At the start of the off-season, St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak was clear in the goals and objectives he hoped to accomplish for his team–an impact bat and shoring up the back end of the bullpen topped that list.
The trade for Marcell Ozuna provides the impact bat desired and the signing of Luke Gregerson could be a helpful addition to the bullpen. The 33-year old right-hander recorded 31 saves for Houston in 2015. However, he’s picked up just 16 combined over the last two seasons.
So with Greg Holland still on the free agent market or Alex Colome perhaps available via trade, are the Cardinals interested in adding a proven closer to come out of the bullpen to go with their collection of pitchers who could throw in the 9th?
“At this time of the year, it’s a little bit harder for me to answer in the sense that I don’t want to get overly specific and nor do I want to name names, but I will tell you we’re pretty confident going into the season with what we have,” answered Mozeliak.
Besides Gregerson, the Cardinals saw a bit of late inning usage with Tyler Lyons last season and Alex Reyes will be returning from Tommy John surgery. What kind of option could he be?
“Both guys offer potential to finish a game…but Gregerson’s done it before and that’s helpful,” said Mozeliak. “I think bullpens are the most volatile. If you think about last year, we went into the season thinking Oh could be our closer, not knowing exactly what we were going to get out of Rosie, Oh stumbles, Rosie ends up taking over the job and then of course he gets injured. So I think what you’re trying to accomplish in the bullpen is having depth and having flexibility. I think right now we have that and I do think a wildcard in all of this is somebody like Alex Reyes and how we use him when we decide to get him moving.”
Reyes underwent Tommy John surgery last February, but may not be on the mound when the season opens.
“We talk about May because we don’t have to manage the clock,” explained Mozeliak. “In terms of innings and then come September, we’re told we can’t use him. We’re just trying to remain open-minded about this. A lot will depend on just really how he feels when he starts doing his live BPs and actually moving forward from Tommy John. I will tell you, he’s in outstanding shape. He looks great, he feels good, and I think he’s in a really good spot.”
In the case of Reyes, there is also the question of what role would be best for his arm? Making 60-70 appearances out of the bullpen for shorter stints, or longer outings but less of them as a starter?
“The easiest way to think about this is when you’re a starter it’s a more controlled environment,” said Mozeliak. “You know when you’re going to throw your side, you know when you’re going to pitch your five or six innings in a game, and you know when you can give yourself rest. When you’re in the bullpen, especially in a more robust role–7th, 8th, or 9th type guy, the usage becomes a little bit more erratic or not easy to manage or controllable. And so I think in that particular case, that can be more demanding on a young pitcher. Now it’s not to say you can’t do it, because we have. But I think in Alex’s case, we want to protect him first and foremost.”
The Cardinals also recently signed right-hander Preston Guilmet to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. The 30-year old reliever has appeared in 19 big league games, having pitched for Cleveland, Baltimore, Tampa, and Milwaukee. Guilmet spent the last two years pitching in Japan and struck out 62 hitters in 59.2 innings pitched.
“I think he’s just someone who adds real depth right now,” said Mozeliak. “The depth of what your system has and your organization has–especially in those first couple weeks of Spring Training, you’re just trying to make sure that you’re protected in all directions. We’ve never been an organization that tries to bring in 80-85 players into camp. We try to keep that number right around 60. We want it to be manageable for the staff, we want everybody that’s there to have a purpose for being there, so when you look at our invites, our invites are very intentional on what we want to see them do.”
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