Cardinals confident in bullpen core

Cecil addition one of few offseason changes necessary for solid unit

Cardinals confident in bullpen core

This is the final installment of a six-part Around the Horn series that is taking a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into the 2017 season. Up next: the bullpen.

Around the Horn: Catcher | Corner infield | Middle infield | Outfield | Starting rotation

ST. LOUIS -- Reconfiguring the bullpen was not on the Cardinals' winter to-do list when the regular season ended. Within a week, however, those plans were rewritten.

The realization that lefty Zach Duke would require Tommy John surgery thrust the Cardinals into the free-agent relief market, and the byproduct of that was the pursuit of Brett Cecil, who signed a four-year deal with the club in November. Cecil is likely to be the only new face in the Cardinals' bullpen come Opening Day, but that's because the organization is confident in the core it had already assembled.

A year ago, Seung Hwan Oh reported to Spring Training unsure of both his role and what awaited him in the Majors. The former Korean Baseball Organization saves leader began the year as a setup man for Trevor Rosenthal before assuming closer duties midway through the season.

Oh did so well -- he converted 19 of 23 save opportunities and became the second rookie reliever in franchise history to strike out 103 batters in a season -- that the closer's job is his to begin 2017. This is also the final year of Oh's contract; he's set to become a free agent at year's end.

Setup duties likely will be shared by lefties Cecil and Kevin Siegrist. Until now, Cecil, 30, has pitched only in Toronto, where he was used exclusively as a reliever since 2013. Forty-five of his 54 appearances in 2016 came in the seventh and/or eighth innings. He struck out 45 while posted a 3.93 ERA in 36 2/3 innings for the season.

Cecil on being flexible in 'pen

Siegrist led all qualifying National League left-handed relievers with a 2.77 ERA last season. He appeared in 67 games and held opponents scoreless in 51 of those. His 17 holds were tops among Cardinals' relievers.

Also expected to be featured prominently in the bullpen again will be Jonathan Broxton and Matt Bowman. Broxton will be the veteran of the unit, as he'll be entering his 13th big league season. He'll be looking for vastly improved results at home, however, after posting a 6.83 ERA in 29 innings at Busch Stadium last year. In comparison, Broxton finished with a road ERA of 1.99.

Bowman emerged as one of the best surprises for the Cardinals last season after being added to the roster as a Rule 5 pick. He overtook Seth Maness as the bullpen's ground-ball specialist and finished sixth among NL relievers with a 62.1 groundball percentage. Bowman made a team-high 17 multi-inning appearances and ranked sixth among rookie relievers with 67 2/3 innings.

While these five pitchers have some certainty of role, others do not. Rosenthal will be among the most scrutinized in camp as he attempts to reassert himself as a dominant pitcher. Coming off a season in which he lost his ninth-inning job and was sidelined for more than two months because of an arm injury, Rosenthal will get an opportunity to make multiple-inning appearances this spring in an effort to become more versatile.

Rosenthal may surprise in 2017

There may also be a spot in the bullpen for a starter squeezed from the rotation. Others who could end up in the Cardinals' Opening Day bullpen are Miguel Socolovich, John Gant or Sam Tuivailala.

Socolovich is out of options, meaning that the Cardinals would risk losing him if he's not on the Opening Day roster. Gant was one of three pitchers acquired in the team's trade of Jaime Garcia. And Tuivailala has pitched for the Cardinals in portions of the past three seasons.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.