The path forward hasn't been easy for former Cardinals reliever Joe Kelly.
The Cardinals traded him to the Red Sox in 2014 as part of the miraculous deal that dumped Allen Craig's dead money in Boston and landed valuable starting pitcher John Lackey.
First the Red Sox used Kelly as a starter, then they switched him to the bullpen. He bounced between the Red Sox and the minors in 2015 and 2016, spending 17 games with Triple-A Pawtucket in 2016 -- after a shoulder strain suffered in April forced him into a rehabilitation stint and some tune-up work.
He was just OK in heavy usage during the 2018 regular season, finishing 4-2 with two saves and a 4.39 earned-run average. But he pitched lights out in postseason play, striking out 13 batters and walking nobody in his 11 1/3 innings for the World Champions.
So Kelly, 29, has emerged as a hot commodity in the free-agent marketplace. He still has big arm and teams are starved for relievers given the MLB-wide emphasis on bullpens.
Kelly has generally struggled to command that lively stuff, but that beats getting by with mediocre stuff.
The MLB Trade Rumors site suggested Kelly could fetch $27 million over three years. And ESPN's Buster Olney believes the bidding could go even higher.
By the end of the World Series, his exuberant dances off the mound reflected a confidence that erupted after the Red Sox staff worked with him to pare down his repertoire. Boston pitching coach Dana LeVangie and Brian Bannister, the team's pitching assistant, talked with Kelly late in the year about simplifying his options. With the postseason looming, the staff wanted Kelly and other Red Sox relievers to work with good tempo through more streamlined options, in a time of season when there is so much concern about sign-stealing. Kelly ditched his slider and relied on his curveball, and crushed October with three plus pitches -- his fastball, changeup and yes, the curve. The right-hander faced 44 batters in the postseason and allowed just eight hits and one earned run, without issuing a single walk.
Kelly is an exceptional athlete, one of the hardest-throwing relievers in the game and a spin-rate master. "When he gets hot, he's as good as anybody," said one evaluator, "because of his premium stuff."
In early discussions with Kelly's representatives, the Levinson brothers, some teams have mentioned the idea of signing Kelly to be a closer; other teams have discussed setup roles. No matter what his role is, ultimately, he figures to be paid well. If Kelly had been left off the postseason roster, he probably still would have been in line for a two-year deal in the $16 million-$18 million range because of his wide range of pitching tools. But his October dominance rounded out his free-agent résumé, and now he figures to be among the highest-paid relievers not named Craig Kimbrel.
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES
Here is what folks are writing about college basketball:
Shaker Samman, The Ringer: "For months, college hoops fans have been bombarded with mixtapes and columns and magazine spreads highlighting Duke’s star-studded recruiting class. The hype machine was working at maximum power, pumping up the vaunted freshman trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish. Injuries prevented fans from seeing the team at full strength during a preseason jaunt through Canada. That changed at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, when the full might of Duke’s menacing attack was on full display, and college basketball gained a clearer picture of its new reality: There is Duke, and then there is everyone else. Duke trounced Kentucky, 118–84, in a game that seemed over not long after the opening tip. The word on Duke coming into this season was that, while supremely talented on the wing, streaky shooting could down its championship ambitions. The Blue Devils did not take long to dispel that notion. Reddish, the best shooter of Duke’s freshman class, knocked down two deep balls in the first four minutes, while point guard Tre Jones and Williamson each added one of their own early in the first half. As a team, the Blue Devils finished the game shooting 54.4 percent from the field, knocking down 46.2 percent beyond the arc."
Jeremy Woo, SI.com: "The beatdown might just end up a footnote, as season openers often do, or maybe something of an oddity . . . Game One, no matter the combatants, tends to be more a directional lodestar for a team’s course than a statement of fate. It was frighteningly easy to consider that for the Blue Devils, Tuesday night could reasonably be read both ways. While it’s not clear how Duke didn’t open the season ranked as the top team in the country, one could accept it on the grounds that people have a hard time quantifying things they’ve never seen before. It won’t last. While deploying three freshmen who transcend the traditional spectrum of positionality, likely ticketed for the first three selections in the NBA draft, the brutality of Duke’s brushstrokes told the story better than the scoreboard. There’s not another team in the country capable of stretching a 37-point lead against Kentucky, nobody with the personnel to play a style so free-flowing and relentless, and definitely not in a way that somehow looked and felt sustainable. The Blue Devils did it in a manner that felt like a death knell for the rest of college basketball."
