2006 Season Preview
"Rebuilt Bullpen" – by Bill Ballew
For the diehard Cardinals fan, it is more than a bit ironic that Bruce Sutter will be inducted in to Baseball Hall of Fame the summer wearing a St. Louis cap. After all, one of the game’s premier relievers will receive his long-overdue recognition at a time when the current club enters spring training with a bullpen that has undergone a complete overhaul.
The Cardinals narrowly missed another World Series last October despite fielding on baseball’s best relief corps. Since then, change has been the only constant. Al Reyes was lost after undergoing elbow reconstruction surgery upon re-tearing his medial collateral ligament. That event in early-October seemed to open the floodgates, with Julian Tavarez departing via free agency, Cal Eldred retiring, and Ray King being traded.
As dire as the situation looked in early December, general manager Walt Jocketty has been hard at work filling the voids. Add in the fact that closer Jason Isringhausen and youngsters Brad Thompson and Randy Flores return to the fold and it is not inconceivable to project this year’s bullpen being at least as strong and steady as the 2005 corps.
“We’ve got some experienced buys coming in, and we have some young pitchers that have proven they can compete at the big league level,” said manager Tony LaRussa.
The most notable off-season addition is former Mets closer Braden Looper, who signed a three-year contract in mid-December. A former Cardinal prospect, Looper is coming off a 2005 performance in which he went 4-7 with a 3.94 ERA and 28 saves. He has appeared in at least 60 games in each of his seven big league seasons, and is expected to serve as a right-handed setup man who also can give Isringhausen an occasional break.
Another notable arrival is former Oakland lefthander Ricardo Rincon, who went 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA in 67 games with the A’s last year. Rincon has a reputation for being tough on left-handed hitters with his low 90s fastball and sharp slider.
Two other newcomers to the Cardinal bullpen include veteran righthanders John Riedling and Jeff Nelson. Riedling pitched parts of five seasons with Cincinnati, including all of 2003 and 2004, before enduring an inconsistent showing with Florida last year. The 30-year-old is 17-13 with three saves and a 4.41 ERA in his 302 major league innings. Nelson, 39, has twirled 14 seasons in the big leagues and is coming off a 2005 performance with Seattle in which he posted a 3.93 ERA in 49 appearances.
As far as the Cardinals’ young pitchers are concerned, Juan Mateo has a chance to stick after the hard-throwing righthander was acquired from the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft in December. Mateo throws strikes with his mid-90s fastball that enabled him to go 10-5 with a 3.21 ERA in the Florida State League last year. One name LaRussa will likely not add to the mix is Adam Wainwright, a righthander who the skipper believes is best suited as a long-tem answer in the starting rotation.
“I think Adam is a starter,” LaRussa said. “His work ethic, the number of pitches, I think that would be a dramatic thing to do at this point. I believe we have enough new options so that we don’t have to travel down that road.”
- 2006 Official Spring Training Program
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