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Trevor Rosenthal's Path Just Got Trickier

To start with, let’s recap a few things we know about Trevor Rosenthal. He throws really hard. He struggles with bouts of wildness. He is a tough dude, as evidenced by his pitching through pain en route to his recent season-ending injury and Tommy John surgery. Lastly, said Tommy John surgery just cost him a bundle of money.


Wait, did it? That was my immediate thought, but I could only really call Greg Holland to mind as a dominant closer whose market froze up post-TJ. I decided to investigate. For this study, I looked at relief pitchers who signed a contract in free agency after putting up a FIP below 3.00 in their last active season before signing the contract, as well as one Craig Kimbrel who signed an extension rather than reach free agency but who I thought was a reasonable comparison to Rosenthal in terms of arbitration salaries. I divided these into two groups- those who had at least one TJ surgery on their record at time of signing, and those who had not. The results, as they say, might surprise you:



No TJ

TJ

Count

20

7

AAV (million)

$8.4

$8.7

Total Dollars(m)

$27.5

$21.5

FIP

2.35

2.7


This is a pretty solid ‘no evidence of anything.’ Well, like any bad scientist, I set about fudging my data to get to a better conclusion. The no-TJ crowd didn’t really have any weird people in their group, so I left that alone. In the post-TJ crowd, Mark Melancon stuck out to me, largely because I didn’t know he had missed a year. Turns out, he hadn’t really. He was drafted by the Yankees in 2006 and had TJ after pitching in all of seven games of rookie ball. He never hit the disabled list in his major league career after that surgery (until going there twice this year, because the Giants built their 2017 season on an ancient Native American burial ground). Removing Melancon, the numbers look ever so slightly less muddled:



No TJ

TJ

Count

20

6

AAV (million

$8.4

$7.5

Total Dollars(m)

$27.5

$14.8

FIP

2.35

2.75


That is not really much better. One thing that stuck out in looking through the contracts, however, was how rare it was to give a post-TJ player a third guaranteed year. It happened only once, with Rafael Soriano, who was somehow TWO of the post-TJ signings, including a 3 year/35 million dollar deal with the Nationals. Of the non-TJ cohort, a full 50% signed 3-year-plus deals in free agency.


A far more common path for post-surgery arms is something like Greg Holland’s current deal. He signed for one year for $6 million with the Rockies, but he has pitched his way into a vesting option for 2018 for $15 million. When Trevor comes back, he’ll most likely have to sign a bridge contract before heading back into the land of multi-year contracts. The fact that there are only 7 similar contracts in the last 9 years (as far back as I pulled data) tells you all you need to know about how unpredictable his path will be.


At this point, this post is going to switch from evidence to editorializing, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, feel free to head out. I initially wrote this up because I wanted to present an argument for signing Rosie to some type of make-right two year contract with team options for a few more if all went well. As I wrote it, however, something just felt off about treating this as a source of surplus for the Cardinals. As much as I like to play armchair GM (or armchair manager, or armchair scout- I have a very comfortable armchair!), we are talking about a guy who hurt himself last year and rehabbed himself back into his former flame-throwing shape. We’re talking about a guy who got demoted out of the closer role and teased with the potential of starting, but who just put his head down and dominated until the Cardinals gave him his old job back. We’re talking about a guy who kept pitching despite being in obvious pain, a year from a massive free agency haul, because we are in the race for the playoffs and he wanted to win more than he wanted to lock up a probable 8-figure arbitration award. It doesn’t sit right with me to think about whether the Cardinals should try to squeeze a few million dollars of surplus value out of him.


The Cardinals have paid Rosenthal just under $14.1 million in his career to date, receiving 7.6 WAR for their troubles. That’s a rate of roughly LOL-are-you-kidding-me per win. Lest you think it’s one of those weird fluky WAR outputs where his performance hasn’t matched his underlying stats, he’s put up a 2.99 ERA (2.59 FIP) and a 31% K rate to go with a 10% walk rate. Simply put, he’s been the best Cardinals reliever of our generation, and I’m going to be sad if this injury nixed his one chance at a big paycheck. Wherever Trevor goes- and I’m hoping it’s the Cardinals, I love watching him pitch- here’s hoping he has enough left in the tank for one last score.