St. Louis Cardinals Still Planning New Role for Trevor Rosenthal

The St. Louis Cardinals remain open to preparing former closer Trevor Rosenthal for a new, more versatile kind of role this year.

After watching their longtime rivals lift the Commissioner’s Trophy last year, the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t sit on their hands this offseason in their bid to return to the postseason. Regaining control of the division might seem like a tall task considering how stacked the Chicago Cubs appear to be for the foreseeable future, but the Cards certainly aren’t giving up on that goal. They have the look of a solid team entering the 2017 campaign.

They made a few key additions in free agency, signing Dexter Fowler away from those same Cubs to lead off and play center field, as well as former Toronto Blue Jays lefty relief pitcher Brett Cecil. Both moves should improve areas of need for the club, but St. Louis is also looking inward for ways to boost their chances. A new role for one of the players already on their roster could strengthen their bullpen even further.

The Cardinals still plan to stretch out former closer Trevor Rosenthal this spring, according to MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. We had heard about this idea earlier in the offseason, but general manager John Mozeliak reiterated it at the team’s recent Winter Warm-Up event. While there was some speculation that the Cards could go as far as converting Rosenthal into a starter, Mozeliak suggested that the organization likes the idea of making him a more flexible reliever who can toss multiple innings at a time if needed:

“I think all of us were intrigued by how the postseason went this past year and how pitchers were being used. I’m not one who thinks that’s really something you can replicate in a 162-game season, but clearly it could be a weapon down the road if you do get to the postseason. But how is [Rosenthal] going to be used this year? I think really that’s what we’ll spend the next six weeks trying to define.”

Indeed, one of the big stories of the 2016 playoffs was how heavily managers relied on their most effective bullpen arms. Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen and the like were routinely called upon to get more than three outs per appearance. And considering the do-or-die nature of October baseball, it’s hard to blame them.

Naturally, teams with title aspirations are eager to identify pitchers in their bullpens who can come in to get important outs prior to the ninth inning, and then potentially provide some length to help bridge the gap to the closer. Perhaps Rosenthal can be that guy for the Cards in 2017.

Between 2014 and 2015, Rosenthal notched an MLB-leading 93 saves to the tune of a 2.65 ERA, cementing his status as one of the best closers in the game over that period. However, he struggled last year with a 4.46 ERA and four blown saves in 18 chances. A shoulder injury also took a significant chunk out of his season, which didn’t help matters.

Eventually, Rosenthal relinquished the closer’s role to newcomer Seung-hwan Oh, who took it and ran with it beyond anyone’s expectations. Oh racked up 19 saves with a shiny 1.92 ERA in 79.2 frames. The Cardinals see no reason to mess with what worked, so the Korean right-hander will justifiably maintain the job heading into the upcoming season.

That leaves Rosenthal in an ambiguous position, but at just 27 years old in May, he’s definitely not a lost cause. A fresh start with a new role to focus on could be just what he needs to get back on track. If he’s healthy, the Cards have to be confident that the Rosenthal they will see will more closely resemble the 2014-15 version rather than last year’s edition. The hard-throwing righty could be an intriguing x-factor for St. Louis in 2017.

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