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How has the St. Louis Cardinals' trade of Shelby Miller impacted the 2015 bullpen?

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The ripple effects of the Cardinals' big trade will be felt from right field to the bench to the rotation to the bullpen.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Monday, I took a look at the state of the St. Louis Cardinals 40-man roster after the trade of Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves in exchange for Jayson Heyward and Jordan Walden, the signings of Dean Anna and Ty Kelly, the additions of St. Louis farmhands Ed Easley and Cody Stanley, and the release of Shane Robinson. The 37-man roster (with three empty spots) provides a backdrop for the December 2 deadline (at 11:59 p.m. ET; I wrote December 3 in the post) by which MLB clubs must decide whether to tender arbitration-eligible players contracts for 2015. In putting the chart together, the current pool of pitchers that will make up the St. Louis opening day bullpen stuck out.

There are presently five lefty candidates for the bullpen:

  1. Randy Choate
  2. Kevin Siegrist
  3. Sam Freeman
  4. Marco Gonzales
  5. Tyler Lyons
  6. Nick Greenwood

The Cardinals have six righthanders who are candidates to open 2015 as relievers:

  1. Trevor Rosenthal
  2. Jordan Walden
  3. Seth Maness
  4. Sam Tuivailala
  5. Carlos Martinez

Not all of these pitchers are relievers through and through. Some have been developed as starters and project as rotation members, but might nonetheless be assigned relief duty for 2015 (and perhaps beyond). Shortly after the end of the 2015 season, general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny indicated that, for 2015, the plan was to use Martinez and Gonzales in relief. As RB noted on Saturday, things have changed with the trade of Miller.

Carlos Martinez vs. Marco Gonzales

The new plan, as articulated by Mozeliak, is to have Martinez and Gonzales compete in spring training for the fifth rotation spot. Joe analyzed the forthcoming spring-training competition on Tuesday. Martinez or Gonzales will be the rotation's fifth member and it appears most likely that Lyons will, at the outset of the 2015 season, fill the emergency No. 6 starter slot in Memphis, a role he occupied last year when the club broke camp. While it's possible the sixth-starter derby's loser could be sent to Memphis to work as a starter and fill the role as the sixth starter, supplanting Lyons, the runner-up will probably go to the big-league bullpen. It would be strange for the Cards to earmark after the NLCS both Martinez and Gonzales for relief and then not use the one who isn't a member of the opening-day rotation in the big-league bullpen. So we'll operate under the presumption that Martinez vs. Gonzales is an either-or proposition for the bullpen as well as the rotation.

The Port Side

If Martinez wins a starting job, Gonzales will be another lefthanded relief possibility for the Cardinals in addition to the handful of portsiders from which Matheny will choose two (or perhaps three) for the pen. Presumably, Gonzales would step into the role he filled last October: first lefty out of the pen. This would be in line with how Matheny deployed Martinez a year ago; the manager used the young righty as a late-innings setup in early 2014 just as he did during the 2013 postseason. Which other lefty or lefties might the St. Louis bullpen have?

Kevin Siegrist

If healthy, Siegrist is an obvious choice due to his ability to retire lefthanded and righthanded batsmen alike. But that's a big if. Siegrist was plagued by health issues in 2014 that included, per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch, a nerve issue in his forearm as well as, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, muscle tears in his hand and inflammation in his forearm that kept him off any of the Cardinals' postseason series rosters. As is necessarily the case, the details regarding Siegrist's forearm problems are fuzzy. At this point, it's overly optimistic to count on the hard-throwing lefty to be (1) healthy, and (2) as effective as his 2013 xFIP indicated he was. (I use xFIP because I think we can all agree that Siegrist's 0.45 ERA in 2013 is unrepeatable, as it was propped up by a very low home run rate and BABIP). Nonetheless, if Siegrist is healthy and this cures some of the downturn in his 2014 effectiveness in terms of run prevention, he's a valuable bullpenner.

Randy Choate

After Matheny's rookie season as a professional baseball manager, the Cardinals decided to target a reliever that specialized in retiring lefthanded batters. St. Louis targeted and signed sidewinder Randy Choate because, according to Langosch at MLB.com, he best fit what the Cards were seeking in a southpaw reliever. Fast-forward two years and the Cardinals are apparently shopping Choate because his one-deminsionality "makes him difficult to use, particularly during a long season," in the words of Mozeliak as reported by Goold at the Post-Dispatch. So it appears that Matheny is the anti-Tony La Russa at least in the way he views specialist relievers—doing so is difficult for Matheny over a 162-game season, so the Cardinals no longer want one of their seven relievers to be so narrow in skill set.

Choate is entering the third and final year of his contract—the longest deal to which Mozeliak has ever signed a reliever—and will earn a $3 million salary that, depending on how the arbitration process works out with Jordan Walden and any yet-to-be-made free agent signing(s), might make Choate the Cards' highest-paid reliever in 2015. Of course, that is dependent on the Cardinals not trading the LOOGY. If Choate is still on the Cardinals come March, he seems a sure bet to make the bullpen despite Matheny finding him difficult to deploy.

Sam Freeman

Sam Freeman has the combination of fastball and split-change so often possessed by lefty starters but is a reliever because he lacks the control to have moved up the organizational ladder as a starter. According to the indispensable Brooks Baseball, last year with St. Louis, Freeman tossed his fourseamer 46.6% of the time; his split-change, 21.39%; his sinker, 21.14%; and his slider, 10.86%. Freeman posted a 2.61 ERA, 3.79 FIP, and 3.92 xFIP. After he walked a couple Dodgers in NLDS Game 1 and Gonzales pitched well, Matheny did not call on Freeman to pitch again in the NLDS and the Cards replaced him on the NLCS roster with A.J. PIerzynski. Gonzales had supplanted Freeman in Matheny's lefty-relief hierarchy. If Gonzales is in the 2015 pen, there's no reason to expect Matheny's preferences to change, which would put Freeman fourth on the lefty reliever depth chart and relegated to Memphis to open the season, to be recalled in the event of volatile ineffectiveness or injury.