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com: "Understand, (John) Calipari has been a head coach for 30 seasons now. He once had a 10-win UMass team that lost 11 times by double-digits. He once had a 16-loss Memphis team that was so dysfunctional players fist-fought in the locker room. He coached the Nets for crying out loud. And yet nobody -- not Rick Pitino's great Kentucky teams, not even Michael Jordan's Bulls -- had ever beaten one of his teams as badly as Duke beat his team in this season-opener. And UK was ranked second! In the entire country!
Jeff Borzello, ESPN.com: "In the preseason, Calipari consistently praised his team -- a stark change from the tempering of expectations we've seen him in the past. He seemed legitimately excited about his newcomers, as well as the potential leap the returnees were set to make. But we just didn't see that on Tuesday. It's only one game, of course, but the success Kentucky had in the Bahamas in August seems like a long, long time ago. Calipari tried everything on Tuesday. Two-point guard lineups, three-big men lineups, small lineups, jumbo lineups. None of it worked. And Kentucky struggled defensively regardless. When they went small, Quade Green or Ashton Hagans was overmatched against a bigger wing. When they went big, Reid Travis or EJ Montgomery got beat off the dribble. Against most teams, it might not matter. But against other elite teams, it will be a factor."
Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports: "Bill Self rolled out the No. 1 team in America on Tuesday night to start the college basketball season. The Kansas Jayhawks looked looked the part — controlling the game throughout against Michigan State, dominating for stretches, then hanging on through an uneven finish to start the season 1-0. It could be a season in the sun for Kansas. It also is likely to be a season accompanied by a persistent cloud that could overshadow everything. Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday night that federal investigators who have been prosecuting corruption within college basketball have given the go-ahead to NCAA enforcement to begin pursuing rules violations cases. It is unclear exactly what information the NCAA can use from the feds’ investigations in the first of three felony trials, which concluded last month with three guilty verdicts. It also is unclear what the NCAA will do with the information at its disposal. But this much is clear: The NCAA is now on the case. And it stands to reason that Kansas would be at or near the top of the NCAA investigative to-do list."
"Timmy is not a guy you want to put restraints on. If he sees a block, he's going to work that much harder to go overcome whatever somebody places on him. I believe in him."
New Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, hyping 31-year-old prospect Tim Tebow.
WHY NO INTEREST IN A ROSEY REUNION?
QUESTION: How could it be that the Cardinals were not even remotely interested in bringing back Trevor Rosenthal?
GORDO: Mozeliak is more focused on upgrading the left side of the bullpen, but my suggestion for 2019 is to construct a bullpen where every reliever is capable of working high-leverage scenarios. Rosenthal could have fit that scenario. He got good money for a guy coming off Tommy John surgery, but the Cardinals have lots of money. To me, he would have been a solid bet.
Sure, this team has a surplus of starters and the extras could go to the bullpen scenario I suggest, but still . . .
WHAT MOVES MIGHT 'MO' MAKE?
COMMENT: Mo seems to have no real vision for building a World Series contender. There are many areas that must be improved just to get this team at least into the playoffs. But he keeps signing older players at the end of their careers instead of focusing on real difference-makers. Is there any reason to believe that this year will be different from the past three?
GORDO: Mozeliak has the vision to build a World Series contender because he's already done it several times. That said, I do believe Cardinals management should set 100 victories as the new benchmark, to account for the stiff competition from the Cubs and Brewers.
Follow-up comment: Anyone paying attention already knows that the front office is only going to be swimming in the shallow end of the free agent pool. Sure, they will make a big splash when they carefully come in second on Harper, but we know that second was the goal all along.
GORDO: I don't see the motivation to even come in second on Bryce Harper.
Unlike some of my P-D colleagues, I just don't see the Harper fit here. Build a bulletproof bullpen, find more offensive heft for third base, stack starting pitching on top of starting pitching, eat Fowler's contract if he doesn't bounce back in the spring and go from there. That would be my plan.
Follow-up: Unless the Cards sign Harper, is there any realistic way they can catch Chicago or Milwaukee?
GORDO: Sure, here's the scenario: Ozuna hits like he did in '17. Fowler hits like he did in '17, DeJong and Molina avoid long-term injuries, Wong doesn't suffer 23 muscle strains, the Cardinals roll out the NL's best five-man starting rotation and Mozeliak finally assembles a bullpen full of high-leverage options.
WILL CARDS INVEST IN THE OUTFIELD?
QUESTION: Would 3B Mike Moustakas and outfielder A.J. Pollock as the offseason adds make the Cards contenders? Moustakas is more durable than Gyorko and a small upgrade as a hitter. Pollock (above) is a plus defender and a bigger RF bat. These two adds would seem to make the Cards defense a plus and lengthen the lineup. It leaves the Fowler question dangling.
