It was a span of 24 hours, two breezy afternoons at Wrigley, 54 fast outs, and Cardinals season met an abrupt end. A 100 win season completely washed away. In the post-postseason media day in St. Louis earlier this week, rather than wrap a bow around what was probably the greatest regular season in Cardinals history, the dynamic duo of Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak seemed unsure, inconsistent, and searching for answers. The warrior, grind-it-out mentality had finally come crashing down, hard. Now, back to square one. The Cardinals most durable and arguably most valuable player Jason Heyward is a free agent, and Mozeliak will be charged with the difficult task of not only finding a way to retain Heyward, but also improve what was a stagnant Cardinals offense in 2015. With every laborious pitch thrown by Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist in the postseason, it also became increasingly clear that a bullpen upgrade will be necessary as well. Matheny, on the other hand, may need to reconsider his managing style and find a way to keep his players fresh for the postseason without sacrificing wins in the regular season. Most suggestions to these two problems involve jumping in the free agent pool, but I’d like to make an outside-the-box suggestion that I believe could the Cardinals in both the short and long term, as well as putting the Cardinals in a better position for the postseason. Its time to convert Trevor Rosenthal to a starter.
On first glance, this suggestion doesn’t appear to be solving anything. The rotation seemed exceptionally strong in 2015 and Trevor Rosenthal set the franchise record in single season saves with 48. Why change what seems to be working? Well, I would first like to contend that neither situation was as smug as the numbers would like us to believe. Here are three reasons why moving Rosenthal to the rotation makes sense:
1. Jaime Garcia largely contributed to the rotation’s success in 2015. That goes without saying. Garcia may have been perfectly healthy for most of 2015, but he could just be an errant step away from an injury plagued 2016. The Cardinals need to prepare for that.
2. John Lackey was the staff ace in 2015. Lackey won’t be a Cardinal in 2016. Wainwright should recliam that role, and perhaps Wacha or Martinez can continue to take steps forward in their development, but Lackey’s effect on that staff can’t be understated.
3. You can’t have too many arms in the rotation. In case you ever doubted the truth of that statement, see the 2015 Cardinals. The Cards entered camp with Marco Gonzalez, Tyler Lyons, Garcia, Wacha, Martinez, Lackey, Wainwright, Lance Lynn all eligible to pitch in the rotation during the regular season. Over the course of the season those candidates whittled down to 5 and no more. Adding Rosenthal to that mix in 2016 won’t be a bad thing for the rotation.
I’d like to secondly contend that moving Rosenthal away from the bullpen isn’t a bad thing either. Rosenthal did have a very good season in 2015, it’s true, but I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we put him in the same category as Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and closers of that caliber. Rosenthal racked up a lot of saves, but none of them were comfortable or efficient. Rosenthal averaged nearly 18 pitches per inning, among the highest in the League, and did so with only 2 major league quality pitches. His fastball is electric, true, but his changeup is, at best, a solid complement to his fastball. It’s not a Mariano Rivera cutter or a Craig Kimbrel slider, just a decent pitch to keep the hitters off his fastball. While watching 99 mph heat coming out of the bullpen is fun, it seems that being an everyday closer has somewhat stunted Rosenthal’s growth as a pitcher. A move to the starting rotation could lead Rosenthal to expand his arsenal of pitches and become more of a complete pitcher. Rosenthal has also stated that he would like to move to the rotation sooner rather than later. It worked for Carlos Martinez, it can work for Rosenthal.
Clearly, the Cardinals need more efficiency out of the closer position. Putting Siegrist and Rosenthal back to back in the bullpen is enough to age every player and fan a couple of years. If they wished, the Cardinals could dip into the free agent pool and pick up an Edward Mujica, Tommy Hunter, or someone that could close out a game but without all the nail biting. Tyler Clippard would be a nice fit for the Cardinals. The Cardinals could also take a page out the Mets’ book and go in-house with Sam Tuivailala or Miguel Socolovich. Remember that the 2011 World Series Cardinals started off the season with Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, and Eduardo Sanchez all filling in as closer and doing a fine job before Jason Motte came along. The options are endless for the Cardinals at closer, so it makes no sense to hand the job to Rosenthal before exploring all the options.
2015 was a hard year with a harsh finish, and Cardinals fans have no desire to see a repeat of all the anxiety in 9th innings. Moving Rosey to the rotation could positively impact the rotation, Rosey’s career, and even the bullpen. Less drama in the 9th inning during the regular season should should save more drama for October.