I thought the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018 was going to be the strength of the team… I was wrong. We signed Luke Gregerson… Who was hurt most of the year… We traded for Dominic Leone… Who was hurt most of the year… We signed Greg Holland… Who was so terrible we released him (only to thrive in Washington). It didn’t go as planned for the Cardinals. Tyler Lyons was also put on waivers for ineffectiveness. Matt Bowman has been dealing with Raynaud’s Syndrome which causes issues with blood circulation in his fingers. You had to rely on 21 year old Jordan Hicks more than you should have. The bullpen was decimated from the get go.
Near the middle of the season, we saw some resurgence with the release of Greg Holland and Tyler Lyons, allowing some room for the kids in AAA to come up and show what they can do. And for the most part, it went pretty well. The future sure looks bright for the Cardinals in the pitching department… But they need a little help. Whether that help comes from free agency or trade is yet to be seen, but here are seven free agent relievers I think the Cardinals should pursue for 2019 and beyond.
1. Craig Kimbrel – 5-1 | 2.74 ERA | 62.1 IP | 96 SO | 31 BB | 0.99 WHIP | 42 SV |
The Cardinals are still without a sure “closer” going into 2019. Some fans believe Jordan Hicks can be the answer, and while I love to watch him pitch… He’s not ready for that type of full time role. He was used heavily in 2018, and could benefit from being behind a guy like Kimbrel. Kimbrel has been one of the most dominant relievers since he joined the league back in 2010. He has 333 career saves. That type of experience could benefit the Cardinals greatly. They have the means to make a deal like this happen. The Cardinals also might be weary of a deal like this given how terribly the Greg Holland deal went. No offense to Holland, but Kimbrel is a tier above. Holland at his best was close to Kimbrel, but Kimbrel has sustained his success over his entire career.
2. David Robertson – 8-3 | 3.23 ERA | 69.2 IP | 91 SO | 26 BB | 1.03 WHIP | 5 SV |
Robertson has been one of the most consistent and dominant relievers throughout his career, yet I feel he goes unnoticed. He has a 2.88 career ERA over 11 seasons and also has 137 career saves, which could give the Cardinals another candidate as a closer. What’s also impressive is that Robertson has a 2.81 career FIP compared to his 2.88 career ERA. He has a 12.0 K/9 average for his career and has never dropped below 10.4 K/9. He has also had an incredibly healthy career, passing 60 innings every year since 2010. One thing that could benefit the Cardinals is that Robertson is going into his age 34 season, which could make him one of the more affordable options in this coming free agency. He also has solid stats in the postseason sporting a 3.48 ERA with 40 strikeouts over 33.2 innings.
3. Trevor Rosenthal – Did Not Appear in 2018 (Tommy John surgery)
This makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals. The gave him an outright release after the 2017 season with Rosenthal being unable to pitch in 2018, but Rosenthal was very productive during his time in St. Louis. He has a career 2.99 ERA in St. Louis with 121 Saves. He also has a career 12.0 K/9. His rehab seems to be going well as he is posting videos on his Twitter @TrevRosenthal. Check out this video below.
Getting work in with @BaseballMU today. Really enjoying the competition. These guys are going to be good. @HumesPer4mance @D_Renns24 https://t.co/xwIFwWXpOx
4. Andrew Miller – 2-4 | 4.24 ERA | 34.0 IP | 45 SO | 16 BB | 1.38 WHIP | 2 SV |
It’s not a secret that Miller had an “off” year in 2018. A couple bad outings certainly inflated his ERA, but overall he didn’t look quite as sharp as he did in recent years. But it’s certainly a tall task given how dominant Miller was from 2013-2017. Miller seemed to be unhittable at times, sporting a K/9 near 14.0 every season. He does have 53 career saves, but has often been used as a setup man in his career. Most noticeably during his time in Cleveland where he was the setup man for Cody Allen, another free agent from this class. Miller is especially good against lefties which is something that the Cardinals will desperately need in 2019. He is dominant in the postseason with a 1.09 ERA over 33.0 innings with 48 strikeouts. He is a 13 year veteran who can bring a ton of experience to a young bullpen.
