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft in 2023. But after five games, the Cardinals have not called on Fernandez to provide his services.

Fernandez appears to fit the team's new approach to getting whiffs: He struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings over three minor league levels with affiliates of the Boston Red Sox in 2023. In Spring Training with the Cardinals, Fernandez pitched to a 3.72 ERA with six strikeouts in 9.2 innings.

The reasoning behind the Cardinals' reluctance to use Fernandez is a mystery. Perhaps he's not fully healthy, or maybe the Cardinals didn't like something that they saw in Spring Training. But with a taxed bullpen in the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals would have been wise to utilize Fernandez. One missed opportunity was on March 29, when the Cardinals were down 5-0. Easing Fernandez into a low-pressure role would have been the perfect way for him to make his debut.

Regardless of why the Cardinals haven't put Fernandez to work, it appears that the team is wasting a bullpen spot, and with Keynan Middleton and Riley O'Brien hopefully returning from the injured list soon, the bullpen will become even more crowded. Given Fernandez's lack of use, it seems logical that he would be the first one to get the axe.

As a Rule 5 pick, Fernandez would have go through waivers and, if he were to clear them, would have to be offered back to the Red Sox. If the Red Sox declined to take him back, only then could Fernandez be placed in the minor leagues.

Under manager Oli Marmol's tenure, the Cardinals have struggled to make use of the 26th roster spot, which was created in 2020. The Cardinals' previous "final man" appeared to be Taylor Motter, who hit only .171 with the team in 2023. But while a position player as a rarely used spare part is acceptable, having a bullpen spot cluttered by an unreliable (to the Cardinals, apparently) reliever cannot be tolerated given the bullpen's importance in today's game.

Fernandez's presence looks to have cornered the Cardinals, who are essentially working with a reduced bullpen. They should place Fernandez on waivers soon, because they can't afford to go without a full allotment of relief pitchers. If he is indeed damaged goods, no team will take him and he'll be able to pitch at a lower level.

The Cardinals might need to bite the bullet and admit that they made a mistake with their Rule 5 selection. With a bullpen that looks like it will only get more packed barring further injuries, the team should wash its hands of this seemingly failed experiment.