The baseball week will be dominated by the annual Winter Meetings, which bring together a marriage of front offices, agents, players and media types that usually is the base of operations for player movement and acquisitions for the year. However, unlike any other year, teams have been active in addressing their needs very early, with many clubs having already addressed the majority of their major needs.
Among the top tier of teams, the Cardinals have perhaps most comprehensively addressed their major needs already. John Mozeliak has stated in multiple ways in the last month that he feels the team is nearly in Opening Day shape as is. However, is there more that they could stand to do to be ready for the spring? And would walking away from Orlando with a new Cardinal be in the best interest of security for the year to come?
The additions of Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos decisively addressed the club’s clearest everyday issues, and subsequently provided depth via the parts in place as well. Also, the team elected to not resign any of its free agents, instead replacing them with the new additions and promotions within. When the decision to not tender John Axford a contract was made last week, Mozeliak stated that he did not anticipate the club adding another reliever, and that he “did not see where one would fit”.
This places the emphasis of the club’s pitching depth onto the internal options that guided it last year, which is a solid logic, and with the excess of starting options (which currently sits at a robust eight for the five man rotation), it is also one that is made from necessity. However, if last year proved anything, it is that the best laid plans can often not come to fruition as intended. The early season loss of Jason Motte rocked the balance of the bullpen, and steadying it took the better part of a quarter of the season. The team was fortunate in that so many of its minor league arms were ready to contribute immediately and in high leverage situations.
Yet, can lightning strike twice there? If there is any regression in year two, would having another veteran option could provide a smart investment. The return of Motte is seemingly assured from a calendar respect; however what his immediate effectiveness will be an unknown quantity. Likewise, despite a promising October run in the setup role, can Carlos Martinez maintain that throughout a full-year? And if he performs at a level that earns him a place in the starting rotation, what then? There could be an immediate need at the back end of the bullpen that does not have a clear answer, especially with the promotion of Trevor Rosenthal out of the eighth inning, where he had 29 holds in 2013, and into the closer role full time.
The great strength of the Cardinal organization is its young pitching depth. But there is still a place for a known quantity within the mix as well, similar to what Randy Choate represented a year ago. And with the free agent swap meet of the upcoming week pending, there could be plethora of mid-to-late game bullpen options that could provide that needed security in an exact role. Veterans in the mold of Matt Albers, Brandon Lyons or even Carlos Marmol represent likely low cost/short term security options that can come to Spring Training and to see where they could fit into the ever-evolving pitching scene. If they fit, they provide that needed backup, but if they don’t, the cutting the team’s losses is not a detrimental problem either.
At this point, the club is in finishing touches mode, which is encouraging. However, resting too exclusively on the laurels of a talented mix that still has more to prove exclusively could be questionable approach to take for a season where the next step for the franchise is so clearly defined.