5. Joe Kelly – 4-2 | 4.39 ERA | 65.2 IP | 68 SO | 32 BB | 1.35 WHIP | 2 SV |
Another guy who was a former Cardinal, Kelly has been a solid bullpen piece for Boston the past couple seasons. His 2018 wasn’t quite as good as 2017, but his numbers aren’t too shabby. He started out as a starter for the Red Sox before being moved to the bullpen in 2016, where he has been ever since. Kelly is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, having his four seam fastball rank as the 8th highest average pitch velocity at 98.1 MPH. It is also fun to note that Jordan Hicks owns 3 of the top 8 with his four seam, two seam, and sinker averaging over 100 MPH. It would be a fun pairing with Hicks and Kelly in the later innings. Plus, Kelly can throw a punch when he needs to.
Joe Kelly saying “let’s go” is my new spirit animal https://t.co/KKXVXqxUHj
6. Adam Ottavino – 6-4 | 2.43 ERA | 77.2 IP | 112 SO | 36 BB | 0.99 WHIP | 6 SV |
I promise I’m not going for just former Cardinals. Ottavino pitched incredibly well for the Rockies in 2018. He rebounded well from a less than spectacular 2017 season about as well as one could. The 2018 season saw career bests in H/9, K/9, ERA, and strikeouts. The only reason I don’t put him higher on the list is that he has to be able to replicate this. I do project him to have a bit of a regression, but moving from Colorado could benefit the righty. Ottavino is fantastic against lefties, and could be a solid choice as a lefty specialist without having to get a lefty. In 2018, lefties batted just .179 against Ottavino. From 2015-2017, it was just a .202 average. The more I write the more I think he should move up… Hmm.
7. Kelvin Herrera – 2-3 | 2.44 ERA | 44.1 IP | 38 SO | 10 BB | 1.19 WHIP | 17 SV |
Herrera has been successful in the Majors for a number of years now despite rather low strikeout numbers. He does have a lower walk rate than most in this list which helps him to limit damage, but he definitely has the lowest strikeout rate which is one reason why I don’t put him higher. Despite this, he finds ways to be productive. He has spent the majority of his career just across the state in Kansas City, but found himself finishing last year in Washington DC. Herrera was one of the players I was hoping the Cardinals would jump at during the trade deadline, but in hindsight it might have been okay. Herrera was hurt and didn’t pitch particularly well during his time with the Nationals. Regardless, his track record alone is worth the phone call to his agent this off-season.
Jeurys Familia – He isn’t the same guy he was from 2014-2016, but he is still productive. Brings closing experience
Tyler Clippard – Been in the league since 2007. He’s closed games, he’s been a setup guy. Overall solid pitcher for a number of years. Getting to the back half of his career, could be cheaper option.
Bud Norris – Norris worked out well for the Cardinals for a majority of the year. If the price is right, you can bring him back and it might work out.
Cody Allen – 2018 was rough for Allen, but otherwise he has been one of the better relievers over the past few seasons. Closed games for Cleveland since 2013. Under the radar option for the Cardinals.
Zach Britton – Britton might have as much upside as anybody in this free agent class. 2014-2016 was definitely his prime, but he has been serviceable since then. Doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts.
This free agent class is loaded with potential in the relief market. Coming up with a top seven was tough, and as you can see I have five more honorable mentions. The Cardinals haven’t had the best of luck in the free agent market when it comes to relievers in recent memory, but there is plenty of talent here to remedy that. I do suspect the Cardinals will make moves via trade as well to acquire bullpen talent, but it’s too early in the off-season to gauge interest from other teams just yet. There are a couple names on this list that I personally prefer over others, but we will see if the Cardinals want to clue me in this time.
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