With the recent signing of left handed reliever J.C. Romero the Cardinals bullpen seems to be set, unless the Cardinals decide to trade a right hander possibly Kyle McClellan or even Mitchell Boggs. If you remember the first half of the 2011 season, you would know how important the bullpen really is. The first half of 2011, featured a bullpen with Ryan Franklin, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, Bryan Augenstein, and Miguel Batista all would either be released, traded, or sent down to AAA. Only one member of the bullpen remained in the bullpen all season, that was the newly appointed Cardinals closer, Jason Motte.  When the bullpen was blowing save after save, their was a carousel of closer’s featuring Eduardo Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, and eventually Jason Motte.  Then John Mozeliak showed his true strength taking a huge risk by trading the former top prospect, Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays for relievers Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, and starter Edwin Jackson. That trade was the key to the Cardinals magical run, without the new bullpen the Cardinals would have missed out on the playoff’s entirely. So going into the 2012 season, the bullpen looks a lot better than it did a year ago. So, here is a look at the projected bullpen next season:

Left handed relief:

Marc Rzepczynski:

“Zeppo” as we like to call him, was the true centerpiece of the Rasmus trade. He is young only 25 years old, he has huge potential as a starter, and above all else is a talented left handed pitcher. With him in the bullpen the Cardinals have a safety net if a starter goes down, and they have a reliable guy who can actually get left handed batters out, something Trever Miller and Arthur Rhodes could not do last season. My guess is after 2012, Zeppo will be joining top prospect Shelby Miller in the rotation taking over Kyle Lohse‘s and Jake Westbrook‘s spot in the rotation.  Zeppo is a huge weapon to have because of the rareness of effective left handed relievers, with him in this bullpen I think the Cardinals will save a lot of greif and anguish because their trusted lefty won’t be walking the batter every time.

J.C. Romero:

The newest Cardinal, Romero is a guy who can be trusted to be the left handed specialist, and come through with a key out or two in an inning. He is not a guy that you would want to see in a whole inning, and not even against right handed batters. His numbers have gone down the past few years, and a few years ago he had to serve a 50 game suspension for breaking the drug abuse policy.  Romero is not the most exciting guy, but I think he will be a key for the 2012 bullpen and maybe beyond.

Right handed relief:

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Lynn a product of the Cardinals organization is a great asset to the Cardinals bullpen. Similar to Zeppo, Lynn can go multiple innings and is a natural starter so he can be a safety net. When he came up last year, I was very excited though not all of Cardinal Nation was.  Many scoffed at me and said things like ” You might be the first and last person to publicly display your love for Lance Lynn,” boy were they wrong. Lynn was another key reason to the Cardinals success, he converted to a set-up, middle relief role after Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury. He can be counted on for nearly any situation, he can start, set-up, pitch multiple innings, and come in and get that key strike out. I am a big fan of Lance Lynn and I don’t care who knows it, I am excited to see him in 2012 and beyond and I hope the Cardinals retain him.

Mitchell Boggs:

Boggs is a guy who spent the majority of 2011 in TLR’s dog house, after blowing a save once he was instantly banished from being the team’s closer and was then banished to the minors where they wanted him to stretch out and become a starter. That never happened, however he was recalled and pitched once or twice a month after that. He has tremendous stuff, but like Jaime Garcia his emotions and mind can get the best of him. Sometimes he can come in and strike out the side, other times he comes in and lets up a game tying, or walk off home run. He has potential to be a huge asset to the team but I have a feeling that Mozeliak will ship Boggs and McClellan off for another area of need.

Kyle McClellan:

McClellan the hometown boy, may be on the move before the season start’s but as of now he is still penciled in as a member of the bullpen. K-Mac is a versatile reliever who can pitch multiple innings, set-up and maybe even close if needed. We saw him as a starter for the majority of the 2011 season filling in  for the injured Adam Wainwright, but as the season went on he was showing that his arm was starting to fail, he was left off of the first and last postseason roster with a “dead arm.”  He was not exactly what the Cardinals hoped for last season but I believe if they do keep him, he will be a key guy and come through when needed. But I just don’t see him back next year, I think they might package him for an infielder or maybe something else that they feel they need. But who knows?

Fernando Salas

Salas came up early during the season proving that he was one of the most electric members of the bullpen. He also spent the most time at the closer’s position out of any other reliever on the team before eventually losing his job to Jason Motte. I do not think of him as a closer at all, but he does make a great set-up guy. Imagine a Salas-Sanchez-Motte combination going into the late innings these two guys will come through and get the job done giving the ball to the hard throwing Motte.  Salas has exciting stuff and has the ability to go two maybe even three innings if needed, which we saw TLR take advantage of a lot last season.  Last season Salas had a 5-6 record, 24 saves, a 2.28 ERA, and 75 K’s in 75 innings pitched. A very up and down year, but I think if he knows his role, Salas will be very succesful next season and beyond.

Eduardo Sanchez:

“The Sanchezinator” has been a favorite since his first MLB game here at STL Cardinal Baseball and it has been no secret how highly we think of him. Sanchez has the best stuff in the bullpen, a tremendous fastball, great breaking ball, and on top of all that he is just 23 years old. Sadly, Sanchez missed nearly 70 days with a shoulder injury and only appeared in one game after he was activated.  If he can stay healthy next season, he could be the teams number one set-up guy, and maybe even the future closer after Motte’s reign is over. I cannot wait to see Sanchez pitch again, he is one of my favorite young players on the team and I wish him the best of luck. Sanchez had terrific numbers through 26 games last season going 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA, striking out 35 batters in 30 innings, he also had 5 saves.


Jason Motte:

Motte after getting the final out in game 7 of the 2011 World Series

In 2008, I watched Jason Motte make his MLB debut and since then I have loved him more than any other reliever. I met him at the Winter Warmup where I wished him luck as the teams closer back in 2009, when he eventually lost that job to Ryan Franklin. However, I never gave up on him. I wore his T-shirt with pride (yes I bought a Jason Motte #60 T-shirt) and waited for him to finally prove me right. He did that late in the 2011 season becoming the unofficial closer and becoming a post-season hero getting the final outs of the World Series. Motte has a great fast ball and an average cutter and decent slider. He has the makings of a true Closer, the beard, the intimidating appearance, the fast ball, all of it.  I am proud to call him our closer and like I told him in 2009, I wish him all of the luck as the teams closer.  Last season Motte was the only member of the bullpen to remain there the entire season, he put up great numbers including a 5-2 record, 2.25 ERA, 9 saves, 63 K’s, and 78 game appearances breaking a record for the most by a right handed reliever in Cardinals franchise history.