The St. Louis Cardinals could regret passing on this lefty reliever

Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles
Detroit Tigers v Baltimore Orioles / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals could lament on what might have been after not signing left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Chafin.

The St. Louis Cardinals possess some uncertainty in the bullpen from the left side, and the fact that they decided not to go after one of the most consistent left-handed relievers in the sport could come back to bite them. Andrew Chafin was on the market this offseason until the Arizona Diamondbacks signed him on Feb. 11 to a $5.5 million contract with a club option for 2024.

Save for 2020, when he only pitched 9.2 innings because of the shortened season and an injury, Chafin has shown remarkable consistency over the past five years, with an ERA of 2.95 since 2018. A veteran with 10 strikeouts per nine innings since that time, he made perfect sense for the Cardinals to sign and would have instantly bolstered a bullpen that’s light on whiff-inducing southpaws. 

The Cardinals’ competitors for the lefty bullpen job are far from established, and there is more than a little uncertainty surrounding them. Zack Thompson, their strongest left-hander out of the bullpen last year, needs to show that he can repeat his rookie season, while Genesis Cabrera needs to rebound from a backslide last year. Other options include Packy Naughton, JoJo Romero, and Anthony Misiewicz, but none of them are reliable longtime major leaguers like Chafin.

If Thompson struggles to reach the heights of his 2022 season, the Cardinals will be in trouble, and it’s likely they would have to part with some prospects at the trade deadline to receive help in that area, so it’s unclear why they wouldn’t attempt to shore up this relative weakness in the offseason through free agency by taking an established arm.

It’s not as though Chafin was expensive, either; he turned down an option from the Detroit Tigers that was worth more than what he accepted from the Diamondbacks. It’s possible that he just wanted to return to Arizona, where he had played from 2013 through part of 2020, But the Diamondbacks, while ascending, are unlikely to accomplish much this season.

If the Cardinals had made a similar offer, I would think Chafin would have enjoyed the opportunity to play for a contender and pitch to Willson Contreras again, who was Chafin’s primary battery mate with the Chicago Cubs in parts of 2020 and 2021. 

Chafin would have been a strong lefty complement to Giovanny Gallegos as a seventh- or eighth-inning man out of the bullpen, and the Cardinals’ unwillingness to pursue him is puzzling. If the left side of the bullpen proves leaky, the front office might wish it had converted this seemingly simple layup of a signing.

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