There are a lot of things the St. Louis Cardinals could do to improve the 2017 version of their team.
But the easiest thing is the one thing they simply must do – and that is to drastically make over the bullpen.
The Cardinals rank in the bottom quarter of major-league relief corps. That’s shame since they rank near the top in starting-rotation performance. Sadly, the Redbirds have chosen to carry eight relievers because three of them – Jonathan Broxton, Miguel Socolovich and Brett Cecil – have pretty much been useless as we reach the one-third mark of the season.
Cecil is the toughest problem. With a $30.5-million, four-year contract he inked over the winter, he’s not going anywhere. The Cardinals have no choice but to keep working with him in hopes that Cecil eventually figures out what’s wrong. But I am beyond the point of dismissing his troubles as a small sample of statistics. The lefty looks like he has completely lost his confidence at this point. That’s bad news.
But Broxton, he’s an easy call. He just doesn’t seem to have swing-and-miss stuff anymore. And his control is out the window. Broxton is putting more than two runners on base every inning and allowing one of those runners to score in two-thirds of those innings. That’s not good enough. There is no reason for the Redbirds to keep Broxton, just because he has a fairly lucrative contract, through the end of the season. They can pay him to go away, or they can pay him to lose games for them. The choice is fairly obvious.
Sololovich somewhere in between. He’s holding a roster spot not because he’s making a ton of money. In his case, it’s because he’s out of options and if the Cardinals try to send him down to the minor leagues, they might lose him to another club.
So what? Is a guy with a 6.00 ERA worth wasting a roster spot on?
The Birds have better options within the system. It’s hardly fair that Sam Tuivailala was pitching relatively well and had to be shipped back to Class AAA Memphis to allow those three to stay in the majors. Tyler Lyons, back from a second stint on the disabled list this year, is better than all three of them. Meanwhile, Luke Weaver has looked excellent since he returned from his own stay on the disabled list. He’s working as a starter in Memphis. But he could easily pitch in relief in St. Louis.
St. Louis has another member of the cavalry on the way with injured lefty Zach Duke ahead of schedule after requiring elbow ligament transplant surgery at the end of last season. The latest I heard is that Duke could return as soon as August. I don’t know how durable and effective he will be. Only time will tell.
Of course, the other option is that the Redbirds could make a trade, swapping some of their minor-league outfield surplus for a decent hurler they could trust in the sixth or seventh inning.
I would feel a whole lot better if I wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop in close games. A lead of two, three or even four doesn’t seem safe with these bullpen suspects waiting for their chance to give up runs in bunches.
It’s just a shame to let one particularly weak area of the team screw up everything else.