Top Options for the Cardinals to Replace Injured Closer Jason Motte
With the news that closer Jason Motte will be shut down for at least another month and could require Tommy John surgery (per Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com), the St. Louis Cardinals will have to weigh their options internally and possibly go outside the organization, if necessary.
Acquiring an impact closer is a strong possibility if the Cardinals aren’t comfortable with what they currently have. Their farm system is one of, if not the best, in the game, so they have the resources to go out and trade for the best available option.
Here’s a closer look at the current closer, an internal candidate and four options that would have to be acquired via trade or free agency.
Mitchell Boggs, Current Closer/Trevor Rosenthal, Internal Candidate
Mitchell Boggs had a breakout season as Motte’s primary setup man in 2012, posting a 2.21 ERA with 34 holds in 78 appearances. His stint as the fill-in closer hasn’t gone as smoothly to start the 2013 season, though.
After blowing his first save opportunity in a 10-9 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 3, the 29-year-old Boggs earned his first save a few days later but then took the loss in his next outing. He entered during a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning against the division rival Cincinnati Reds. Four walks and two hits later, he exited with his team down 8-4 and the bases loaded (all three would eventually score) on the way to a 13-4 defeat.
Trevor Rosenthal (pictured), the team’s potential “Closer of the Future,” has the potential to take that title and run with it. He’s struggled a bit, though, giving up leads in two of his first five outings in a setup role.
The 22-year-old can hit triple digits on the radar gun, however, and had an excellent 19-appearance stint in the majors last season (2.78 ERA, 22.2 IP, 14 H, 7 BB, 25 K, 3 holds). If the Cards have full confidence that the rookie can handle the job, should Boggs continue to struggle, they could stand pat and not pursue help outside the organization. I find it hard to believe they're comfortable with the situation.
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox bullpen is stacked with talented pitchers capable of closing out games for many teams around the league. By acquiring Joel Hanrahan this offseason, they didn’t have to hope that Andrew Bailey bounced back after missing most of 2012 with a thumb injury.
He appears to have rebounded just fine, however, meaning the team now has two proven closers to go along with Koji Uehara, who also has experience closing games and has established himself as a top setup man over the past few years.
Trading Bailey would weaken their 25-man roster, so a trade would have to fill a hole elsewhere or include a top prospect in order to make it worth considering.
Pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, the third-ranked prospect in the organization by Baseball Prospectus, would be a lot to give up for less than two years of Bailey, but the Sox would have the upper hand in negotiations early in the season and would probably ask for that caliber of talent in return.
If Boston was to fall out of the pennant race in July, however, the price could come down as bullpen depth wouldn’t be as important. The team looks strong early on, however, so the Cardinals landing Bailey seems highly unlikely right now.
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Originally drafted by the Cardinals as a supplemental first-round pick in the 2006 draft, Chris Perez might be on a short list of external candidates to be the team’s next closer nearly four years after being traded to Cleveland.
The Indians have one of the deepest bullpens in the game, although they probably don’t have any real urgency to deal their closer unless the return is enticing enough. Vinnie Pestano appears capable of stepping into the closer’s role for the Tribe, but making that move while they are in the hunt for a playoff spot is risky unless it upgrades the rotation or lineup.
This might seem a bit crazy, but would a trade of free agent-to-be Carlos Beltran for Perez, who is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, help both teams? The Cards can replace Beltran with top prospect Oscar Taveras or move Allen Craig to right field and make Matt Adams the everyday first baseman.
Would that be too much of a downgrade, or would it even be a downgrade at all offensively in order to solidify the bullpen? A few more blown saves from the Cardinals ‘pen and I'm guessing it might not seem like it.
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Despite a win against the Los Angeles Dodgers in their home opener, the San Diego Padres lost five of six to start the season against the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies, two teams expected to be mediocre in 2013.
Their closer, Huston Street, might not have too many chances to earn his paycheck. The team is deep in minor league talent, but most of the best prospects won’t arrive until after Street departs as a free agent following the 2014 season (2015 if his club option is exercised).
The Padres also have a handful of replacements who seem capable of taking on the closer’s role, including Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson and Dale Thayer.
Street, 29, has saved 24 of 25 games as a Padre while posting a 2.03 ERA and 10.8 K/9. If the Cardinals take on his remaining salary ($14 million through 2014), they probably wouldn’t have to offer any of their top six or seven prospects to acquire him.
Brian Wilson, Free Agent
With Motte very likely to miss the season, I think it’s a good bet that Wilson will at least be considered as the potential closer. He is reportedly waiting until he’s 100 percent before throwing in front of interested teams again.
The 31-year-old is experienced, battle-tested and very capable if he can return to his previous form. More importantly, the Cardinals wouldn’t have to give away anything to get him and could probably sign him to a low-salary, incentive-based deal. Being able to offer him the closer's job would also help their case.