Brian Fuentes is the St. Louis Cardinals' "top priority." These are the words of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
Sure, the Cardinals' bullpen blew 31 saves as a team last year. Sure, it may have quite possibly cost them a shot at the playoffs. But is Fuentes the answer?
What do you say, Mr. I-Will-Let-You-Go-Blow-Another-Save-Jason-Isringhausen, ahem, Mr. La Russa?
"From Day One, he's been the guy that fit us the best," La Russa said of Fuentes. "You know, we have a strong right-handed relief core, whether it's a veteran like Ryan [Franklin] or [Josh] Kinney or Brad Thompson or the two kids [Jason Motte and Chris Perez]. A left-handed reliever, quality like Brian, from Day One, he's the guy who was our first choice. And I'm excited that here we are and we're still in the hunt and he's still available."
So what exactly is it that the Cardinals are looking for here? I know the Cardinals had their struggles last year with the southpaws in their bullpen, but it seems that if they were looking to sign a closer it would not matter which hand is in his glove.
A closer pitches the ninth inning. You don't sign a closer because he's left-handed.
If the Cardinals wanted another left-handed specialist to complement Trever Miller and Tyler Johnson, they should have looked to Arthur Rhodes. He could have been had at a much better price and he had voiced his desire to be in St. Louis.
I guess the Cardinals would rather spend $10 million plus per year on Fuentes for three-plus years than give Rhodes the $2 million a year for two years that he got from Cincinnati.
So, now that the hand Fuentes' uses to comb his hair doesn't matter, is he the best option at closer?
No, Brian Fuentes is not the best option. If the Cardinals lack that much confidence in "the two kids" and want to go out and sign someone, they should look to Trevor Hoffman.
Hoffman converted 30 of 34 save opportunities for the San Diego Padres last season. Guess who else converted 30 of 34 save opportunities? Brian Fuentes.
When it comes to the stats that matter for closers, Hoffman surpassed Fuentes last season. Hoffman had a better WHIP, a better on-base-against average, and a better ground-out percentage.
Hoffman's strikeouts/walks ratio: 5.11
Fuentes' strikeouts/walks ratio: 3.73
Hoffman's walks/nine innings ratio: 1.79
Fuentes' walks/nine innings ratio: 3.16
Anyone that has watched Jason Isringhausen close games for the last several years knows that closers who walk batters are bad news.
Hoffman would also be a great teacher for "the two kids." Who better than the all-time saves leader? All this for significantly less money than Fuentes will command.
If the Cardinals wanted to go with Motte or Perez and spend that money elsewhere, the sky would not fall. After all, La Russa announced in early August there would be a closer by committee. At that time, the Cardinals had blown 27 saves. They managed to blow only four saves the final two months of the season with Perez at the head of the closer-by-committee totem.
Chris Perez has shown he is capable and he deserves a chance to close. He will do the job and will do it gratefully. He will do it for much less money and will not voice a preference to pitch for the Angels like that certain left-hander the Cardinals covet.
Tony La Russa, Chris Perez is no kid. He is very much a man.
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