John Mozeliak spoke to the assembled media at the 2018 Winter Warm Up Saturday morning. Here are some of the most interesting notes from the session:
Who’s the closer?
A major topic of interest for fans this offseason has revolved around how the Cardinals would address the bullpen heading into 2018. With the departures of Trevor Rosenthal, Seung-Hwan Oh and Zach Duke, there are plenty of question marks regarding how the team intends to lock down games in the later innings.
The only notable addition to the relief corps thus far this winter was the Cardinals’ signing of Luke Gregerson back in December. Gregerson, 33, has put together a solid career as a late-inning reliever, but his numbers fell off a cliff in 2017—the career 3.02 ERA pitcher ballooned to 4.57. This prompted the Astros to use him as little as possible in the World Series. When St. Louis acquired him, it seemed like a low-cost, low-risk way to give the bullpen some needed depth. However, as Mozeliak described Saturday, Gregerson would likely be the team’s closer as the roster currently stands.
With plenty of free agents still available on the market, this stance could obviously change as spring approaches. Still, it’s interesting to note the potential expectations for Gregerson’s role considering his struggles in 2017.
Elsewhere in the bullpen, Mozeliak professed his belief that young arms from the team’s farm system will once again play a major role in how the Cardinals view their reliever group shaping up. Because of the minor league depth the front office believes could lend a hand to the St. Louis club this season, the Cardinals may be more hesitant to spend substantial resources on additional relief help.
Mozeliak named Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley as two farmhands he expects to contribute positively to the major league club in 2018.
If Hicks does get that chance with the big club, his experience as a reliever could end up more similar to Trevor Rosenthal’s than Carlos Martinez's. Mozeliak said Saturday he believes the bullpen is ultimately where flame-throwing Hicks ends up for his career.
“It’s easy to imagine him as a closer,” Mozeliak said.
Balancing the roster scale
Mozeliak doesn’t anticipate the standard composition of the 2017 Cardinals roster—13 pitchers and 12 position players—changing for the upcoming season. Though Mozeliak prefers having the extra bench player, he says the direction of the game and the way bullpens are used makes that breakdown unlikely for 2018.
Mozeliak said the way the Cardinals treat Reyes’ rehab process will dictate whether he will be used as a starter or a reliever, because as a starter, he would need to to be stretched out more. The team has cited May 1st a soft goal for Reyes' readiness to join the roster, though Reyes himself later cited a desire to be ready to go when spring training opens. That Reyes has had no injury-related setbacks in his rehab process can be viewed as a positive—he plans to begin throwing bullpen sessions when he gets to Jupiter.
On sluggish free agent market
Mozeliak explained his belief that one of the reasons the free agent market has developed so slowly is related to the status of the divisions—in several divisions, Mozeliak believes, there is one team clearly separated from the others in terms of competitiveness. For that reason, the desire for a second or third team to make bold, expensive moves while knowing it likely would not impact its ability to overtake the top team in said division would be diminished.
That concept, however, does not apply to the Cardinals and the NL Central as Mozeliak sees it.
"I don't think there's a club in our division that is head and shoulders above" (the others), he said.