(BaseballStL) -- I, like many Cardinals fans out there, simply shrugged when first hearing of the team’s signing of Carlos Villanueva this week. Not too many people equate his name with dominance in Major League Baseball.
It wasn’t until reading the Cards' press release that a well-kept secret about the ex-Cub came up. Villanueva’s actually a really good reliever. The 31-year old’s starting numbers are pretty bad (he had an ERA over 10 this past year in five starts for the Cubs) but his stats out of the bullpen are terrific.
I had no clue the man held opponents to a .226 batting average last season while striking out 57 batters in 58 innings of relief. His 2.64 ERA in that role is nothing to scoff at.
This is about the time of year the Cards signed Pat Neshek to a minor league deal last season and he turned out to be an All Star. Expecting the Redbirds to duplicate that (slightly fortuitous) success is silly, but let’s not sell the Cardinals history of identifying talent short. GM John Mozeliak knows what he’s doing. And he’s far more successful than not in times like this.
Before the Villanueva signing the Cards really only had four righties that projected to the big league bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle and Seth Maness were the only ones guaranteed to make the team out of spring training. Prospect Sam Tuivailala is another righty that could potentially put himself in the conversation but the Cards don’t want to force feed him a role he may not be ready for.
With Villanueva, the Cardinals have a fifth righty (this obviously is assuming the 31-year old pitches well enough in camp to warrant a spot on the club). That means, first of all, Tuivailala doesn’t HAVE to come to spring training ready to win a job. He can be earmarked for the 9th inning in Memphis and wait for an opportunity to arise in St. Louis.
This also means the Cards don’t have to go with an alignment of four right-handers and three lefties. They can have five and two, respectively. With Kevin Siegrist and unknown and Marco Gonzales maybe better off preparing to start in Memphis, this is a good thing.
They still have Randy Choate, Sam Freeman and Nick Greenwood in addition to Siegrist and Gonzales. That creates flexibility. Now the team isn’t as vulnerable should Siegrist be ineffective again. If he’s healthy and pitching well that’s great; maybe they could trade someone in that scenario.
Carlos Villanueva needs to pitch well to make all this happen. But, if he does, several others will benefit as a result.