Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny has made the logical decision, after a disastrous seven game run, to demote Trevor Rosenthal from the closer’s role. While we don’t know who the Redbird closer is at the moment or in the future, it’s safe to say it WON’T be Rosenthal.
While I respect Matheny’s ability to nurture players through difficult times, the closer is a different animal. Granted, players like Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright have had major slumps and come out of them. But none of them were, in effect, benched. And none of them had to overcome the difficult history of losing the closer’s job, and then regaining it with the same team.
In recent Cardinal history, Fernando Salas, Ryan Franklin, Edward Mujica and Mitchell Boggs have lost the closer job while still healthy and have never reclaimed it. Guys like Jason Isringhausen and Jason Motte have lost the job to injury and not rebounded, but the discussion here is in regards to pitchers that apparently are healthy, but lose the ability to get the 27th out.
In baseball in general, when a team decides to demote a closer, that guy generally doesn’t get the job back with that team.
We saw what happened to Brad Lidge after he allowed Albert Pujols’ mammoth home run in the 2005 playoffs.
After a strong start to 2006, he lost the closer’s job to Dan Wheeler in mid-season but regained it late in 2007 before being traded. Lefthander Brian Fuentes lost the job to Manny Corpas in Colorado in 2007, but rebounded to save thirty games for the Rockies in 2008. And in Cleveland in 1997, Jose Mesa was replaced by Mike Jackson in the middle of the season, but returned for the stretch run and the post-season.
Those are the exceptions. History is littered with guys like Salas, Franklin and Mujica. Fernando Rodney lost it in Seattle last year and never recovered there. Huston Street lost the job in Oakland in 2008 and had to move on to succeed again.
The Nationals decided they needed to replace Drew Storen last season. Heath Bell never recovered after making an All Star team with the Padres and then moving to Miami, where he lost the job. Sergio Romo was the closer for a Giants World Champion in 2012, but was demoted in 2014 and was never given another chance. Byung-Hyun Kim with Arizona, Steve Cishek with the Marlins, and Jim Johnson with the Orioles and A’s lost closer’s jobs. Johnson saved 101 games with sub-3.00 ERA’s in 2012 and 2013. In 2014 with Oakland and Detroit, he pitched in 54 games and compiled two saves and a 7.09 ERA. He simply lost it.
So that brings us to Rosenthal…
He had more saves than anyone with 93 combined in 2014-2015, and only three pitchers…Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Melanson and Kenley Jansen…had a higher save percentage than his .920. If the job is to save the game, he was at the top of the list in Major League Baseball.
But this year has been bad. He’s allowed more than two base runners per inning. He has allowed three home runs in 24 innings after allowing three in 68.2 innings last season. He’s had three blown saves in his last twelve games after blowing three in the 85 he pitched before that. In his last seven games, covering four innings, he’s allowed twelve hits, five walks and eight runs.
I would have to guess Rosenthal’s confidence is shaken.
As we’ve seen with closers, they need more than confidence. They need swagger. In eleven June games, Rosenthal’s ERA is 14.14. As has been well chronicled, Rosenthal hasn’t pitched well in non-save situations this season. So trying to fix him in middle relief, low-leverage situations could prove fruitless. There isn’t a viable way to let him get that swagger back.
Seung Hwan Oh has been infinitely more effective than Rosenthal this season. Yes, he’s going to turn 34 in two weeks and no, he hasn’t recorded a save in a Major League game. But at the moment, with the Cardinals in the midst of a race that appears to be headed down to the wire, they can’t afford to lose games they lead after seven innings.
If Matheny’s club fails to make the playoffs because of one or two losses, the last two weeks will prove to be their undoing.
So Matheny, General Manager John Mozeliak and the Cardinals must make a tough decision. They’ll probably have to sacrifice a talented 26-year-old arm for the long term so that they can make a playoff run this year. If the Cards weren’t in a playoff run, they could let Rosenthal work through is problems in his normal role. But they are, and they have no choice but to demote him. And there isn’t much history to fall back on if they hope to rehabilitate him and get him back as their closer.