If you think the Cardinals had a tough decision to make when they opted to demote electric reliever Eduardo Sanchez to the minors in favor of veteran journeyman Scott Linebrink, you haven't seen anything yet.
The Redbirds are going to have to make some really key decisions sooner rather than later about their bullpen because they have more quality arms out there than they have spaces. And finances are likely to play a part in the issue, too.
We've heard a couple of trade rumors about Kyle McClellan over the past couple of months. Once thought of a future member of the rotation, Mac finally got his chance when Adam Wainwright went down to a season-ending injury in 2011 spring training. But he flamed out by the All-Star Break and found himself riding the pine down the stretch and in the playoffs in the World Series in favor of less experienced guys.
It's more than just an over-used arm. McClellan didn't even get a mention about working as a starter this season. Even when Chris Carpenter succumbed to injury. Still, his work in the rotation earned McClellan a raise of nearly double his previous pay to $2.5 million. So what we have here is a guy who is on the fringe of the Cardinals' plans. And he's pulling down more money than the World Series MVP third baseman David Freese, starting centerfielder Jon Jay, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Lance Lynn and Daniel Descalso combined.
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The Redbirds need to decide if McClellan is in their plans -- and if not they need to trade him while they can still get something for him.
Then there is the curious case of Mitchell Boggs. The guy's got 98 MPH stuff and he ever so briefly rose to be the Cardinals closer last season -- for one game. But when he struggled, former manager Tony La Russa not only took away the closer's mantle from Boggs. He demoted the guy to the minors under the guise that he was going to work there to be a starter.
The Cardinals didn't have a lot of depth last season in the rotation. But the bullpen was a freaking disaster. So how could they pull the plug on Boggs while Jose Batista and Trever Hoffman were pouring gasoline all over the place. Cot's Baseball Contracts doesn't list a figure for Boggs. But he has been around long enough that he's soon to start seeing his salary escalate through the arbitration process. So the Birds need to decide if he's going to be a central piece of their bullpen -- or if it's time to let Boggs head on down the road.
The third question mark in the St. Louis bullpen is Jason Motte. He's a superstar right now because he managed to get the last out in the World Series, which makes him an automatic lifetime member of St. Louis baseball yore. He's fun to watch mow down opposing power hitters with his lightning fastball. But he's struggled to find consistency with a second pitch. And, while he is successful now, the Cardinals must wonder what he's going to do when the high octane gas in his fastball runs out. In short, he's not well prepared to make a Trevor Hoffman type switch to being an off-speed specialist at this point. He needs to start showing some signs that he has the ability to add to his arsenal because he's been bumped to $1.95 million for 2012 and he's likely to get twice that through arbitration in 2013. In short, he's going to get really expensive really fast.
Lance Lynn was the darling of the minor league watchers a couple of years ago. It was thought, in the days before Shelby Miller, that he was going to be the future star of the rotation. But after some inconsistency as a starter in the minors, he was moved to the bullpen in St. Louis out of necessity. There he has been able to unleash the full force of his pitches without pacing himself over several innings, striking out 40 batters in his first 34 innings in the big leagues. The Cardinals thought enough of him to move him to the eighth inning set-up role after half a season of major league experience under his belt. So it wouldn't seem far fetched to think that Lynn could be under consideration as a potential closer in a year or two. Then again, while some have written him off as a starter for good, I think the Cardinals would be foolish to do so. The guy is 6-foot-5 and about 250 pounds. He doesn't seem like the shrinking violet sort who can't stand up to the rigors of pitching six or seven innings at a time.
Adding complication to the picture, the Cardinals have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of former Royals bullpener Victor Marte who has been dominant in Grapefruit League play. They need to decide if he's put it all together at the age of 31 or if he is just lighting up the stat sheet against future grocery baggers.
Father down the line, Trevor Rosenthal has turned heads with his triple digit fastball. Joe Kelly has showed potential, too.
While Colby Rasmus' father thought Tony La Russa would keep 25 pitchers if he could, it doesn't appear that the 2012 Cardinals will carry more than seven bullpenners on the roster. So they're going to have to choose carefully who they will keep and who they will cast off.