By Jeremy Clements
The early struggles of the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen and the announcement that closer Jason Motte is likely done for the year after an MRI showed a grade 1 tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm earlier this week set off panic alarms across Cardinal nation. Mitchell Boggs and the rest of his ‘pen mates have converted only 1 of 4 save opportunities so far this season, prompting some to believe that the front office must immediately bring a new arm in to save the day. Despite the early setbacks for the back end of the bullpen, I still believe this roster has the talent to fill the void left by Motte.
I’ll get to my top candidates for closer in a bit, but first let’s take a look at some raw statistics. As a collective group, the pitchers in the Cardinals ‘pen have amassed 168 total saves. Breaking that down further, Cardinals relievers have combined to convert 39 of 47 save opportunities at the major league level and have converted 129 of 181 chances in the minors.
Individually, the reliever in the Cardinals bullpen with the most impressive statistics as a closer isn’t Mitchell Boggs, the man currently tabbed as the closer by Mike Matheny. Fernando Salas has the best track record of any reliever in the Cards ‘pen at the major league level. Salas converted 24 of 30 opportunities in 2011, something that is largely forgotten because of his struggles last season.
After Salas, there isn’t much to speak of as the rest of the bullpen has combined to throw 15 saves, including Boggs’ save on Tuesday. Randy Choate is 6 of 10 in his career, Boggs has converted 5 of his 13 opportunities and finally Edward Mujica is just 4 of 17 in save situations during his career.
Flip the script in the minors. Mujica boasts the most success as a closer below the major league level, converting 57 of 67 opportunities. Salas is second on the list in the minors, going 47 of 60 in his opportunities to close the door. Randy Choate rounds out the list of pitchers with significant minor league experience as a closer. Choate converted 21 of 27 chances in the minors.
I’ve already made the case for the Cardinals to give Trevor Rosenthal a chance as the closer, so I won’t get into too much detail here. He has no saves in the majors and converted only 1 of 4 save opportunities as a minor leaguer. Still, he has the stuff to shut the door with force in the 9th inning. Including the current closer, Mitchell Boggs, you now have my top five candidates to fill the void left by Jason Motte.
Of course, the team could also look at bringing in a veteran pitcher, if he comes at the right price. Someone who fits that description would be free agent Francisco Rodriguez. The 31-year old, Venezuelan reliever spent the last season and a half with the Milwaukee Brewers. As a Brewer, K-Rod was a disappointing 3 of 13 in save situations and was not resigned by Milwaukee during the offseason, so he could come cheap. Rodriguez has converted 294 of 357 save opportunities and boasts 878 strikeouts during his 11-year career.