Spring Preview: Relievers
One thing that is certain about the 2009 bullpen is uncertainty. The Cardinals are leaning heavily upon young and unproven guys as well as guys whose health is more than a little cause for concern.
Josh Kinney: This guy could be the key to a good season or a bad season from the bullpenners. Kinney was a major part of the 2006 World Series champion's pen and looked like he had a great future ahead of him before he blew out his elbow in 2007 spring training. A series of setbacks led him to miss all of that season and all but the last couple of weeks of 2008. If he is healthy, Kinney could fill the Russ Springer role of being the go-to guy to retire a tough righty. Or he could be the set up man or the closer. (2008 stats: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 BB, 8 K, 7 IP.)
Kyle McClellan: He made the jump from Class AA to the majors in spring training. And McClellan handled the pressure pretty well. He's touted as a guy who could move to the starting rotation, but it seemed that last year he got worn down in July and August. Pitching Coach Dave Duncan said he told McClellan to train this off season as if he was going to be a starter and then he could always ratchet things down for a return to the pen. Hopefully, the result is that he'll be a little more durable in 2009. (2008 stats: 2-7, 4.04 ERA, 26 BB, 59 K, 75 2/3 innings pitched.)
Royce Ring: One of the lefties GM John Mozeliak brought in with the charge of improving the Cardinals' ability to get left-handed hitters out, Ring's numbers don't instill much confidence. After all, he was blasted to the tune of an 8.48 ERA in 2008 while with Atlanta. But it might not be as bad as it seems. He had a 3.44 ERA on July 6. But when you usually only pitch a third of an inning at a time, the numbers can get skewed pretty fast with a couple of bad outings. He held lefties to a .246 average -- which isn't terrible, but is by no means dominant -- and he got plastered by righties to the tune of a .419 batting average against. (2008 stats: 2-1, 8.46 ERA, 10 BB, 16 K, 22 1/3 innings.)
Trever Miller: A vital part of the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays' bullpen in 2008, Miller was great at the start of the season. But he seemed to get shaky in the second half. Could it have had something to do with the fact that his Cardinals physical revealed that he had a frayed labrum? How bad is it? Bad enough that his $2 million deal evaporated into a $500,000 roll of the dice. That's not so hot when you figure that the major league minimum is just $100,000 less. Still, Miller struck out more than one hitter per inning pitched and held lefties to a 2002 batting average. (2008 stats: 2-0, 4.15 ERA, 20 BB, 44 K, 43 1/3 IP.)
Ryan Franklin: As good as he was in 2007, Franklin was shaky in 2008. He had his hand in several blown saves in the eighth inning before taking over as closer when Jason Isringhausen melted down and blowing several in the ninth inning. Hopefully, the Birds will find another suitable solution in the closer role and that will allow Franklin to concentrate on being a set-up man like he was when he was at his best. (2008 stats: 6-6, 3.55 ERA, 30 BB, 51 K, 78 2/3 IP.)
Jason Motte: The kid has a 99 MPH fastball and that's pretty much it, as far as his arsenal goes. He's working on a change-up and a slider. If he perfects one of those pitches, he could be the next Brad Lidge. No wonder he's not polished. It wasn't too long ago that he was a catcher. But Motte showed in his limited major league exposure that he has the guts of a cat burglar and a nasty streak, two of the best traits in a closer prospect. The big question is will the Cardinals let him work on his pitches at the big league level or send him to Memphis to close? (2008 stats: 0-0, 0.82 ERA, 3 BB, 16 K, 11 IP.)
Chris Perez: St. Louis' closer of the future for a couple of years, it finally appears that the future is now... Perez was successful, initially, when he inherited the job in 2007. But he blew for of the 11 save opportunities he had and let some doubt creep into the equation. Hopefully he worked hard in the off season and shed some of the extra pounds he was carrying. Perez has the skills to handle the closer job. Now he has to prove that he is mentally tough enough to handle it. (2008 stats: 4-4, 3.46 ERA, 22 B, 42 K, 69 IP.)
Overall grade: C-
The Cardinals may well address their shallow bullpen in the spring as teams make cuts and free agents get desperate. They could also dip into pitchers tabbed as candidates for the starting rotation. But they are still shallow, any way you slice it, in experience. Each of these pitchers, is very talented and has a high upside. But every one of them also gives you pause as a player who may suffer a health or developmental setback.