It’s long been understood that the top priority for the Cardinals this offseason is adding to their starting rotation, with president of baseball operations John Mozeliak himself stating that the club intends to at three starting pitchers this winter. Even as the club’s focus seems to be on bolstering the rotation, however, The Athletic’s Katie Woo indicated today that the club plans to make additions to its relief corps as well, noting that the club plans to add “at least two high-leverage arms” who can join Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos in the club’s late-inning mix.
The news isn’t necessarily surprising. Cardinals relievers posted an uninspiring 4.47 ERA across their 579 2/3 innings covered in 2023, the third-worst figure in the NL above only the Nationals and Rockies. Only the Rangers’ relief corps had a higher ERA than the Cardinals this year when looking at teams that finished the season with a winning record, and just four (Texas, Cincinnati, Miami, and Arizona) even finished in the bottom half of the league. Given St. Louis has clearly indicated a desire to return to contention as soon as next season, shoring up the club’s bullpen mix figures to be a key component of that goal.
The Cardinals have already been connected to one upcoming relief free agent: NPB left-hander Yuki Matsui, who is expected to explore signing in the majors this offseason. While fellow southpaw JoJo Romero impressed in high leverage opportunities following the trade deadline, it would certainly reasonable if the Cardinals don’t want to anoint Romero as their bullpen’s top lefty after just 36 2/3 innings of work in the majors last year, no matter how brilliant he appeared to be in flashes.
Of course, Matsui isn’t the only left-handed relief option headed for free agency this offseason. The class is led by star closer Josh Hader, who authored a sensational platform season with the Padres in 2023. Hader struck out 36.8% of batters faced this season en route to a 1.28 ERA (321 ERA+), 2.69 FIP and 33 saves in 38 chances. Other potential high-leverage left-handers set to hit the market this offseason are veteran fireballer Aroldis Chapman and journeyman Matt Moore, who’s broken out over the past two seasons to become one of the top lefty relievers in the sport during his mid-thirties.