As the MLB hot stove continues, so do the St. Louis Cardinals search for more bullpen depth.
The team already finalized a contract that is bringing back LHP T.J. McFarland, who was the first free agent to strike a deal this off-season. The contract is for 1-yr $2.5M.
McFarland was one of a handful of moves the Cardinals made last season that was viewed by some as “dumpster diving” from John Mozeliak, but really was a catalyst in helping the pitching staff turn the corner.
He and fellow lefties Genesis Cabrera & Brandon Waddell are currently the only two left handed pitchers on the 40-man roster that could be slated for the bullpen with Andrew Miller’s time with the club coming to an end.
One name that has been linked to the Cardinals is one of the arms they brought in last season in Luis Garcia. The soon to be 35 year old RHP could be the next pitcher signed by St. Louis. He impressed at times last year appearing in 34 games and compiling a 1-1 record with a 3.24 ERA.
Garcia also went 2 for 3 in save opportunities with 12 holds. Batters held a .202 avg. against him.
Unsure of who takes the closer role between Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks or Giovanny Gallegos, Garcia would be a welcomed addition & option for the bullpen in 2022, and likely won’t command a high salary to do so.
Speaking of uncertainties, two other pitchers that helped the Cardinals solidify their rotation last year could be brought back if either were to accept a bullpen role with the club. Those being lefties JA Happ & Jon Lester.
I’m not sure if Happ or Lester would be interested in a non-starter role at this stage in their careers, but if the market doesn’t allot for them to find a starting gig in the majors, I could see the front office bringing one of them back for either a long relief/lefty specialist role.
Happ (who turned 39 in Oct.) went 5-2 for St. Louis with a 4.00 ERA logging 54 innings with 45 K’s while Lester (who turns 38 in Jan.) went 4-1 with the Cards with a 4.36 ERA with 40 K in 66 innings pitched.
Outside the organization, an old familiar name in Joe Kelly has surfaced as a pitcher of interest for the club. Kelly has pitched for the Dodgers the past 3 seasons, and prior to that the Red Sox for 5 when he was acquired in the trade with Allen Craig from the Cardinals in 2014 for John Lackey.
Kelly only pitched 44 innings for L.A. last season but does have swing and miss stuff, accumulating 50 K with a 2.86 ERA in 2021. Having familiarity with St. Louis and still seeming to have plenty left in the tank at 33 years old, a reunion to the Cardinals may bode well for both parties if the price is right.
Aside from the above mentioned, there are plenty of relief pitching options that are available via free agency, and the Cardinals do have internal options that would likely round out the pen.
Guys like Ryan Helsley, Jake Woodford, Kodi Whitley, Junior Fernandez & Johan Oviedo likely have opportunities to break camp in the bullpen to start the season, while players like T.J. Zeuch, Angel Rondon, Johan Quezada, Jake Walsh & Freddy Pacheco battle for a spot.
Top lefty prospects Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson could also make their MLB debuts at some point next season and may see bullpen action in the majors before being thrusted into a starting role.
Time will tell, but with the plethora of young arms and some of the available veterans that the Cardinals are considering, the bullpen should be a strength for the club in 2022.
What say you? Let us know in the comments.
As always, thanks for reading and Go Cards!