Nick Greenwood

Greenwood is not very good at pitching. Greenwood has never tossed more than 23 or more innings at a stop in the minors and struck out more than 20.0% of opposing batsmen. His highest K/9 (if you're into that kind of thing) is 7.11, which he posted in 2009 with the Padres' low-A affiliate. Greenwood hasn't even shown a skill for striking batters out. He also doesn't walk a lot of batters, but his walk rates haven't been on par with Maness. Greenwood's K% was low; his BB% was low; his LOB% was low; his home-run rate was high; his BABIP was low. Over 36 innings, this equaled a sub-replacement level pitcher for St. Louis. With his 4.75 ERA, 4.49 FIP, and 3.65 xFIP, there's little reason to expect Greenwood to be much better than replacement level in 2015, which is something less than ideal from a pitcher that, as of right now, appears likely to be in the opening-day bullpen.

The Starboard Side

(I don't think I've ever seen a righthander referred to as a starboarder, but if lefties are portsiders then it's axiomatic that righties are starboarders.)

With Martinez in the rotation, the Cardinals' righthanded relief options currently go five deep. If Gonzales edges Martinez out for a starting job, the Cards will have six righties from which to choose four or five for the relief corps.

Trevor Rosenthal

The ship has sailed on Rosenthal starting. Whatever hope there was that, someday, Rosenthal would join the rotation has been snuffed out by the closer's 2014 season. Despite throwing an above-average share of his pitches in the strike zone, a percentage that was also on par with his career rate, Rosnethal's walk rate more than doubled, going from 6.4% in 2013 to 13.6% last year. (For those who have yet to accept that BB% is better than BB/9, Rosenthal's BB/9 went from 2.39 to 5.37.) With Rosenthal's problems repeating his mechanics now manifested in a sky-high walk rate, there is no chance he will start as a Cardinal. Further, Rosenthal is now a Proven Closer, which means he will close out games for St. Louis until he implodes or Matheny's over-usage of him results in arm surgery.

Jordan Walden

The inclusion of Walden in the Heyward trade was most Mozeliakian. In addition to a starting right fielder, the Cards got a proven late-inning reliever that is under team control for two more seasons. The addition of Walden allows St. Louis to slide Walden into the eighth-inning setup role left vacant by departing free agent Pat Neshek and move Martinez either to the rotation or a lower leverage role. His career 28.6% strikeout rate is tailoremade for the late innings while his 10.8% walk rate (13.2% in 2014) appears poised to give Cardinals fans some eighth innings that cause as much heartburn as some of Rosenthal's ninths in 2014.

Seth Maness

Maness doesn't strike anyone out, but he also doesn't walk anyone. He has a healthy groundball rate thanks to his bread-and-butter sinker, which also helps him to suppress homers. Maness's 3.40 FIP, 3.16 xFIP, and 2.79 SIERA indicate that his 2.66 career ERA appears likely to continue its regression upwards. Even with an ERA in the higher 2.00's or low 3.00's, though, Maness is a very nice reliever to have.

Sam Tuivailala

Here are Tuivailala's games played during his professional career by position:

  • Third base: 43
  • Shortstop: 24
  • Outfield: 17
  • First base: 1
  • Pitcher: 87

Tuivailala was drafted as an infielder, but has hit just .220/.332/.306 as a pro. Because of his strong arm, the Cardinals moved Tuivailala to pitcher. In 2012, at the age of 19, he logged 13 innings with Johnson City in the rookie Appalachian League, striking out 23 and walking 13. In 2013, he K'd 50 and walked 20 in 35 1/3 Low-A innings with Peoria. Last year, Tuivailala threw at four levels in the organization: 37 2/3 with High-A Palm Beach; 21 innings for Springfield in Double-A, 1 1/3 innings with Triple-A Memphis; and one inning in St. Louis. For those who witnesses his lone inning of work with the Cardinals, his rawness was evident. This is a player still working on becoming a pitcher—specifically, repeating his mechanics. Nonetheless, his dynamite fastball and, at times, nasty curve are an intriguing combination. If Tuivailala can develop the muscle memory and comfort level to consistently repeat his delivery, he could be a top-flight reliever. He could use time to further develop in Triple-A, at least to start the year, but appears likely to get every opportunity to make the opening day St. Louis bullpen, given the current composition of the 40-man.

Free Agents and/or Non-Roster Invites

If we assume the Cardinals tender 2015 contracts to each of their arbitration-eligible players, the club has 37 men on its 40-man roster. This means there are three open slots. The Cards will issue non-roster invitations to MLB spring training camp to several minor-league pitchers. It also seems probable that St. Louis will sign a free agent reliever or two. Whether the Cards ink a reliever to a big-league contract or try and find lightning in a bottle again like they did when they signed Neshek to a minor-league contract last winter with an invitation to major-league camp in spring training remains to be seen. It seems unlikely that the Cards' opening-day bullpen will be composed entirely of players from this list.

Correction: This post incorrectly listed Greenwood as a righty. Making the mistake all the worse is the fact that the other witnessed Greenwood pitch multiple times in person last season (in addition to seeing him pitch on television).