On Friday, the Cardinals took their first steps in adding depth to their bullpen for 2024, acquiring relievers Nick Robertson and Victor Santos from the Red Sox in exchange for Tyler O'Neill. They also cleared some space in the outfield.
Katie Woo wrote a piece in The Athletic (subscription required) detailing what she expected the Cardinals' next move would be to strengthen their bullpen. Woo said she expected the Cardinals to pursue one more high-leverage arm and listed Jordan Hicks as a possibility.
But what about Josh Hader? Who's to say he's not an option?
Will the Cardinals target Josh Hader?
Obviously, Hader will be expensive, as he is arguably the best closer in all of baseball. He saved 33 games in 2023 and posted an ERA of 1.28. It certainly won't be easy for the Cardinals to land him.
But in a perfect world, the Cardinals would go and add two free-agent relievers. That is what I ultimately expected before reading Woo's piece. I personally wouldn't mind a reunion with Hicks along with a move for Phil Maton.
If the Cardinals are going for just one more bullpen piece however, and ultimately count Robertson as an addition to their Major League bullpen, they have to make their free-agent addition count. That is why I believe Hader should be who they target. He also averaged 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings this year with the Padres, so he would bring some much-needed swing and miss to the 'pen.
Another thing to consider is that Hader is very familiar with the NL Central thanks to his days with the Brewers. He'd be returning to familiar territory, albeit with a new team.
Now will the Cardinals actually be able to sign Hader? Will they even target him?
Sadly, I'm afraid they won't. Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak would probably feel as if he's out of their price range. He really isn't, but knowing this front office and organization, that may be what they decide.
It is for this reason that I believe the Cardinals should still add two free-agent relievers. I think Hader is the best bet and somebody the Cardinals should absolutely target. But I'm afraid that's unlikely, so two pieces will be necessary.
Never say never, though. The Cardinals at least seem to understand that adding Drew VerHagen-type pieces won't suffice.