The Cardinals have made one big addition to the pitching staff this offseason, signing starter Steven Matz to a four-year deal. They’ve not done much to address the bullpen yet, though, with the re-signing of T.J. McFarland the only big league move in the later innings.
Adding to the bullpen figures to be a priority for the St. Louis front office coming out of the lockout. As part of a reader mailbag, Katie Woo of the Athletic writes that the Cardinals are likely to pursue free agent relief help on major league contracts once the transactions freeze is lifted.
As is the case every offseason, there are a decent number of bullpen options in free agency from which to choose. Raisel Iglesias and Kendall Graveman, arguably the top relievers available this winter, have already signed. Each landed a deal of at least three years in length, and Woo suggests the Cardinals are likely to look into one-year or two-year offers.
Kenley Jansen, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin, Joe Kelly and Collin McHugh are among the top unsigned relievers. The Cardinals are plenty familiar with Kelly, a former Cards’ draftee who spent his first two and a half MLB seasons in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote last month that the Cardinals were “intrigued” by Tepera, who has been quietly excellent over the past couple seasons with the two Chicago clubs.
Adding some veteran stability to the bullpen could allow the Cards more freedom with in-house options like Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks and Génesis Cabrera. All three have worked in relief over the past few seasons, but the front office has seemingly left the door open for each to compete for a rotation spot (or at least a hybrid, swingman type role) in 2022. Some or all of that trio will eventually remain in a single-inning role, but bringing in an established veteran capable of working alongside Giovanny Gallegos in high-leverage spots could ease the pressure to have Reyes, Hicks and Cabrera all available in the late innings.
In other potential areas for an upgrade, Woo suggests the front office could look externally for some offensive help if the designated hitter comes to the National League in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement. As things currently stand, Juan Yepez and Lars Nootbaar might be the favorites for DH playing time among the in-house options, at least until top prospect Nolan Gorman is ready for everyday MLB run.
Nelson Cruz is the top bat-only free agent available, but St. Louis could address the position by adding a bat-first utilityman capable of rotating through DH and other positions on the diamond. Speculatively speaking, old friend Brad Miller — or another player of his ilk — could be a viable target. An offensive-minded utilityman could assume a good chunk of the DH at-bats early in the season while retaining enough flexibility to contribute in other ways if Gorman, Nootbaar or Yepez prove worthy of everyday playing time.