While the St. Louis Cardinals have made a variety of additions to their pitching staff this offseason through free agency, the Rule 5 draft, and trade, one area they have not added to up until this point is left-handed relief pitching.
When you look at the relievers the Cardinals have been linked to this offseason, most of them are right-handers, such as Jordan Hicks, Phil Maton, Hector Neris, and even some of the trade options that could be available. While it makes a lot of sense that they want to bring in more right-handed bullpen help, is there still a need from the left side?
Coming into 2023, the Cardinals were expected to lean on a mix of Genesis Cabrera, Zack Thompson, and Packy Naughton to get them through the ups and downs of the season. By the end of 2024, JoJo Romero and John King had risen to the top of their left-handed relief options, with Romero specifically carving out a significant role in the bullpen.
The Cardinals are planning to make more additions to their group of relievers this offseason, and there has been debate about whether or not one of those names should be a southpaw.
While Romero and King were excellent down the stretch for St. Louis, those were relatively small sample sizes, so it's easy to see the Cardinals desiring another stable option to add to that mix.
On the other hand, internally, the Cardinals have names like Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, and Drew Rom who could all factor into the bullpen as well, but all three of those names are also guys who will get looks for the rotation, so their services may be needed elsewhere depending on the time of year and health of the club.
On the free agent market, the Cardinals have been linked to Japanese closer Yuki Matsui, who is coming to Major League Baseball for the 2024 season and would give St. Louis another high-leverage arm to lean on. Someone like Matsui should be productive against both left-handed and right-handed pitching, so it may allow Romero and King to settle into more matchup-based roles. The free agent market has a variety of other left-handed options as well, with Matt Moore and Brent Suter feeling like realistic fits if the Cardinals wanted to pursue either of them.
Part of this conversation revolves around how the Cardinals feel about their right-handed relief options. Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos are their two top arms, but after that, it's hard to identify who their next best right-handed reliever is. Newcomers like Ryan Fernandez and Nick Robertson could fill those gaps, but it's likely that one of their next bullpen additions would likely be a right-hander. After adding that "third guy" to their mix, do they look toward left-handed options? Or deepen the depth of their right-handers even further?
Personally, I feel comfortable with their left-handed options at the moment and would instead seek to improve their high-handed options. One more high-leverage guy like Hicks or Maton would be great for this bullpen, and then another veteran to help fill those middle innings throughout the year. Ideally, they'd add two more true high-leverage arms, giving them multiple options a night that they can lean on late in games.
The Cardinals ranked middle of the back in left-handed reliever ERA in 2023, while Romero posted a 3.68 ERA and King had a 1.45 ERA. I'd expect Romero's ERA to lower a bit more in 2024 and King's to rise a bit, but both guys, mixed with Liberatore, Thompson, and others should be better than what the Cardinals got from Cabrera, Suarez, and company last year. Their right-handed options ranked in the bottom third in ERA last year, and if Helsley or Gallegos were to go down with an injury again, things get shaky.
While I see a need to add both right-handed and left-handed arms, my preference is grabbing right-handed bullpen pieces for now, and inevitably look to add even more arms once the trade deadline comes around.