Man, where do I even begin? The St. Louis Cardinals bullpen is an absolute wreck. But you probably already knew that. When the team changed managers just over a week ago, they cited a desire to salvage the 2018 season and compete for a playoff spot. While the change has a good chance at sparking the clubhouse, and new coaches may help breathe life into the offense, the biggest issue remains unaddressed. All season, the bullpen has had 2-3 pitchers doing their job, while the other 5-6 remained ineffective. Regardless of who the manager is, it’s hard to hold leads (unless your starter gives you 7 innings and gets you to Hicks/Norris) or keep close deficits close with this group.
We saw this exemplified over the weekend in Chicago. In a demanding 5 games in 4 days, the bullpen was in an all-hands-on-deck situation. Mike Shildt had to deploy the available options.
In Thursday’s opener, we saw Tyler Lyons and Matt Bowman turn a 2-run game into a 5-run game, making a couple late runs by the Cardinals irrelevant.
After a sacrifice fly against Mike Mayers brought across the final run charged to Luke Weaver on Saturday, the bullpen’s task truly began with a 3-1 score. Mayer’s held firm for 2 innings, but after the Cardinals scored to make it a 3-2 game, Tyler Lyons entered and put it out of reach. Facing 3 LH, 1 RH, and 3 switch-hitters, Lyons allowed 4 runs in 0.2 innings, making a once-competitive game lopsided.
In Sunday’s finale, Mayer’s didn’t fare as well, turning a 2-2 game into a 4-2 game. Still, a game within reach, until Brett Cecil allowed 3 runs in 0.1 innings to allow the Cubs to cruise to a 7-2 win. Including Friday’s blowout, Cecil allowed 6 ER in just 0.2 IP in the series. On Friday alone, he was outpitched by Cubs position players, who had tossed 3 innings, allowing 3 runs.
In Saturday night’s win, Greg Holland couldn’t hold a 1-0 lead, making it 3-1 in the Cubs favor. However, Jordan Hicks was able to keep the Cubs at 3 as the Cardinals came back, with Tuivailala and Norris polishing things off.
And that pretty much summarizes the season for the bullpen. If Hicks and Norris aren’t involved, things don’t go so well.
Inflexibility Has Been Crippling
All winter the team talked about having a flexible bullpen. The term ‘Memphis Shuttle’ was popular in the media, describing how fresh arms could be moved in and out, continuously. The problem with that theory was that the front office assembled a bullpen full of immovable pieces. The signings of Norris, Gregerson, and Holland gave them 3 new pitchers that could not be demoted. Add to them Tuivailala and Lyons, both out of minor league options. With Cecil on a 4-year deal, you had 6 pitchers (if healthy) that were locked into a spot. That left 2 openings (with an 8-man ‘pen) for ‘flexible’ guys. One of those spots was reserved for Matt Bowman, a Matheny favorite, and the other for Dominic Leone. Injury played a role in a last minute spot going to Jordan Hicks, one of your only effective relievers. This left deserving pitchers like John Brebbia, Mike Mayers, and John Gant on the outside looking in.
The only reason our bullpen has seen churn is because of legitimate injuries. Because of that, the front office has been waiting around all season for this unit to mend, thinking that health would improve performance. Well, they’re healthy and it’s a disaster. The fact that the bullpen is in this condition on July 23rd is…unacceptable. Too many spots in this bullpen are rigid. That needs to change.
Trim the Fat
Subtraction: It’s time to cut ties with Brett Cecil. Despite having 2 years, 2 months, and approximately $15M left on his contract, it’s time to end his tenure here. Ideally, you can move him in a pure salary dump where you get next to nothing in return, but the receiving team takes on half of his remaining salary. At this point, he would be addition by subtraction. The man has 18 BB’s and just 14 K’s in 27.2 IP this year. That is awful.
(Note to John Mozeliak: Quit reacting to Tommy John surgeries by signing 4 and 5-year contracts. Lance Lynn goes down and instead of a 1-2 year stop gap, we get Mike Leake for 5. He was no longer needed after 1.5 seasons. After Zack Duke has surgery, we get Cecil for 4 years. He has been mediocre at his best. You are a highly intelligent man, be smarter with these things.)
Addition: Go outside of the organization to acquire a LHP with a few years of control. Adam Conley of Miami is a prime candidate that would fit the description. A two month rental makes no sense for this team.
Subtraction: If you think Cecil and his 5.70 ERA is bad, check out the other half of the lefty tandem. Tyler Lyons, in 16.1 IP, has an 8.82 ERA. After a dynamite 2017, Lyons has failed to find health or effectiveness in 2018. Being out of minor league options has prevented the team from demoting him in order to find a groove. This kind of performance can’t be tolerated for much longer and the dreaded DFA may be in his future.
Addition: About a month ago, the Cardinals acquired LHP Tyler Webb off of waivers. Though he has struggled in very limited major league exposure in the past, he currently holds a 1.52 ERA in AAA this season. He cannot possibly be any worse than the Cecil/Lyons combo has been. Call him up and see what you have.
Subtraction: Greg Holland is already a waste of money. Even if you trade him, you are likely picking up the tab for his entire salary. On a 1-year deal, he would only hold value to a contending team, but his performance in a reliever-heavy market puts him WAY down the list of targets. At this point, DFA’ing him and hoping for some kind of small return on waivers is your best bet.
Addition: I don’t care. Any effective, 7th inning-type reliever from outside the organization would be acceptable. As mentioned before, you likely want someone under control for at least 2019. Heck, just giving the spot to Brebbia permanently would be an improvement.
On the Fence: Tuilvailala is a guy that I would be okay with moving, as he is almost strictly a middle reliever and is out of options, but he is far from the worst guy in your bullpen right now. Ideally, he is solid as the 6th or 7th choice out of the bullpen. With years of control, you could likely move him to a team looking to cover innings, but the return will be minimal. The biggest benefit to moving him is opening a spot for another grab from outside the organization.
Keep: Hang on to Bud Norris. Unlike Broxton a couple years ago, this is the type of guy you give a 2-year deal to. Keep Hicks, duh. Keep Mayers as your middle man. Keep Gregerson. He is on a 2-year contract, but unlike Cecil, he hasn’t been healthy long enough to show whether he is worth keeping. He has had 4 scoreless outings since returning from the DL, and can hopefully resemble a solid middle reliever, or better.
Healthy returns from Wacha and Martinez would aid in this area as well, freeing Gomber and Gant to be factors in the bullpen.
This bullpen needs a major overhaul, with at least 3 spots seeing new faces. This is a new level of ineffective bullpen. There are 3-4 guys that you can’t trust with a 4-run lead. 4 of the 13 relievers with more than 10 IP have an ERA over 6.00, and that doesn’t count the Guilmet-debacle. Most are over 4.00.
This must be fixed this week, otherwise the talk of salvaging 2018 was just hollow words.
Thanks for reading!