Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Inbox: Bullpen or bats: What is Cards' priority?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers questions from St. Louis fans
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

With Major League Baseball's postseason inching closer to conclusion, the Hot Stove season is quickly approaching. The Cardinals continue to survey potential targets while building their offseason blueprint. As that work continues, let's take a look at another series of topics on your mind in this week's Inbox.

I am a little frustrated with all the talk of adding an impact bat. It is not hard to see that the Cardinals, who had so many late-inning losses, would have made the playoffs with a better bullpen and lock-down closer like the Yankees or Dodgers have. It would seem a better investment to concentrate on that first. (Greg Holland, maybe?) What do you think?
-- Laurence C., Overland Park, Kan.

With Major League Baseball's postseason inching closer to conclusion, the Hot Stove season is quickly approaching. The Cardinals continue to survey potential targets while building their offseason blueprint. As that work continues, let's take a look at another series of topics on your mind in this week's Inbox.

I am a little frustrated with all the talk of adding an impact bat. It is not hard to see that the Cardinals, who had so many late-inning losses, would have made the playoffs with a better bullpen and lock-down closer like the Yankees or Dodgers have. It would seem a better investment to concentrate on that first. (Greg Holland, maybe?) What do you think?
-- Laurence C., Overland Park, Kan.

In this case, it's OK to be greedy. An honest assessment of the Cardinals' roster would indicate that this club needs both. Yes, the bullpen was an issue. The Cardinals lost five games in which they led after the eighth inning and finished 3-12 in games tied through seven. Seung Hwan Oh's inability to replicate his rookie-season success and Trevor Rosenthal's season-ending injury complicated things immensely.

:: Submit a question to the Cardinals Inbox ::

But the Cardinals' offense had its shortcomings, too. The team ranked 27th in the Majors with a .425 slugging percentage from the lineup's three-hole and 19th with its .444 slugging percentage from the cleanup spot. In other words, this club lacked the sort of feared, middle-of-the order presence it once had with the likes of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.

While I tend to agree that the impact bat should take slight priority over the bullpen rebuild, they are truly 1A and 1B needs. This postseason has reminded everyone how crucial reliable late-inning relief is, but don't overlook the fact that each of the teams playing in League Championship Series has at least one impact bat in the middle of its order.

Video: MIL@STL: Martinez crushes a two-run shot to left

What do you see the Cardinals doing with Jose Martinez? His offensive production over two-thirds of a season suggests that he should be the everyday first baseman.
-- Rob L., Columbus, Ohio

If the Cardinals were to enter 2018 with the same group of position players they had to finish '17, yes, Martinez would have a strong case to return as the starting first baseman. But the Cardinals are intent on building a more prolific offense this winter, and that will bring in added competition.

The flexibility of their returning players gives the Cardinals the chance to pursue a middle-of-the-order hitter who plays just about anywhere on the field. Adding a first baseman, third baseman or outfielder probably makes the most sense, and doing so would result in others shuffling positions. That could squeeze Martinez out of a starting spot.

In my opinion, the Cardinals will be a better team if they come into next season projecting Martinez as a bench player. That means they would have added position-player talent instead of remaining mostly status quo. Martinez, of course, could always earn back starts with another year of strong production.

Video: STL@CHC: Wainwright allows two runs in 7 2/3 innings

No one appreciates Adam Wainwright more than me, but I see no way he fits into the starting rotation. Age and durability are huge issues. Would he go to the bullpen if asked? The game has changed and talent in the bullpen is obviously more important than it used to be. I can see him being very effective in either long or short relief.
-- Jack T., Baton Rouge, La.

If asked, Wainwright would probably do just about anything. However, he has made it clear that he intends to return as a starter next season. The Cardinals already have issues with their starting pitching depth when you consider that Mike Leake is in Seattle and Lance Lynn is likely to be elsewhere next year, too. Take Wainwright out of the rotation and the Cardinals would have only two starters (Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez) who have pitched a full Major League season before.

Every indication is that Wainwright, who will be in the final year of his contract, will enter spring slotted in to start. His health and performance will dictate whether he sticks there all season, meaning that any move to the bullpen would come as a fallback option.

Video: STL@PIT: Lyons K's Stallings to strike out the side

What is the plan for Tyler Lyons for 2018? I think he could be an Andrew Miller type, pitching multiple innings if needed.
-- Don V., California

Lyons has long brought the Cardinals great flexibility, and this year was no different. But this year Lyons also pitched himself into a late-inning role. While the Cardinals intend to add back-of-the-bullpen relievers this offseason, I expect Lyons to remain a late-inning option again in 2018.

The Miller model is an interesting one, and Lyons' starting experience would suggest that he could handle multiple-inning assignments as needed. To maximize his ability, though, such long-relief appearances should still come in high-leverage spots, not in games already out of hand.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals