The Cardinals had many, many problems in 2023.

Offensively the team statistically ranked among the top 10 in the majors through the end of July, but faded over the final two months because of injuries and the fatigue of chronic losing. Having noted that, we can put an asterisk next to STL’s 2023 offense.

Other than that, except for a few performances by individuals, the Cardinals were categorically below average in all areas of the team. Starting pitching, relief pitching, defense, baserunning, situational hitting, etc.

Today, I want to talk about the bullpen.

I like the approach the Cardinals have taken in advance of 2024. With their additions they’ve put together a group that has raw ability, good upside and extra depth.

I don’t care how much money management spends during the offseason in the effort to upgrade the bullpen. Relievers tend to be ephemeral. From year to year there are wild fluctuations in performance and too many injuries. It’s a volatile job. Bleep happens. Pitchers break. They lose velocity. They suffer a drop in confidence. Their heads spin.

Last season the Cardinals spent more money on their bullpen than 13 major-league rivals But 10 of those 13 teams got more value in Win Probability Added from their relievers than St. Louis. That included the other teams in the NL Central — Brewers, Cubs, Reds and Pirates.

Relievers represent some of the worst free-agent decisions made by the St. Louis front office in recent years. The club invested a total $105.5 million in Brett Cecil, Andrew Miller, Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson, Drew VerHagen and Jonathan Broxton. (I could have mentioned some others, but wanted to stick with the most prominent examples.)

The total Wins Above Replacement collected by the six relievers as Cardinals? Ouch. That would be minus 0.5 WAR. Holland, Cecil, Miller and Gregerson were paid $92.5 million for a combined 0.3 WAR.

According to the salary-tracking site Spotrac, the Cardinals have directed more money into their bullpen for 2024. Last season St. Louis ranked 17th in MLB with a full-roster investment of $14.5 million to cover reliever expenses. As of Monday, the Cardinals were 13th in the majors with $19.5 million committed to relievers. The average salary per reliever – $1.037 million last season – is $3.174 million for 2024. So yeah, the Cardinals will have a more expensive bullpen in ’24.

Even though the bullpen spending is up, I don’t think president of baseball ops John Mozeliak did anything crazy. One of the best things Mozeliak has done is recruit Chaim Bloom as an advisor, and Bloom’s speciality is his skill in evaluating pitchers. That goes all the way back to his time in Tampa Bay’s front office. Despite having one of the smallest annual payrolls in the majors, the Rays have ranked fifth in the majors in most pitching WAR since 2008. That includes the No. 4 overall bullpen ranking for WAR. Bloom was there for much of that time, and his work for Tampa Bay continued to have an impact after he departed to take over Boston’s baseball operation in 2020.

Bloom’s early influence on the Cardinals became obvious with the additions of several relievers connected to him through his front-office career: Andrew Kittredge, Nick Robertson, Riley O’Brien and Ryan Fernandez. And the most recent addition, free-agent Keynan Middleton, fits the profile coveted by the Cardinals. I assume Bloom had a role in that as well.

The Cardinals wanted to increase their bullpen firepower – general nastiness and swing and miss stuff – and brought in guys who are capable of making it happen. The upside is definitely there. It’s good to have pitchers that are on the way up instead of being on the way out.

Instead of having so many transient, substandard relievers handling innings in 2024, the Cardinals have more options, more variety, and improved depth. That matters over a long season.

Some of the Cardinals’ best bullpens over the past 10+ years were filled with young arms that had crackling-good stuff. They weren’t established major leaguers but had exciting potential. Their MLB careers were just beginning; they just needed the opportunity. And these up-and-coming dudes did a helluva job.

From 2011 through 2015, here’s a yearly list of young relievers who made a substantial impact for successful Cardinal teams. Most of them lasted and pitched well over multiple seasons, but I’ll also mention a few who helped the bullpen on a short-term basis.

2011 Season: Lance Lynn, age 24. Eduardo Sanchez, age 22. Note: Lynn was a rookie in 2011 and had an increasingly important presence in the bullpen as the season went on, pitching to a 1.47 ERA in his final 13 regular-season appearances. In the postseason Lynn had a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings and worked five times in the seven-game World Series triumph over Texas. That includes a scoreless inning of relief in Game 7.

2012 Season: Shelby Miller, age 21. Trevor Rosenthal, 22. Sanchez, 23. Joe Kelly, 24. Sam Freeman, 25. Note: Miller largely worked out of the bullpen in his initial MLB experience. Kelly was kind of a swing man in 2012, making 16 starts with eight relief appearances. Rosenthal made his big-league debut in 2022 and justified the buzz he generated on his ascent through the St. Louis farm system.

2013 Season: Jackpot. A strong bullpen included Rosenthal (23), Kelly (25), Carlos Martinez (21), Kevin Siegrist (23), Seth Maness (24) and Michael Wacha (21.) Wacha of course was a postseason hero for the 2013 NL champions but broke in as a reliever before shifting to the rotation later in the regular season. And while Kelly started 15 games, he also made valuable contributions as a reliever.

2014 Season: The bullpen was still humming with Martinez (22), Siegrist (24), Rosenthal (24) and Maness (25). Marco Gonzales, age 22, made 10 starts and had five relief appearances.

2015 Season: Rosenthal, Siegrist and Maness were still important bullpen pieces for a 100-win team that had exceptional pitching. The Cardinals also gave the ball to rookie Sam Tuivailala for 14 relief stints.

(Sidebar: this collection of names reaffirms just how far the Cardinals have fallen in drafting and developing their own pitching.) 

A young, talented, low-cost set of relievers were essential to the bullpen’s authoritative work from 2011 through 2015. All of them had to prove themselves at the major-league level and promptly delivered.

From 2011 through 2015 the Cardinals led MLB in regular-season winning percentage (.574) and postseason wins (61), ranked third in ERA, won two NL pennants and the 2011 World Series, and competed in the NLCS in four of the five seasons.

It’s too soon to know what this new group of relievers can do for St. Louis, but they’ll have a chance to show us over 162 games.

For the first time in a while the Cardinals have made a focused effort to strengthen their bullpen’s weaker characteristics. The depth is much better. The Cardinals won’t have to resort to sorting through back-alley bins for relievers.

The internal competition will be lively.

Assuming that all parties stay healthy this spring, here’s a look at the bullpen layout:


RH  Ryan Helsley
RH  Giovanny Gallegos
RH  Andrew Kittredge
RH  Keynan Middleton
LH  JoJo Romero

That would leave three reliever spots open for the start of the season. If the Cardinals go with six starters early on to navigate a busy-schedule challenge, it’s hardly a crisis. That’s why Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are prepping as starters this spring. Both can be used in the bullpen if needed. Their roles do not have to be defined on Feb. 19.


For now, I’ll just go with this premise: three reliever jobs are up for grabs. Here are the candidates. I’m not ranking them … just listing them.

RH  Andre Pallante
RH  Nick Robertson
RH  Riley O’Brien
RH  Wilking Rodriguez
LH  Ryan Fernandez
LH  John King
LH  Matthew Liberatore
LH  Zack Thompson


These pitchers loom as potential bullpen options during the season depending on the team’s needs and the front-office preferences in assigning roles. The baseball people may not want to mess with a developing starter by changing his routine and using him in relief. Several examples of that can be spotted on this list:

RH  Gordon Graceffo
RH  Tink Hence
RH  Tekoah Roby
RH  Andre Granillo
RH  Ryan Loutos
RH  Victor Santos
LH  Cooper Hjerpe
LH  Packy Naughton

Though some payroll-obsessed fans and media are unwilling to acknowledge it, there are more layers to this team’s overall pitching depth. The 2023 Cardinals ran out of pitching, and that led to an overall 4.83 ERA that was the worst for the franchise in a full season during the 63-year expansion era. And last year’s STL pitching staff had the poorest Win Probability Added value since the metric became part of the statistical profile in 1974.

Last season the Cardinals sadly shuffled through 27 different pitchers to get through 162 games. Of the 27 pitchers, only eight remain from the team’s 40-man roster that was in place before last summer’s Aug. 1 trading deadline: Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Helsley, Gallegos, Liberatore, Thompson, Romero and Pallante.

No matter what the deniers insist, this has been an aggressive shakeup of the St. Louis pitching staff in preparation for 2024.

The starting rotation should be much better. And now the Cardinals have a larger supply of relievers with stuff that can make hitters uncomfortable. The Redbirds finally are implementing an updated philosophy. They’re putting something together that could take them back to the Rosenthal-Siegrist days. That’s the best-case scenario, anyway.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We recorded a new Seeing Red on Monday, Jan. 19 and it’s available to you now.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.