The good thing about having a solid team, like the Cardinals, is that there is not a lot of unsettled positions heading into the season. A little over a week ago, I took a look at the Cards 5th starter competition.
Tonight, I will look at the bullpen.
Given the way that they pitched last year, there are four pitchers who are virtual locks to open the season in the major league bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and veteran LOOGY Randy Choate.
Rosenthal is the Cardinals closer and should be for the whole season. Siegrist was nearly unhittable last season, posting a 0.45 ERA in 39.2 innings. Choate does was he always does, gets lefties out, holding them to a .176 average (.492 OPS) in 2013. Maness' performance this spring may give Mike Matheny some pause (9.39 ERA in 7.2 IP), but his 2.32 ERA and incredible 4.40 GO/AO ratio in 2013 is what probably matters more to Matheny.
The Almost Sure Thing
One of Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez, whoever loses out in the 5th starter battle, will likely end up in the Cardinals pen to start the 2014 season.
Martinez performed well as the Cards eighth inning guy in the playoffs last year and could fill the same role this year. While Kelly was valuable to the team as a swingman last season.
We can assume that the Cardinals will go with at least 7 relievers to start the season (maybe 8), so that leaves two spots open.
The leading candidates are Pat Neshek, Sam Freeman, Tyler Lyons, Jorge Rondon and Keith Butler.
Non-roster invitee, Neshek, has the advantage of experience, with a career 2.56 ERA in 9 seasons. He has also pitched well this spring allowing only 2 runs in 6 innings. He is likely going to earn one spot.
Freeman has a career 2.75 ERA in the minors and pitched well in his September callup last year (2.19 ERA in 12.1 IP). His main problem is his control (career 3.9 BB/9 in the minors).
Lyons has not pitched well this spring, allowing 8 runs in 6.2 IP. However, he did fare well in a relief role towards the end of last season (1 ER in 9.1 IP).
Rondon has yet to allow a run this spring in 6.1 IP. However, his minor league track record is less than stellar (4.86 ERA in 8 seasons).
Butler has the minor league stats (2.29 ERA and 265 K's in 212 IP), but has struggled with his control at the major league level, giving up 11 walks in 20 innings last year and 5 walks in 7.1 innings this spring.
As of right now, I would have to go with Neshek and Freeman for the last two bullpen spots. Lyons will likely start the 2014 season in Memphis' rotation, while Rondon and Butler will likely ride the Memphis/St.Louis shuttle this season, whenever the Cards need a fresh arm.