The Cardinals have made one relatively minor move since the lockout was lifted, signing reliever Drew VerHagen to a two-year deal. He steps into a bullpen that also features Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley and T.J. McFarland and seems as if it’ll include flamethrowing righties Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks.
St. Louis brass has floated the idea of each of Reyes and Hicks lengthening out into rotation roles over the offseason. Yet president of baseball operations John Mozeliak cast some doubt on that possibility when speaking with reporters (including Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat) yesterday.
“I do think getting Alex and Jordan stretched is going to be much more challenging than in a normal time,” Mozeliak said in reference to the ban on staff members from communicating with players on their 40-man rosters between December 2 and March 10. While he didn’t specifically rule a rotation conversion out, that prospect always seemed a bit of a reach — particularly with regards to Hicks. Hicks pitched only ten innings in 2021, as he went on the injured list in early May with elbow inflammation that proved season-ending. That came on the heels of a June 2019 Tommy John surgery that had wiped out his prior season and a half, so building him towards a starter’s workload would’ve been a challenge even had there not been a work stoppage.
Reyes logged a full season in 2021, tossing 72 1/3 frames over 69 appearances. That marks almost exactly the same amount of work Reyes took on at the major league level from 2016-20 combined, as he also required a Tommy John procedure (in February 2017, in his case). He struggled quite a bit in the second half, and his 16.4% walk rate was higher than that of any starting pitcher last year. Between those innings and strike-throwing concerns, Reyes might also have had trouble cracking a starting rotation that currently projects to include Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Steven Matz, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas.
Mozeliak also addressed the position player mix, suggesting the club might look externally for help in handling the designated hitter spot now available for National League teams (Jones link). He suggested that internal options like Lars Nootbaar or Juan Yepez could be considered for that role but noted there may be “short term solutions” available on the market. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported during the lockout that former Pirates infielder Colin Moran was of interest to the Cards, presumably as an option for such a role.
One position at which it doesn’t seem the Cardinals will consider outside help is shortstop. Speaking with Dani Wexelman of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM this afternoon (Twitter link), Mozeliak downplayed the possibility of upgrading there. “I don’t think so,” he replied when asked if they’d acquire another shortstop. “We met with Paul (DeJong) prior to the lockout. We told him we thought he could be our shortstop. … Obviously, there’s going to be some competition in this camp with somebody like Edmundo Sosa, but in terms of going outside of that, I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense for us.”
That’s not a surprise, as reports have increasingly suggested the Cardinals seem confident in DeJong’s ability to bounce back from a second straight down year at the plate. He rates highly in the eyes of public defensive metrics, and last year’s career-best barrel rate suggests he can continue to at least bring some power to the table offensively. St. Louis was mentioned earlier in the offseason as a speculative fit for star free agents like Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, but Mozeliak’s comments seem to close the book on the chances they make a run at either player.