While the St. Louis Cardinals seem unwilling to fish in the deep end of the free agent pond, there are still players on the open market that could make the Redbirds a better team in 2019.
Earlier this offseason, some commentators thought it would be wise for the Cardinals to chase former Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. But Kimbrel probably put any thoughts of that to rest when he reportedly asked for a $100 million contract. Still, the Birds could use an upgrade at the back of their bullpen and other desirable — and much more affordable — options remain.
Longtime Cleveland Indians closer Cody Allen is a guy who might see his market depressed a bit by the fact that he didn’t have a great season in 2018. But everyone is entitled to a bad year, and he was one of the most consistent stoppers in the game from 2012-2017 when he saved 122 games with 293 hits allowed in 373 2/3 innings of work. Allen, who made $10.5 million with The Tribe last season, reportedly would like a multi-year contract. But, just 30, he might have to take less to prove last season was a fluke. If St. Louis could pick up Allen on a reasonable contract, he could turn out to be a steal. But, as long as he’s healthy, there is no reason to believe the right-handed hurler wouldn’t be serviceable. Even during his sub par season last year when he had a 4.70 earned run average, Allen allowed 58 hits in 67 innings and struck out 80 while walking 33.
If the Birds don’t strike a deal with Allen, they could try to turn back the clock and ink Adam Ottavino for some back of the bullpen help.
Ottavino is a painful miss for the St. Louis front office that released him in April of 2012. But he’s put up impressive numbers in unenviable conditions with the Colorado Rockies. Coors field is one of the most unforgiving places for pitchers in the big leagues. But Ottavino has a 3.41 ERA with the Rockies allowed 41 hits in 77 2/3 innings in 2018. He struck out 112 and walked 36.
While I like Allen because he has a solid track record in the ninth inning, the Cardinals might prefer Ottavino because he is more flexible and he’s 33, which means he’s likely to command a shorter contract. While Ottavino saved six games last year, he’s a guy who can come into a game in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning to strike out a batter with runners on base and two outs. That might allow sophomore big leaguer Jordan Hicks to try to settle into the closer role, but offer him some insurance if he struggles.
I could go either way. I like Hicks a lot. But if St. Louis landed an interim closer on a short-term deal, I don’t see any shame in the young fireballer working in a setup role for a year or two.
I’m concerned, however, that the Redbirds won’t jump into the reliever market for the same reason they won’t find a right fielder who hit better than .180 last season: They’ve already allocated money for that position and they are unwilling to eat cash to find better alternatives because that would be admitting to a mistake.
Luke Gregerson, whom I often forget is a member of the Cardinals because he was absent for the vast majority of last season, the first year of his two-year deal. In 12 2/3 innings, the righty allowed 10 unearned runs before a combination of maladies brought his season to a premature end. St. Louis owes him at least $6 million including $5 million for 2019 and a $1 million buyout on an option for 2020. Then there is Brett Cecil who has been absolutely terrible in two years with St. Louis. Baseball Reference predicts he’ll pitch to a 4.50 earned run average in 2019. But I think even that mediocre projection seems overly optimistic. I just can’t get excited about a one-inning reliever who allowed nearly two base runners per frame, yet he has the Cardinals on the hook for $15 million over the next two seasons.
It’s time to move past the pieces that haven’t worked and try to replace them with ones that can get the job done.