Looking Forward: St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen Looks Promising in 2009
Well, there's a bright spot to the Cardinals being officially eliminated from the playoffs for 2008.
We get to look forward to the 2009 season. And the future certainly looks a lot more bright for the bullpen then it did in 2008.
The Redbirds bullpen was absolutely atrocious this season, leading the major leagues in losses and blown saves. Jason Isringhausen finally puttered out as the closer, Ryan Franklin fell back to earth as a setup man, and the teams two lefty specialists were both on the DL as the season ended (Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson).
But next season brings not only new salary space, but also promising new faces. Let's take a look at next year's most likely situations, without reading too far into the Cards' offseason moves.
Closer: Chris Perez
Jason Motte is more likely to stay in the setup role, as Perez has closed all his life and has been groomed for this position since the club drafted him out of Miami, Florida. He is definitely a streaky pitcher, but still converted seven saves and had a 3.66 ERA. He'll certainly get better (he'll turn 24 next July), and working with Dave Duncan will help that. A young and learning Perez is an upgrade over Izzy and Franklin were this season.
Seteup: Jason Motte
Motte has had a Joba Chamberlain-like debut. Seriously. In his first eight appearances, the converted catcher has had 12 Ks in eight innings pitched, with only one walk and no runs scored. That is nasty. But he'll inevitably get hit around if he continues to only throw his fastball. Dave Duncan needs to get on Motte fast to learn another pitch or two, but even an average complimentary pitch would make him that much more tough to hit.
Bridge (seventh inning): Josh Kinney
What a great story this guy is, coming back from Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow, after making his MLB appearance fresh out of the Independent League in 2006. Kinney apparently still has whatever magic made him successful in 2006, as he's thrown five IP this September, giving up no walks, two hits, and striking out six. He'll be reliable and fresh for the Birds, giving Russ Springer only situational roles (assuming he's back).
Middle relief: Ryan Franklin, Russ Springer
Franklin is a former starter, so maybe this is the role that he is best suited for in the last year of his contract. He can eat up innings yet is still effective. And all of Cardinal Nation knows that Springer is talented, even at age 40. I've got to believe that Mozeliak brings Russ back, as his 2.40 ERA was the best for players that pitched for the big league club all season.
Lefty specialists: Unknown
This is where Mozeliak makes or breaks this bullpen. He'll have a lot of cap space to bring in one, or probably two, guys that can actually get outs against lefthanded hitters, instead of walking them or giving up moonshots (thank you Randy Flores and Ron Villone). He'll be challenged to take "X" amount of money, and bring in two effective guys.
So obviously this new look bullpen provides hope, if nothing else. Perez, Motte, and Kinney are very good when they're on, but don't have a whole lot of experience between the three of them. So they have room to get better, but consistency could be an issue.
Even if they have their hiccups, the St. Louis Cardinals will have a better season next year, because they will have a much better bullpen. This season taught them that age had finally caught up to their late relief role players. But knowing this, John Mozeliak has the tools and money to reshape his 'pen, and you can believe he will fix the problem.
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