Two days ago, Jenifer Langosch reported that the St. Louis Cardinals dealt Sam Freeman, a 27-year-old left-handed relief pitcher, to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations or a player to be named later (PTBNL). While there have been some very good PTBNL's in the past, the likelihood of one panning out to be valuable is highly unlikely, meaning general manager John Mozeliak did his best to receive something—which is a little bit better than nothing (should the team have just placed out-of-options Freeman on waivers).
Well, given the way the bullpen is currently constructed, Randy Choate is a better fit than Freeman, and this is not just because of Choate's $3 million salary for 2015. Sure, dealing a 39-year-old, one-dimensional reliever with a $3 million price tag for anything of value would be extremely difficult, even for a GM of Mozeliak's standards. The fact that Choate's value to the Cardinals is likely more significant than what it would be for most other teams makes said trade even more difficult to complete. Regardless, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Choate will be in St. Louis for the last season of his three-year, $7.5 million contract. Let's have a look at the 2015 bullpen:
|Matt Belisle||Kevin Siegrist|
|Seth Maness||Randy Choate|
|Jordan Walden||Marco Gonzales?|
Whether it is because of sample size, I am not completely sure, but in 70.1 big-league innings spanning over three seasons, left-handed batters have managed a .268/.378/.380 slash (as compared to .188/.286/.240 by righties) against Freeman. For a bullpen full of competent righties coupled with a question mark (in terms of health and performance) from the one guaranteed lefty, it is a prudent decision to have at least one pitcher dedicated to getting left-handed hitters like Anthony Rizzo, Pedro Alvarez, and Joey Votto out. As I wrote last October and Bernie Miklasz touched on a few days ago, getting lefties out is definitely a skill still possessed by Choate.
Of course, LOOGYs (i.e. Choate) have an inherent potential to lead to collateral damage, as Ben discussed in February. Mozeliak is well aware of this and undoubtedly took it into consideration when piecing together the 2015 bullpen. Belisle (.281/.345/.437 versus LHBs) and potentially Villanueva (.244/.318/.427 versus LHBs) have significant experience as starting pitchers, are capable of pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen, and have been respectable against lefties throughout their careers. Sinker-balling Maness, a starter in the minor leagues, pitched more than one inning 24 times last season. Should the Cardinals choose to send Villanueva packing and start the season with Gonzales in the bullpen, his history (and future, for that matter) as a starter shows he is more than capable of going multiple innings as well.
Thus, given the arms in the St. Louis bullpen, using Choate to face one left-handed batter at a crucial point during the game should not lead to unmanageable collateral damage. Being able to rely on Siegrist, whose stuff "plays" against lefties and righties, would be nice, but we don't really know what to expect from him just yet and there will likely be multiple situations per game where Matheny would like to go to a lefty. It would have been nice to store Freeman's left arm down in Memphis for at least the first half of the season (just in case Siegrist suffers a setback), but being out of options, the Cardinals were left with no choice. In short, it is time to appreciate Choate for what he does bring to the roster, and that is the ability to get left-handed batters out—something he did better than any other reliever last season (minimum of 20 innings pitched). There is a spot in almost any bullpen for a weapon like that.
10:07 CST AM UPDATE (change reflected in table as well):
Villanueva has made the team, Matheny confirms #cardinals— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) March 30, 2015