Cards continuing search for bullpen upgrades

Agreement with Gregerson just a start to revamp of relief staff

December 14th, 2017

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though the Cardinals made their two-year agreement with veteran reliever Luke Gregerson official on Wednesday, the team's efforts to bolster its bullpen haven't ended.

Losing , , and Zach Duke to free agency left what was already a flawed bullpen from 2017 in further limbo. Most glaring was the ninth-inning void.

Gregerson has closing experience, but the Cardinals aren't ready to commit to making him a closer just yet. Other pursuits continue. Those include considering free-agent , who saved 32 games for the Cubs last season.

"Historically, it's not been something I've liked to do," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said of wading into the free-agent closer market. "But clearly when you look at last year, the one-run games [lost], we definitely feel we need to ramp up the bullpen. So we're going to try."

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If the Cards prefer to deal for ninth-inning help, they could still be a match with the Rays, who have dangled closer Alex Colome.

It's experience they're seeking.

"We have our eyes and ears open," manager Mike Matheny said. "You're not seeing winning teams at the end of the season that don't have a legitimate back end of their bullpen, and that's guys who have been there, done that and have had some prolonged success in that position."

One option now off the table is Nicasio, who finished his 2017 season as the Cardinals' closer. On Wednesday, Nicasio agreed to terms on a two-year agreement with the Mariners.

Shifting roles

A year after prioritizing both positional and lineup stability, the Cardinals are prepared to enter Spring Training with some roles still unsettled. And that's by design.

The Cardinals have yet to commit to a position for Matt Carpenter, who has spent seasons at first, second and third base during his time in St. Louis. He's preparing to play any of the three again, and there's a likelihood that he'll bounce around defensively during the season.

Moving him between first and third, for instance, would create opportunities for both and .

"The good news is we have a lot of players who can play [multiple] places," Mozeliak said. "It's a dramatic shift in how we're thinking. But you look at what we have and how they want to be used and how they want to play, and I think [players] are going to welcome that."

Also yet to be determined is how the Cardinals arrange things at the top of the order. They return two leadoff-type hitters in Carpenter and , both of whom have stated their preference to hit from that top spot. Fowler started there last season. Carpenter took over in June.

A decision on where the two will hit in 2018 will likely be determined after further conversations with both.

"We have to navigate that and decide what makes us look best," Mozeliak said. "But the nice thing is we have two guys who have great on-base [percentages]. I don't think it's a [spring] competition. I think we'll go with who can do best at X and who can do best at Y."

Staff surprises

After several years of having Willie McGee decline his invitation to join the Major League coaching staff, Matheny acknowledged that it was a surprise this October to find out that the time was finally right for the former Cards outfielder to take the plunge.

"I knew where Willie's kids were, and a lot of times, it's just whether or not the family structure sees it as a viable option," Matheny said. "He shocked me when he said that he had already spoken with his family, and they believe it's time. We're going to be better for it."

McGee joined the staff under the title of Major League coach, and his job duties will be numerous. Matheny intends to use McGee's expertise to assist in baserunning and outfield defense, as well as to have him work with hitters.

"I just believe he's going to be a priceless tool to us," Matheny said.