News broke on Saturday that last seasons 42 save man, Jason Motte, will likely be headed to the disabled list for the beginning of the season with a flexor muscle strain, which is actually medical jargon for a slight tear in the tendon. Depending on your perspective, the Cardinals recent diagnoses, and subsequent PR Spin Machine, has either notoriously understated the severity of several injuries to star players, or they have simply chosen to look at the best possible scenario of each individual injury situation. Either way, there is plenty of reason for concern with regards to Motte going forward. Will this injury shelve him for a majority of the season or will his time missed be minimal? What should the Cardinals do to replace him?
Manager Mike Matheny has already made the proclamation that Mitchell Boggs will assume the 9th inning role until further notice. This decision appears to have been driven by Boggs’ performance last season as the set up man for Motte, which he handled more than admirably by leading the National League with 34 holds in 78 appearances. While you can’t discount the job he did last season, I don’t think it necessarily justifies his automatic insertion as the closer. Has Boggs found his groove as a major league reliever simply because the 8th inning is what he was meant to man, or has he found his groove because of his experience in the league and learning how to use his particular skill set to get guys out which would translate to any inning including the 9th? Boggs has been given this opportunity before, and he cashed it in for 4 saves in 2011. However, in the past two seasons he has also blown 7 save opportunities. Couple this penchant for blowing saves with the statistical fact that Boggs isn’t a full blown strikeout pitcher (58K in 73.1 IP last season), and I think the more prudent decision might be to leave Boggs in the 8th inning role in which he’s obviously very comfortable.
The Cardinals truly found their stride as a bullpen last season when Mozeliak made the deal to acquire Edward Mujica as the 7th inning bridge from the starters to Boggs in the 8th inning. The Mujica-Boggs-Motte Equation was highly effective down the stretch. So, why would the Cardinals disrupt the first two thirds of that equation because Motte can’t pitch? The least disruptive course of action would be slotting Trevor Rosenthal into Motte’s portion of that equation and seeing how effective he can be as the Cardinals closer. Rosenthal is coveted league wide because he can let it fly, even going so far as hitting 100 mph four different times in a recent spring outing. While the radar gun readings are nice, there remains the fact that Rosenthal isn’t a 1 trick pony. His curve and change are equally deadly pitches, and they have aided him in putting together a very respectable strikeout rate (25K, 22.2 IP). While its true strikeouts aren’t everything, as a closer they can be your best friend if you enter a game with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs. Clearly, Rosenthal has proven he pounds the strike zone, can miss bats, and can get the strikeout if that’s what the situation demands.
Hopefully, the Cardinals re-evaluate their stance during Boggs’ Spring Training closer audition before a few potentially blown saves rattle the confidence that he worked all last season to bolster while showing he was the most dominant 8th inning pitcher in the National League.
Mujica-Boggs-Rosenthal looks like a winning formula to me. Does it look like a winner to you too?