In the midst of a 3-10 slide, the Cardinals have begun to feel the heat. It’s being reflected now by an aggressive rebuild of the bullpen.
After Miguel Socolovich was designated for assignment by the Cardinals last week, the team announced another roster move Wednesday–one that signals the departure of Jonathan Broxton. John Mozeliak confirmed that the Cardinals have released the 32-year-old Broxton, who had struggled this season to the tune of a 6.89 ERA and 2.17 WHIP.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for Broxton’s tenure with the club appears to have come Tuesday night. In a 9-4 loss to the Dodgers, Broxton turned a three-run deficit into a five-run drubbing, allowing two runs and five base runners in an inning of work. It was the fifth time this season that Broxton had surrendered multiple earned runs in an outing.
"I sit here a couple times a week with you guys, and we talk about performance and the ability to do what you're supposed to do," Mozeliak said. "Unfortunately, it just wasn't working."
After being traded to St. Louis during the summer of 2015, Broxton signed a two-year $7.5 million contract before the 2016 season. The Cardinals remain on the hook for the remainder of his $3.75 million salary for 2017, but their recent difficulties on the field have forced them to prioritize performance above the implications on payroll.
"The other part of this move is to also create some flexibility for that bullpen," Mozeliak continued. "When you had guys signed to multi-year contracts, guys with no options, the flexibility in what we were trying to accomplish was very difficult. Now all of a sudden, we've changed the look of the bullpen. But most importantly, it's got to be effective. We'll see how these younger guys do, with their opportunity, what they can do with it."
The next 'younger guy' to receive that opportunity is John Gant, who will join the club Wednesday night in a corresponding move. The 24-year-old right-hander came over to the Cardinals in the Jaime Garcia trade, and was close to making the Cardinals big league roster out of spring camp before he was placed on the DL with a groin injury just before the start of the regular season.
After returning from the injury, Gant thrived in 12.1 innings for the Memphis Redbirds, posting a 2.19 ERA in Class-AAA. Mozeliak mentioned Gant would likely be used as a long reliever, which could shift Tyler Lyons into a more prominent role for the Cardinals in leverage situations.
With Broxton gone–coupled with the designation of Socolovich last week–the Cardinals essentially now have three spots in their bullpen that could conceivably rotate freely based on performance; Matt Bowman, John Brebbia, and now John Gant, will need to pitch well to keep their spots as each could be sent back to the minor leagues with no further implications to their status with the organization.
"You can see a much more open I-55 corridor now than obviously we could have in the month of April," Mozeliak said. The ability to shuffle relievers back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis is something Mozeliak says he prefers, but when the bullpen is clogged up by players out of minor league options, those shuffles become difficult to enact.
"Clearly I sort of boxed ourselves in this offseason, but now we kind of have that."
Mozeliak recognizes the roster as it stood in the spring did not exhibit much flexibility; with Wednesday's move, he took another step toward rectifying that problem. Now, it's up to the players that remain to group together and dig out of their latest slump.