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Looking for relief from Jordan Walden in 2016

Any production from Jordan Walden in 2016 will be welcome and stabilizing to a relief core that's already stable.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Live in each season as it passes. - by Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)

Remember last offseason when because of injury history Jaime Garcia was assumed to be, quite literally, a nonstarter?  Mike Matheny went so far as to refer to him as "oh, and," as in, "The Cardinals have a lot of strong starting pitchers, oh and let's not forget there's Jaime Garcia."  Any production from Garcia was to be looked at in 2015 as an unexpected bonus.  And though Garcia started off the season on the DL with issues with his throwing arm, he wound up being an essential part of the Cardinals' success.

Jordan Walden has assumed the "oh, and" mantle for the Cardinals in 2016.  The remaining piece in the Jason Heyward / Shelby Miller swap only surrendered one run in just over ten innings pitched in relief in 2015 before being shelved in late April with bicep inflammation.  He then missed the rest the season with damage to the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.  It was Walden's fourth trip to the DL in as many years.   He was relegated to an afterthought which continued into this offseason by the signing of fellow righty Jonathan Broxton to two more years and by the Cardinals wading into the international market last month to scoop up Seung-Hwan Oh.

VEB's own Joe Schwarz's tweet at the time of the Oh signing summed up what seemed to be the Cardinals' thought process:

But unexpected optimism regarding Walden may have arrived late last week when beat reporter Jenifer Langosch had this to say when asked about his status:

The reports the Cardinals have received on Walden have all been positive, and the expectation is that he'll be on the same pitching program as all other relievers this spring. But there remains an element of uncertainty about whether his shoulder can remain sound for a full season. The Cardinals have acknowledged as much, and that's what led them to sign a pair of veteran relievers -- Jonathan Broxton and Seung-Hwan Oh - this winter. The club felt it needed the additional coverage. Read into that as you wish.

There's not a whole lot to take from that quote other than the fact that Walden isn't out of commission right now, which, don't get me wrong, is certainly welcoming news.  If Walden can shoulder a fair share of relief innings this year, the Cardinals might be able to avoid a repeat of 2015 when Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist made entirely too many appearances.  And if the Cardinals are even luckier, he'll be the same electric righty whose fastball, as noted by the just-released Baseball Prospectus 2016 Annual, routinely hit in the mid-90s and complimented his slider quite nicely.  However, Langosch seemed to reinforce Joe's point that the Cardinals signed Broxton and Oh partly because they weren't 100% confident that Walden could withstand an entire season.

I follow the line of thinking that it's best to not fret too much about a bullpen and allow it to just sort of come together, which is why I'm glad the Cardinals never seem interested in giving up serious assets when a Craig Kimbrel-type hits the market.  Of course, that's an easier road to take when you already have one of the best bullpens (and closers) in baseball as the Cardinals relief core in 2015 was good for 485 innings to the tune of a 2.82 ERA, which was third in all of baseball.  Still, the Broxton and Oh signings seem like worthwhile moves.  While it's hard to envision a scenario where Walden's production in 2016 is anywhere near as vital as Garcia's was in 2015, it might be wise to treat any appearance from him as the same unexpected bonus since the Cardinals already have what are hopefully plenty of serviceable options in the pen.