There’s no denying the value Trevor Rosenthal provided while wearing the birds on the bat. A 2015 All-Star, Rosenthal was a boon to the Cardinal bullpen from his rookie season in 2012 where he delivered lights-out performances in the postseason.
He kept doing that, as noted by the 2013 World Series highlight featured by Heather yesterday. His most recent season--and last as a Cardinal--was pretty solid, as noted by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs.
Now, Rosenthal is a National. After signing a one-year contract with a vesting option with Washington, his 2019 destination is set.
It’s a good thing he isn’t a Cardinal.
I don’t mean that it would be bad to have Trevor Rosenthal. Historically, he’s had some great seasons. What I mean is, given the circumstances, it’s best that the Cardinals passed.
Rosenthal signed a one-year contract with a guaranteed $7 million. His $14 million option for 2020 vests if he makes 50 appearances or finishes 30 games.
If there’s one thing the past season taught us all, it’s that you shouldn’t pay much for relievers.
Last offseason, the Cardinals spent $22 million in free agency on three relievers. One didn’t even reach 13 innings due to injury. Another followed a solid first half with a rough second half, including an absolutely abysmal September and October. The third (and most expensive) was released in the middle of the season.
We probably don’t need to go into too much detail about Brett Cecil.
If there’s one thing the Cardinals have in droves, it’s young pitching. They have more than enough arms to throw at the bullpen and see which ones stick. More importantly, they’re cost-controlled, freeing that money to be spent elsewhere.
Pitchers aren’t always the same when they return from Tommy John. It would be unfair to make that as a blanket statement; some, like 2018 World Series star Nathan Eovaldi, come back and dazzle.
Others find struggle. Holland started his 2017 return on a great note and slowly lost it as the year progressed. Alex Cobb hasn’t looked like his 2014 self since his surgery.
Even more troublesome, both Shelby Miller and Alex Reyes are examples of young pitchers returning from TJ who injured themselves almost immediately upon taking the big-league mound again.
If you truly believe it’s dangerous to pay for relievers, it’s even more dangerous to bank on one who’s recovering from a major surgery.
In terms of peripherals, Rosenthal had a solid 2017. In the Jeff Sullivan article linked earlier, it’s highlighted that he was a great reliever over the course of the season.
Rosenthal’s 2016 is a bit different.
But, so is his 2015. It looks more like 2017.
Across his four seasons since 2014, Rosenthal’s BB/9 has varied 3.2 at the most, from worst to best. The difference in K/9 has nearly reached 4. His HR/FB% has varied at most by 9.3%.
Ultimately, he’s been a bit volatile. When Rosenthal is right, he’s one of the best. The issue is consistency. His fWAR has varied by more than one win every season of his professional career, and it isn’t just due to injury-shortened seasons.
Trevor Rosenthal has shown he has what it takes to be an elite reliever. He hasn’t shown he can do so consistently.
He’s yet to show that health won’t be a concern as it was in 2016 and 2017.
The Cardinals have been burned pretty heavily by free agent spending on relievers in recent years.
As an organization, abstaining from the Rosenthal market was a move that was both safe and smart.