The St Louis Cardinals' plans to sell are well documented. 2023 is shaping up to be the Cardinals' worst season since the 1990s. For the first time in the Mozeliak era, the Cardinals have announced that they are selling at the trade deadline.
While players on expiring deals are almost sure to be traded, the status of the Cardinals' more controllable assets is murkier. Conflicting reports have emerged over the last several weeks, spawning a series of rumors regarding a number of players. Among them is Giovanny Gallegos.
Gallegos was acquired by the Cardinals in July 2018. He was part of the trade that sent Luke Voit to the New York Yankees. At that point, Gallegos was a little-known quantity who had pitched to a 4.75 ERA in 30.1 innings. He made two scoreless appearances for the Cardinals down the stretch in 2018, but spent the majority of the season in the minors. In 2019, Gallegos broke out in a big way, pitching to a stellar 2.34 ERA in 74 innings. He was St. Louis' best and most consistent reliever. Gallegos had quietly blossomed into one of baseball's best relievers. He had strong control paired with gaudy strikeout numbers. It was clear that even if Voit proved successful in New York, the Cardinals could look back at the trade positively.
2019 was only the start of Gallegos' success in St. Louis. In each of the next 3 full seasons, he posted a FIP below three, while also limiting home runs. Though he never occupied the primary closing role, Gallegos was excellent in each season. By primarily working in the seventh and eighth innings, Gallegos has mostly avoided the spotlight. He has also been available consistently. He appeared in 66, 73, and 57 games in each of his full seasons in a Cardinal uniform.
Why do some Cardinals fans want to trade Giovanny Gallegos?
Briefly scrolling through Twitter reveals the animus many Cardinals fans feel towards Gallegos. He is consistently included in trade proposals. Why would these fans want him gone?
The short answer is that he has not been as good as usual in 2023. The truth is a bit more difficult to discern. On the surface, Gallegos has, as usual, been a reliable reliever. He currently boasts a 3.86 ERA in 42 innings. This is still a decent number, but it's not quite as strong as his past few seasons. His elevated ERA can be attributed to a slightly lower strikeout rate and a slightly higher home run rate. The biggest problem for Giovanny Gallegos this season, and the reason some Cardinals fans have suggested he be traded, is several crucial implosions.
Gallegos has been at his worst when the Cardinals need him at his best. Many fans will argue that this isn't a new phenomenon, but it is particularly apparent in 2023. He has five blown saves in 40 total appearances.
Considering his role as a setup man, this figure is especially disheartening. He doesn't get that many save opportunities and has still managed to blow five. Compounding Gallegos' struggles in clutch opportunities is his inability to salvage bad appearances. The seven home runs allowed by Gallegos are spread across just four contests. These four appearances also account for 14 of the 18 earned runs Gallegos has allowed on the season. In each of the three games in which Gallegos has allowed multiple home runs, he has also given up a double. Those account for three of the 11 he has allowed on the season. Simply put, when it rains for Gallegos, it pours.
Perhaps more careful management could have prevented these blemishes on an otherwise stellar season. Unfortunately for Gallegos, these games are much more memorable than his many scoreless outings. Instead of remembering Gallegos' filthy arsenal, fans fixate on his implosions. Moreover, the overall state of the 2023 Cardinals' bullpen has done him few favors.
In the future, the Cardinals should be quick to pull Gallegos when he runs into trouble. In the event that he allows a home run, only the three-batter minimum should justify him remaining in the game. However, when at his best, the Cardinals should let Gallegos pitch as long as necessary. In the ten appearances in which Gallegos has pitched more than one inning, he has allowed just one run, good for an ERA of 0.55. Ideally, he will remain in the setup role in which he has thrived throughout his career. At his best, Gallegos can be called upon to face the heart of any order in at any time in any game. It's important to remember that he is still that pitcher in 2023.
At the end of the 2022 season, Giovanny Gallegos signed a team-friendly two-year extension with a club option for 2025, meaning he still has over two years of control remaining. In the first year of this deal, he has pitched well, even though there have been a few blowups. However, outside of these contests, Gallegos has been spectacular. His strikeout rate is a bit lower, but he has also lowered his walk rate. In 40 appearances, Gallegos has yet to issue multiple walks. Yet many are considering this to be a "bad season" from the right-hander. That is because his consistently excellent performance has cultivated an expectation of excellence. Success from Gallegos is the norm, not the exception.
The Cardinals should be careful with Gallegos at the upcoming deadline. Relievers in general are volatile, meaning their performance can fluctuate significantly between years. The inherently small sample sizes of reliever performance foster this volatility. Genesis Cabrera, for example, was very effective in 2020 and 2021 before regressing significantly over the next two seasons. Gallegos has been effective and available every year since joining the Cardinals in 2018. In 271.2 innings in a Cardinal uniform, he has an ERA of 2.98. His numbers have remained excellent, even when mismanaged.
Relievers who demonstrate such consistent excellence are rare. Moreover, they are generally expensive and old. Gallegos, at just 25 years old and on a team-friendly extension, is neither. He is an incredibly valuable piece that the Cardinals should be very hesitant to move. It is a luxury to be able to simply assume that a reliever will give you at least 60-70 quality innings in a given year. As long as they hold on to Gallegos, the Cardinals will be able to rely on him for years to come.