The bullpen has not been the dominant force it was supposed to be. Should the Cardinals look to buy relief help at the trade deadline?

It’s never too early to discuss the Cardinals floundering bullpen. The problem with a bad bullpen is that it often doesn’t fix itself. It’s not an offensive slump that gradually turns around, it’s a deep systemic issue that will come back to haunt you at your most vulnerable times (i.e. the playoffs). It’s a dormant virus that will awaken and destroy your whole season in the blink of an eye. “We should’ve seen the signs,” you say as you watch your team crumble around blown save after blown save, slowly fading away into nothingness.

Well I’m here to tell you that these are the signs, and the time to be concerned is now. Is all of this a bit sensationalist? Maybe. But there is reason to be concerned about the performance of the bullpen up to this point. The returns on investment for Brett Cecil have been poor, Kevin Siegrist has been abysmal and Seung-Hwan Oh, though much improved from his slow start, has regressed more than anticipated.

Should the Cardinals stand pat and hope these bullpen issues correct themselves? Should they make some moves and bolster the bullpen for October? Or should they sell and retool for 2018? Let’s look at the key relievers and determine their outlook for the rest of the 2017 season.

Matt Bowman and Trevor Rosenthal

Both Bowman and Rosenthal have been excellent so far this season. They both have a WHIP under 1, ERAs under 3 and ERA+ over 150. Rosenthal has been a welcome surprise, as he’s bounced back from a shoddy year last season to really return to dominant form. Bowman, has seen significant improvement from his rookie season as he adapts to the big leagues. Both have been one of the few pieces in this bullpen that are actually working.

Rosenthal in particular has been especially dominant. He has 7 K/BB and 15 K/9. With how dominant he’s been and how lackluster Oh has been, it may be time to consider moving Rosenthal back into his original role, but that’s an article for another day. As of now, all we need to know is that Rosenthal and Bowman are not the reason the Cardinals have a bottom half bullpen. Since they’re both so young and under contract for at least another year, it would not be wise to deal them just yet. However, Rosenthal and Bowman would definitely get the most in return in a potential trade.

Kevin Siegrist

Last season, Siegrist put up another remarkable campaign with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.103 WHIP with his fewest walks per 9 (3.8) of his career. He’s always had command issues, but this year they’ve gone to another level. He’s strikeout to walk ratio is barely over 1, he’s averaging a whopping 5.8 walks per 9 and his WHIP is 1.706. Ouch. Siegrist has been dominant in the past, but as of now he’s struggling to return to form.

The good news is Siegrist is only 27, which means he’s young enough to turn it around. The bad news is that there’s not really a market for 27 year old relief pitchers with little command. I could see a contender snatching up Siegrist for help down the stretch if he improves, but right now I don’t see the Cardinals getting much in return.

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Brett Cecil

Brett Cecil can’t really do anything right. His ERA and WHIP are at 5.40 and 1.933, and the supposed new weapon out of the bullpen has turned into a nightmare on the mound. It’s pretty alarming to see how Cecil has regressed this year, especially because 30 is right around the age pitchers start to break down.

If Cecil was a 27 year old, we could write this off as some early season struggles, but at 30, there’s no telling whether this is the new normal for Cecil. Cecil also has virtually no trade value right now, as his massive contract and poor numbers will scare any team away. The only thing the Cardinals can do with Cecil is hope he works his way out of this funk.

Seung Hwan Oh

The 34 year old closer has been the victim of some tough luck this year, but his poor results could also be a form of big league adaptation to his stuff. As of now, it’s hard to know without more sample size. He’s still getting very few ground balls compared to last season. His numbers have improved a bit from the early season, but he’s still sitting with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.477 WHIP. He hasn’t been as abysmal as Siegrist or Cecil, but it’s going to be tough to deal him considering his age and decline in strikeout numbers.

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I’m not exactly sure what the Cardinals should do with the bullpen, but I can tell you what they won’t do: they will not blow it up. Not yet. I think the best move is to be a buyer at the deadline and get some help. However, relievers can cost a team some good prospects, and I don’t see the Cardinals giving up any for some relief help. What they’ll probably end up doing is leaning more heavily on Rosenthal and Bowman while Oh works out of his funk and hope that Siegrist and Cecil can get their command back.

The Cardinals bullpen definitely needs help, but I’m not so sure the management will get it the help it needs. If the Cardinals don’t address the bullpen issues soon, I can almost guarantee it will come back to bite them later in the season. Postseason success is built on solid pitching, and if the Cardinals want to stay contenders, they need to address their biggest weakness at the trade deadline.


Photo Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports