Going into the 2022 season, the St. Louis Cardinals had a clear agenda of adding pitching. To start off the winter, the Cardinals signed left handed pitcher Steven Matz to fill a starting rotation spot in the back end for their "big move" of the offseason. The ball club resigned LHP TJ McFarland, after a successful stint in 2021 with the club, a ground ball pitcher who fit with the identity of the team. The team let Luis Garcia walk, another midseason find in 2021 who had a stellar campaign with a 3.24 ERA in 34 regular season games. After the lockout ended, the Cardinals lost Kwang Hyun Kim back to the KBO and proceeded to take some flyers on forgotten bullpen arms. The team signed two former big leaguers who had been building their value overseas in Aaron Brooks and Drew VerHagen, who the team hoped would be as productive as former free agent signings in Kim, Miles Mikolas, and former Cardinals reliever SeungHwan Oh. The team also added Nick Wittgren in free agency. Unfortunately for St. Louis, none of these free agent signings have worked out for the big leage club. Brooks is no longer on the 40 man roster, Matz has dealt with a shoulder injury that his kept him out a month, and VerHagen, McFarland, and Wittgren have posted ERAs above 5:00 so far in their 2022 campaigns. With the trade deadline only six weeks away, here are some potential relievers that President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak could look into acquiring to set the Cardinals up for a deep postseason run.
1. Lou Trivino - Oakland Athletics
The Athletics started their selling in the 2021 offseason, when they shipped franchise cornerstones Matt Olson and Matt Chapman off of their roster, so there is no doubt that they will be sellers in the 2022 season. Oakland's prized possesion of the deadline is starting pitcher Frankie Montas, who the Cardinals will likely be connected to, but Trivino represents an intriguing low cost option. When you click on Trivino's baseball reference page, the eye popping 8.66 ERA stands out like a traffic cone, but this does not paint the clearest picture. Trivino has allowed a ludicrous 13.2 Hits per nine innings this season, nearly six points above his career average, but still maintains the high strikeout, high walk profile with a career high 14.3 K/9 and a 4.6 BB/9. Trivino's FIP is only 3.13, which displays the unfortunate outcomes that he has had to endure under Oakland's poor defense after trading off gold glovers in Olson and Chapman. The Cardinals could certainly put together a better defense behind him, with gold glovers in Arenado, Goldschmidt, Edman, Bader, and O'Neill who could take away hits and help Trivino's cause. Overall, Trivino represents a potential buy low opportunity that could help the Cardinals in 2022 and in the future, as he is under team control until 2024.
2. Steve Cishek - Washington Nationals
The Cardinals have some familiarity with Cishek, as they acquired the reliever in 2015 from the Miami Marlins. As a thirteen year veteran, the Cardinals know what they are going to get with Cishek, a sidearm reliever who relies on throwing his sinker, relying on a high ground ball profile. Cishek is hovering right around league average this season in ground ball rate at 43%, but has been well above league average for the majority of his career. Cishek does not provide the potential upside of a younger arm like Trivino, but represents a low risk profile that could entice the Cardinals to make a cheaper deal. The likely cost of Cishek would be a low level prospect and cash considerations, making this a cheaper potential avenue to upgrade the bullpen in 2022.
3. Daniel Bard - Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies are always searching for pitching, but it would make sense that they trade Bard, a reclamation project that they took a chance on in 2020 that has delivered in 2022 and a free agent at the end of the season. As the closer of the team, Bard has collected 14 saves, is only allowing 4.6 H/9, and has a high strikeout profile with 11.5 K/9. At 37 years old, Bard is a pure rental, which could incentivize the Rockies to trade him if they could acquire a pitching prospect with some upside in return. Bard has shown the ability to be a high leverage reliever so far in 2022, which could help the Cardinals in the postseason if Giovanny Gallegos or Ryan Helsley were needed to go multiple innings in a game, leading to Bard being responsible with spot closing duties. Per MLB.com, 14 of the Cardinals top 30 prospects are pitchers, which could entice the Rockies into making the Cardinals a potential trade partner.
4. Michael Fulmer - Detroit Tigers
After the 2017 season, the future was bright for Michael Fulmer. A year after capturing the rookie of the year award in 2016, he made the all star team a year later. Unfortunately for Fulmer, for the next three seasons he struggled with injuries, including Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2019 season. As a result, Fulmer has reinvented himself as a reliever and has quietly posted great numbers with a 2.76 ERA and a 3.34 FIP in 94.2 innings. Fulmer is another expiring contract, but is only 29 years old, who could command something similar to Kendall Graveman's 3 year, 24 million dollar deal with the White Sox in the offseason, a reasonable number for the Cardinals to pay with money coming off of the books.
5. Cionel Perez - Baltimore Orioles
As the roster is currently constructed, Genesis Cabrera is the only left handed pitcher that can be trusted to get big left handed hitters out during the postseason. The National League features some of the game's best lefties, including Dodgers 1B Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B Matt Olson, and Phillies OF/DH Bryce Harper. Perez is a pitcher that should stay away from right handed batters, but can represent a challenge against lefties, as their 2022 slash line against Perez is 222/333/222, a slash line well below league average. Perez is similar to Cishek, a player with a lower floor but a lower cost, but could help the Cardinals out immensely as they search for a second reliable left handed pitcher out of the bullpen on the 2022 roster.
Now, I ask the fans of the ball club. Which reliever would you want to acquire the most? Are there any red flags that would make you want to stay away from any of these players? Would you rather ride it out with the current group and hope for better production from VerHagen, Wittgren, and McFarland? Leave a comment below, I am curious to hear your thoughts!