The St. Louis Cardinals took a gamble in order to accomplish one of their off season goals on Wednesday, by trading for former Arizona Diamondbacks power slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The front office's gamble is whether they can get the 31 year old to sign an extension or did they just get a one year rental for three prospects and a draft pick.
With the MLB Winter Meetings starting on Monday, what will John Mozeliak and the Cardinal front office gamble on next? Another big bat like Bryce Harper? A starting pitcher? Or will they take some gambles on rebuilding the bullpen.
Even though the MLB Cardinals beat writer Jenifer Langosch reported outfielder Bryce Harper is no longer on the Cardinals radar, many fans and bloggers hope that isn't true. With past injuries to starters such as Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha , and Adam Wainwright, maybe the Cardinals should add an arm to the rotation. But in my humble opinion any gambling done this week should be on the bullpen, especially on the closer role and the left handed side of the bullpen.
The 2018 bullpen
With the exception of the month of August, the bullpen struggled most of the year, earning a 4.38 ERA. Overall, the Cardinals bullpen finished 26th in park adjusted ERA , 25th in strikeout rate, and had the third highest walk rate in the MLB.
The role of closer went from Luke Gregerson to Greg Holland, and finally settling on Bud Norris for most of the year. However, by the end of the year, the role fell to uprooted starter Carlos Martinez.
Meanwhile, the left handed side of the bullpen was never stabilized. The six lefties the Cardinals used out of the bullpen, gave up 10 homers to left handed hitters, who also batted a hefty .289 against this unit. The group included Brett Cecil, Chasen Shrive, Tyler Webb, Tyler Lyons,Ryan Sherriff, and sometime starter Austin Gomber.
While in Vegas, gamble on the Left-handed side of the Bullpen
There are boatload of relievers on the free agent market this off season, including lefties. Zach Britton and Andrew MIller are two notable names available to the Cardinals.
The 31 year old Britton, a former closer with the Orioles, could easily fill the left handed role for the Cardinals. Britton's recent injuries put him in the role of a left handed set up man for the Orioles and Yankees in 2018. In this role he held left handed batters to a .200 average and held right handed batters to a .202 average. With numbers like these, Britton, could slide back into a closer role, if needed.
Miller has been mentioned in several media reports as a possible Cardinal target. The 34 year old held left handed hitters to a .229 career average, but suffered a rash of injuries in the last couple of years. In 2018, he was limited to 34 innings and had a 4.24 ERA. However, as recently as 2017, he had a 1.44 ERA in 62 innings.
Other options are available in the free agent market, such as 31 year old Cubs' Justin Wilson, who held left handed batters to a .190 average. There is also 35 year old Astro Tony Sipp, who held left handed hitters to a .191 average and right handed bats to a .209 mark.
These are just some of the left handed options available in the free agent market. The risk or gamble will be all are over 30, and signing for more than two years, would be a roll of the dice.
Gambling on a closer while in Vegas.
Finding the next closer will be tricky. Jordan Hicks would be considered the primary internal option to take over the closer's role, but Cardinals are not yet ready to turn it over to the 22 year old. So gambling on a free agent seems to be the direction to go.
The biggest name in the free agent market is 30 year old Craig Kimbrel, who has a career ERA of 1.91 and 333 saves. Last year with the Red Sox, the right handed Kimbrel saved 42 games and had a 2.74 ERA. The down side to signing Kimbrel, is reportedly he wants a six year deal. The Cardinals shouldn't and will not go six years on a closer.
More reasonable options could be the previously mentioned Zach Britton or David Robertson. The 33 year old, right handed Robertson has a career 2.88 ERA and 137 career saves. The primary concern about Robertson, other than his age, would be he hasn't been a closer since 2016. Last year with the Yankees, he had 21 holds and 5 saves, with a 3.23 ERA.
Of course, there are other names to consider. Some additional bullpen options are Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, and even Bud Norris. All over 30, and have some risk or gamble with bringing them aboard.
While the Cardinals are in Vegas, fixing the Cardinal bullpen is going require a degree of risk. The answer may be found among the many free agents available, or even through a trade. Either way the answer will require the Cardinals to gamble with the length of contracts and the dollars involved.
They are taking a risk with Paul Goldschmidt, they will need to do the same to improve the bullpen. Thanks for reading.