GORDO: Moustakas is a fall-back option at third base, but I can't see the Cardinals investing heavily in an outfielder until the Dexter Fowler situation is resolved, the team decides whether to extend Marcell Ozuna past next season and it learns what it really has with Tyler O'Neill and Adolis Garcia.
Investing in an outfielder could make a lot more sense in a year. That could change with a trade or two, but I can't imagine any team taking even $12 of Fowler's remaining contract at this point.
Follow-up: "I can't see the Cardinals investing heavily in an outfielder." Does that include Bryce Harper in your opinion?
GORDO: Since we're talking about potentially $300 million or more, yes, that includes Harper.
Follow-up: Who's the best choice to play third base for the Cardinals in 2019: Moustakas, Josh Donaldson, Jedd Gyorko or Paul DeJong (because they added a glove-first shortstop)?
GORDO: In that scenario, I'd roll the dice on Donaldson and keep Gyorko for protection.
PLAN B: WAIT FOR ARENADO?
COMMENT: The Cards should keep their powder dry on a big bat and wait for Arenado next year. The makeover does not have to be a one-year plan.
GORDO: Fair enough. If ever there was a guy to go "all in" on it's Arenado, if Colorado can't keep him. In a year, the Cardinals will have clarity on Fowler, Bader, O'Neill and Adolis Garcia, and the team will know if it can and should buck up to keep Ozuna out of the market. This team will also know more, for better or worse, about the young pitching, too. So there is merit to this take.
ARE BLUES STARTING TO COME AROUND?
COMMENT: Although it’s great the Blues have won their last two games, I fear we’re looking at “fool’s gold.” Pietrangelo coughed up the puck at least three times in front of his own net, and if not for Allen bailing him out he’d be waking up a minus-9 today. This is just a mediocre team, barely playoff-caliber. It's on the players, but now I think we can also question Yeo’s leadership.
GORDO: The Blues are 3-1-1 in their last five games with victories over two of the preseason favorites, Toronto and Vegas, and a point against a third contender. Winnipeg. We are getting a glimpse of what the front-line depth can do to teams. Against Vegas, it was two goals from the fourth line, one each for the third and second lines and one from the power play.
This team needs to clean up some things in their own zone and get more consistent goaltending. If those things happen, the fact the Blues have twice as many offensive weapons as most NHL teams will lead to more consistent success.
MOVING ON FROM JAKE ALLEN?
QUESTION: What are the Blues going to do with Jake Allen and the goaltender situation? They have to be actively looking to replace Allen.
GORDO: The Blues have zero salary cap space, so a big move in goal would be difficult. At some point, a Sergei Bobrovsky or Cory Schneider might become more interesting to this team, but I see Jake Allen getting a full shot at this while Ville Husso continues getting tested in the AHL.
IF ODOM WAS LET GO, WHO MIGHT REPLACE HIM?
QUESTION: If you had a choice, who would you want as Mizzou’s next football coach — if Odom were to go? Also, do you think Bob Stoops would be interested because this program needs a big-name coach.
GORDO: I would pick an emerging head coach at a lower level, as Purdue did to get Jeff Brohm. Hiring another assistant coach without extensive head coaching experience isn't appealing. There is so much building to do. This is not like walking into Georgia or Tennessee with big revenues and the machinery in place. I have not looked into what such a list looks like.
I'd love to see Odom make it work because he bleeds black and gold and he as committed to this as much as any person could ever be to anything.
ANKIEL'S COMEBACK PLAN
QUESTION: Any news on Rick Ankiel's comeback?
GORDO: Not yet. I would imagine he will need a months-long throwing program to get into the sort of condition that would interest a big league team. If he is serious about this, he needs to give himself the best possible chance.
While there is little doubt he will be able to throw hard enough to interest teams, what about his command (duh!) and durability. There is no telling how many parts of his body could start hurting once he gets deep into this process.
BOTTOM LINE ON FOWLER
QUESTION: MLBTradeRumors.com had a chat where the moderator said he could see multiple teams being interested in Dexter Fowler because of his clubhouse presence, bounce-back capability and that the Cardinals would take on a good chunk of the money. Any chance of that?
GORDO: If that's true, I imagine Mozeliak would be thrilled by the incompetence of his peers. Baseball is awash in outfielders. Even the '17 version of Fowler isn't worth his contract. He is aging, he can't hit at all from the right side and his fielding metrics are terrible. He hit .180 last season and sulked because he didn't get to play more.
Only an idiot would want in on that, but, then again, there are a lot of teams that never seem to contend.
