The St. Louis Cardinals need a placeholder in their major-league bullpen until righthander Jason Motte comes all the way back from the season-ending Tommy John surgery he underwent last May. And the options currently on the table are far from inspiring. The Redbirds will choose from a righty who has great stuff but no command (Jorge Rondon), one with pretty good stuffy and not so great command, another with excellent command and lackluster stuff, and a veteran who has posted a career K/9 over 4.00 over 300+ innings.
The Cards' current predicament really began this offseason. The club understandably let Edward Mujica sign with Boston on a multi-year deal. But then St. Louis did not tender righthander John Axford, who was eligible for arbitration, and allowed him to sign with the Indians. Later during the Hot Stove, general manager John Mozeliak added relief depth by signing sidewinding righty Pat Neshek to a minor-league deal with a non-roster invitation to MLB camp in Jupiter.
Entering spring training, the Cardinals had seven pitchers vying for the rotation and ten for the pen. But Jaime Garcia experienced a shoulder setback and the Cards found themselves needing two righthanders for a spell (on top of the loser of the Joe Kelly-Carlos Martinez No. 5 starter competition). Neshek has received positive reviews from camp's beginning and the club outrighted Angel Castro off the 40-man to clear a roster space, presumably for him. That leaves one more bullpen spot to be filled with Motte sidelined.
On the day the club announced it was shutting down Garcia, it promoted righthanders Boone Whiting and Kurt Heyer to big-league camp. This was an indication that the pitchers then in big-league camp who were candidates to fill a job in pen were perhaps underwhelming—primarily 40-man roster members Jorge Rondon and Keith Butler, who were presumably frontrunners given their roster status. Neither Whiting nor Heyer impressed enough to avoid being ultimately reassigned back to minor-league camp.
When the tide was receding from big-league camp and carrying minor-leaguers of the non-roster and 40-man variety back to the minors, St. Louis gave another indication that the organization's internal would-be bullpenners were not impressing the MLB coaching staff. The club promoted righty Scott McGregor to major-league camp. And he's been there ever since.
The Cardinals again signaled discontent with their relief options this week by inking veteran righty David Aardsma to a minor-league contract. The David Aardsma with a career ERA of 4.23, fueled by a 12.6 BB%. Aardsma is a veteran, sure, but one who has proven over 300+ career innings that he is the embodiment of everything that is troublesome about Rondon and, to a lesser extent, Butler. Aardsma is a candidate to fill the final St. Louis relief spot only because the other candidates are Rondon, Butler, and McGregor.
Now the Cardinals have one exhibition game in Memphis to choose between their unpalatable righthanded relief options. It appears likely the chosen one will give Cardinals fans heartburn no matter what. But Cards fans can take some solace in the news that Motte is throwing to live batters in Jupiter, his return to game-readiness seemingly on the intermediate horizon of late April or early May. Perhaps the undesirable final bullpenner won't be around long enough to see much action.