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Will the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen feature Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, or the field?

The St. Louis Cardinals have a number of options at the back of a very solid-looking bullpen.


The St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen is more solid-looking going into the 2013 season than it has been in years. Granted: Part of it's the nickname. Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Edward Mujica are fine right-handed relievers in their own right, but as MuBogMot they're a coherent, reptilian whole. And you don't get a lot of coherent wholes in a bullpen, particularly two years running.

Add in Choateczynski—left-handed chimera name pending—and you're nearly all the way through the Opening Day bullpen. A 12-man staff leaves you with two spots, to be divvied among Fernando Salas and/or two classes of minor league pitchers.

Relief lifers

The relief lifers have mostly seen better days. Maikel Cleto, after pitching well-enough in the rotation to confuse all the people who assumed he'd be a reliever, struggled last year upon his conversion to relief. His peripherals were pretty good, so I expect better in 2013, but in general it's not a great time to be Maikel Cleto—everybody's co-opted his hard-throwing schtick.

Meanwhile: Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez was a mess last year, enough of a mess to serve as our annual reminder that relievers will break your heart and are not to be trusted, not even when their slider is death.

There's also Victor Marte, if you insist.

Starting prospects

Shelby Miller's likely ascension to the rotation clears the top layer of glut from this class, but there's still plenty there. Of all the non-vets Joe Kelly seems like the perfect bullpen fit: He's a long relief option, he throws extremely hard anyway, and there's lingering suspicion that he's actually a relief prospect, and a very good one.

Assuming the left-handers stay put—sorry Tyler Lyons and John Gast—and assuming there are no enormous shocks in Spring Training—sorry Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha—that really just leaves Trevor Rosenthal. It is not an aggressive valuation to suggest he might be among the Cardinals' seven best relief pitchers, but if the bullpen fills out as I've suggested it will here, with Salas and Kelly, he won't have a spot.

Which is by design. Rosenthal is the Adam Wainwright question played out all over again, only he's a better reliever and a less-proven starter: If you put him in the bullpen in 2013, I'm not sure you're getting him out again. And for me, 2013 is too early to make that call.

It's tough to decide to make the team worse for the sake of one player; it feels just a little too cute. But it happens every year, and if Rosenthal is to Cleto as Oscar Taveras is to Shane Robinson I think it's a risk worth taking, for a few months' middle innings.