AS FOR BRETT CECIL . . .
QUESTION: Do the Cards give Brett Cecil another season? Or will he play elsewhere (or not at all) in 2019?
GORDO: Since Cecil is getting paid, I'd certainly give him every chance to come back and perform. But like I said, a worthy season goal is to build a bullpen where every single reliever can go into a high-leverage situation. Given the wealth of pitching already in place and the depth of the free-agent relief market, there is no excuse to start the season with guys relegated to mere mop-up duty.
DID PETRO AND JAYBO IMPROVE?
QUESTION: Petro and JayBo bore the brunt of the fan anger heading into the Vegas game. Can you assess how they played last night?
GORDO: They were solid. They were each plus-1, with Pietrangelo logging 25:10 in ice time and Bouwmeester (above) playing 19:35. They combined to block nine shots. JayBo failed to clear the puck from the crease on one memorable Vegas goal, but Jake Allen was off to the side and Pietrangelo was also down and out — forcing JayBo to battle two Golden Knights for the loose puck. Pietrangelo didn't add much to the offense, sailing one of his trademark slapshots well over the net to waste a clean zone entry, but on balance these two were fine.
GORDO'S TURN: ARE YEO AND 'ARMY' ON THE SAME PAGE?
COMMENT: With all the Blues' issues, it seems as though the GM has built a team that the coach is playing differently. Seems like 'Army' and Yeo are not on the same page and the players are confused. What do you see?
GORDO: I don't see a huge disconnect between the GM's vision and the coach's vision. I'd like to see Robert Thomas either play regularly here or return to junior hockey to further his development. I'm sure Armstrong isn't thrilled to see a key asset sitting idle as a healthy scratch. So I'll give you that.
One discussion point remains: What should the Blues do with the fourth line? Should this be a classic energy line to check or more of an offensive line? Thursday, Fabbri and Thomas were there and their collaboration with Oskar Sundqvist produced two goals. Fabbri and Thomas can both check and Sundqvist has become a checker by trade, so that line offered both offensive punch and the ability to hassle the opponent in its end of the ice, It was good to see them get shifts in the third period. At times Yeo may go with more of a checking line with Soshnikov and Barbashev in there with Sundqvist, but that fourth line could end up playing less while one or two of the top three lines got extra work.
This team is build to lean on teams offensively and its scored 24 goals in its last five games while going 3-1-1.
WHERE'S THE LOVE FOR WISDOM?
QUESTION: What did the front office see in the play of Wisdom that convinced them he would not be an important piece moving forward?
GORDO: He's never hit for high batting averages. Wisdom did finally progress last season at the Triple-A level and he certainly fared well as a fill-in, but the fact he has 2,665 minor league at bats and just 50 big league at-bats at age 27 sums it up. With some luck, he could stick in the majors for a few years as an extra player. Playing every day? By now he has been thoroughly evaluated by every MLB organization and I don't sense any team sees that potential in him.
IS J. MARTINEZ IN THE CARDS FOR 2019?
QUESTION: Do you think Jose Martinez is a Cardinal in 2019?
GORDO: Yes. One, I don't know that any team is willing to spend a good asset to get him. Two, he offers Dexter Fowler insurance, he is inexpensive and he performs well in a part-time role — which is a big deal. David Freese does the same thing and that is helping him extend his career.
OTHER ISSUES ON THE BLUES' ROSTER
QUESTION: Is Jaden Schwartz playing hurt? Not seeing the production with Brayden Schenn so far.
GORDO: He is not hurt. He and Schenn had their moments Thursday but didn't quite click. They are two of the players that have more to give as the Blues try to gain traction and move past their slow start.
Follow-up: Jordan Schmaltz has acquitted himself pretty well. What does the club think of him? Any chance they are showcasing Carl Gunnarsson for a trade to free up more playing time for Schmaltz?
GORDO: They Blues are playing Gunnarsson because they are trying to clean up their defensive zone play and win some games. There is no great urgency to create more playing time for Schmaltz, who has done solid work filling in but isn't viewed in the same light of Vince Dunn or Jake Walman. Might Gunnarsson exit at some point when Bortuzzo is healthy and the team wants cap flexibility? That could happen.
EXPECTATIONS FOR SHILDT IN 2019?
QUESTION: What should we expect from a full year of Mike Shildt as the manager?
GORDO: The Cardinals should contend. He had to make early changes, like conceding the need to play Jose Martinez, and he adapted well. But he needs Ozuna to be Ozuna, key guys (Molina, Wong, starting pitchers) to avoid weeks-long injuries, and key hitters (Carpenter, DeJong) to avoid weeks-long slumps.