John Mozeliak recently stated that the Cardinals are going to be in search of left-handed bullpen help this offseason. He said that the left side is the Achilles heel of the bullpen right now. However, as it lines up right now, they won’t have a lefty in the rotation, either.
St. Louis’s bullpen was a big problem altogether this past season. Aside from Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris, early in the season, the relief core was pretty weak. In the last month and a half, guys like Dakota Hudson, Daniel Poncedeleon and Tyler Webb pitched well out of the pen, but it was too little too late.
You might notice that the only lefty mentioned above is Tyler Webb. He had pretty good numbers, but he wasn’t what you’d call lockdown. The other left handed relievers the Cardinals used this season were Tyler Lyons and Ryan Sherriff, who didn’t finish the season on the 40-man roster, Brett Cecil, who dealt with injuries and very poor performance all season, and Chasen Shreve who was, like Webb, serviceable, but not great.
Of the three guys that are still on the roster, one of them will probably be gone come next season. More than likely that will be Cecil, but regardless of who it is, that will only leave two leftys in the bullpen, and neither are the dominant type of guy the Cards need to deal with the big left-handed bats within the division.
The Starting Rotation
One thing Mozeliak and company probably won’t be looking for much outside help with this offseason is the starting rotation. As it stands, it’s the strongest part of the roster. Right now, the Redbirds have a 1-2-3 of Mikolas, Flaherty and Martinez, and then they can go a number of ways from there. More than likely. Michael Wacha will get the fourth spot, and the fifth spot could be some combination of Wainwright and Alex Reyes.
On paper, that looks like a really solid rotation. It’s not what the Astros had this season, but it’s good enough for a shot at the postseason. Unfortunately, though, there are no left-handers in that mix.
The Cards don’t have many internal options to fill that void, either. Austin Gomber was the only lefty to start for them all of this past season, making 11 in total, but he isn’t 100 percent ready to be thrown into the rotation yet.
This may not seem like a big issue. However, if you look at this year’s postseason teams, every one of them except the Cleveland Indians had at least one left-handed starter in their rotation this season. Both World Series teams have multiple left-handed starters and both team’s aces are left-handed.
The bullpen is obviously a point of concern for Mozeliak going into the 2019 season. If it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have bothered to mention it. Fortunately, though, there are some options to solve the problem this offseason.
There are always trade possibilities, but it’s hard to say who would be available, making it difficult to explore those. Based on Mo’s trade tendencies, though, a couple of guys to look at are Tim Mayza of the Blue Jays and Roenis Elias of the Mariners. Both players are currently with teams that Mo has good trade relations with, and they both fit the Cards’ needs.
Mayza pitched in 37 games this year, putting up a 3.28 ERA, 3.36 FIP and a 0.8 WAR. He also struck out 40 batters through his 35.2 innings.
He was extremely tough on left handed hitters too. In 60 at bats, he held them to just a .233 average while striking out 18 and walking only one. Lefties also had a mere 65 tOPS+ off of Mayza in 2018.
Elias had a good year as well. He posted a 2.65 ERA, 3.08 FIP and 1.0 WAR in 23 games. He didn’t strike guys out as often as Mayza, though, getting just 34 over 51 innings.
In nearly the same amount of at bats, lefties hit Elias slightly better than they did Mayza. In 69 at-bats, he allowed a .275 average, five walks, a tOPS+ of 111 and struck out 16. He’s still a good option for the Redbirds, though, and a viable one being that he’s with a club Mozeliak has open communications with.
Though it seems less likely with the amount of money the Cardinals have eaten recently on free agent reliever contracts, they could test those waters again this offseason. There are a couple lefties available that would fit the bill for the Birds, though it could cost them a decent amount.
The two guys that really stand out from the left-sided of the pen in free agency are Tony Sipp and Zach Britton. Both guys were on playoff teams this season, and both have had solid big league careers.
Sipp is on the older side at 35, but he could still be effective on a short term deal. He appeared in 54 games for Houston this season, posting a 1.86 ERA, 2.41 FIP, and 1.3 WAR while striking out 42 batters over 38.2 innings.
Against left handed hitters, Sipp was equally as impressive. He held them to a .191 average, and whiffed 17 of them to just six walks in 68 at bats.
Britton is likely to be the more expensive option of the two. He’ll only be 31 next season, and he has an impressive resume. He hasn’t been the 47-save, Cy Young-candidate guy he was in Baltimore the past couple years, but he’s still been really good.
This season, in 41 games, he put up a 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP and struck out 34 in 40.2 innings. His numbers after being traded to the Yankees were much better than they were in Baltimore, but he wasn’t bad there, either.
Britton had plenty of success against left-handed hitters this year, too. He held them to a .200 average in 45 at-bats, striking out 11 and walking six. He did allow them a tOPS+ of 128, but he was very tough on them otherwise.
The lack of a left-handed presence in the starting rotation will take a backseat to the bullpen and lineup issues, as it should, but if the Cards decide to address the issue, they do have options. Again, there’s always the trade market, but this fix would more than likely come from the free agent side.
There are three guys that stand out as free agent options for the Cardinals to target for their rotation. Two of them will be considerably more pricey than the other, but all three have good value as left-handed starters.
J.A. Happ is the oldest and cheapest option of the three. He will be 36 next season. His age didn’t slow him down this past year, though, as he won 17 games in 31 starts, posting a 3.65 ERA, 3.98 FIP and striking out 193 batters over 177.2 innings.
Happ might actually be a plausible target for the Redbirds. His age should make him cheap, and will allow them to sign him short term. He could bridge the gap until Gomber is ready to take on a permanent role and after the year he had, he reasonably could win 15 games next season.
Now on to the more expensive players. First, there’s Patrick Corbin from the Diamondbacks. Corbin is 29 years old and had a career year in 2018. He went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, 2.47 FIP and 246 strikeouts over 200 innings.
He is a very solid pitcher who is coming into his own at the right time. This would be more of a long-term move for the Redbirds, and a much pricier one, but it could be worth it.
Corbin is still in his prime, and could be a difference maker in getting the Cards back to the postseason. Unfortunately, they have to allocate most of their resources in other areas, like the lineup and bullpen, but if they have spending money left over, this could be the guy to spend it on.
Finally, the most expensive player that would fit St. Louis’ needs is Dallas Keuchel. A former AL Cy Young winner, Keuchel has been one of the best left-handed starters in the game since 2014. This season, over a league leading 34 starts, he won 12, posted a 3.74 ERA, 3.69 FIP and struck out 153 hitters in 204.2 innings.
At 30 years of age, Keuchel will have a high price tag and will be offered multiple long-term deals. The Cardinals could be in on him if they see the lack of a left-handed starter as a bigger issue than they’ve let on, but that’s an outside shot. He would make a good fit, though; it will just come down to their other offseason moves and how much they are willing to spend.
Featured Image by Chris Lee of Post Dispatch
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