Every baseball team needs a flamethrower to nail the door shut in the ninth inning. Every team, that is, except the St. Louis Cardinals.
Leading the league in blown saves last season, the Redbirds set their sights on Brian Fuentes during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. However, they came out of those meetings without a single player signed.
This has been the general trend St. Louis has followed for at least the past three seasons. They end up going into the follow year with nearly the exact same roster. It was clear to manager Tony LaRussa that he wanted to solve the closer problem outside of the organization.
However, according to General Manager John Mozeliak, it looks as if the Redbirds are going to play the role close to the heart.
"I think I've made it very clear that I'm comfortable with what we have [in the ninth inning]," Mozeliak said. "We did say that if we could find somebody like [Brian] Fuentes, that we thought there was value and talent in return, we would try to do it. But that didn't happen. We're very comfortable going with what we have in-house."
Mozeliak didn't want to commit a multi-year deal to another pitcher after having locked up Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Kyle Lohse.
With such a glaring weakness staring them in the face, I don't see how the Cardinals can afford to just sit on their hands. A mediocre replacement in Trevor Hoffman has now just been inked by the Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis has already shot themselves in the foot by not actively pursuing Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, who were signed by the Mets.
Suggestions of moving veteran starters Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright into the closer's role have been thrown around, but that seems highly unlikely given that St. Louis is still in need of a fifth starting pitcher.
As it currently stands, the closer's role will most likely be a mixture of Chris Perez, Jason Motte, and Ryan Franklin. Despite LaRussa's reluctance in handing over the reigns to Perez or Motte, the "cold stove" for the Cardinals will most certainly come back to bite them.
The possibilities of obtaining a closer outside the organization are waning. With names such as Chad Cordero and Takashi Saito heading the list, the Redbirds brass are wise in their reluctance to sign either one of the injury-prone closers.
LaRussa did express consideration of Juan Cruz closing games for the Cardinals in 2009, but even that seems to be a lost cause. If Mozeliak has his way when it comes to the closing duties for the Redbirds in the upcoming season, it could be a very long 2009 for Cardinals Nation.