Cardinals Seek Closure

This past week, news broke that Jason Motte has a slight tear in his UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery unless significant progress is made by May 1. Because it is so likely that Motte will have Tommy John, the Cardinals need a replacement for the ninth inning. In the interim, the Cardinals are using Mitchell Boggs, who certainly has the stuff to succeed as a closer. Even with Boggs’s inexperience as closer, he is certainly the first choice within the organization to close games because of his capabilities in the 8th inning of last season. However, Boggs has already had three rough outings this season and seems to be battling his mechanics, and consequently, his control. Among Cardinals Nation, many fans have called for Trevor Rosenthal to assume the role of closer. Such suggestions have been fueled by Rosenthal’s electric fastball, frequently touching 100 mph, and above average breaking pitches. However, it takes more than electric stuff be a closer and Rosenthal is still adjusting to being a reliever, as he was a starter throughout his minor league career. Rosenthal has only 29 2/3 Major League innings under his belt and even though he has been very successful in those innings, he still must adapt to pitching in high leverage situations. This spring, the Tigers watched as their first choice for the closer’s role, Bruce Rondon, struggled to throw strikes in high leverage situations. While Rosenthal has the talent to be the Cardinals’ closer should Boggs falter, I believe he needs more time to acclimate to the life of a reliever before he can successfully assume that role.
Cardinals’ GM, John Mozeliak, has never been afraid to acquire “rental players” at or around the Trade Deadline, so a midseason trade for a closer cannot be ruled out. If the in-house options fail, Mozeliak has the pieces to obtain a ninth-inning reliever. Three options come to mind when considering closers who could be dealt mid-season: Steve Cishek, Huston Street and Chris Perez. Steve Cishek only has 15 career saves, but all five came last season after he replaced Heath Bell as the Marlins’ closer. Cishek is still only 26 years old and is in only his third full season in the Majors, but in that time he has a 2.79 ERA and a 2.1 WAR. Cishek is not arbitration eligible until after the 2014 season, but in order to maximize value the Marlins will likely trade him this season. Huston Street is the most experienced of the three options, but he is also the least durable. Street will likely take the most talent in return because he signed through 2014 with a team option for 2015. The Padres may wish to hang on to Street because he is signed through 2014, but if they are out of contention they will likely seek prospects instead. The most intriguing of the three available closers is Chris Perez. Perez was drafted by the Cardinals in 2006 and made his Major League debut with the club in 2008, but in 2009 he was dealt to the Indians. While the Indians seem committed to winning this season, Perez seems to have fallen out of favor in Cleveland after questioning the commitment of the ownership. Even if the Indians are in contention at the deadline, they would likely be willing to trade Perez for a solid prospect or two. On the field, Perez has 98 saves total over the last three seasons and a career 3.22 ERA.
If Boggs’s struggles continue, then the Cardinals will likely give Rosenthal an opportunity to close, while the front office surveys the trade market. If the Cardinals do make a trade for a closer, I believe Cishek is the best fit. This is because he has had success both as a closer and as a set-up man, which is important because Motte will likely return as the closer in 2014.

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