Rosenthal is a closer because the St. Louis Cardinals need him to be a closer

Posted by Scott Wuerz on January 27, 2014 

I don't get all the recent hub bub about whether Trevor Rosenthal should be a closer or a starting pitcher.

Rosenthal set off the debate at the Winter Warm-Up when he cracked that he plans to try out to be a starting pitcher -- but that the St. Louis Cardinals front office just didn't know it yet.

Hardy har.

Since the remark, there have been countless internet discussions and polls about what the Cardinals should do with their right-handed fireballer. Well, the short answer is: Whatever they please.

There are going to be 25 men on the roster and they're all going to do whatever job manager Mike Matheny asks them to do no matter how many internet types disagree. And the reason is simple. The Cardinals don't have another option as good as Rosenthal at the back end of the bullpen -- although they do have about eight guys, not including Rosey, who are capable of being starters.

The most frequent argument I hear is that Rosenthal could somehow make more of an impact throwing 200 innings as a starter than he could hurling 60 as a closer. I guess if all innings were created equal -- and every frame of a seven innings start would be as good as one ninth inning every other game or so -- they might have a point.

But if Rosenthal has to pace himself and lay off his trademark gas, will he be as effective as he is when he can go all out for 15-20 pitches?

And are 140 extra mediocre innings as valuable to the Cardinals as 50 or 60 innings that preserve 45-50 wins? Not if the alternatives for the rotation are anything close to decent.

If Rosenthal could be 15-7 as a starter and his replacement would even be 12-10, the differential would be wiped out if the replacement closer(s) nailed down five less games.

But the options St. Louis has for starters aren't that bad. Ace Adam Wainwright is going to get one spot, second year starter Shelby Miller and rookie Michael Wacha are going to get two of the other four unless their is a tremendous setback or an injury. The last two rotation spots are going to be filled by two of the trio of Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn or Joe Kelly. And next on the hit parade would likely be Carlos Martinez.

The closer role isn't nearly as easily filled.

First, don't count on Jason Motte. It usually takes AT LEAST a full year to get back in game shape after elbow ligament replacement surgery. He had surgery after the 2013 season started. So I would be surprised if he's ready to contribute in a meaningful way until late May or June at best.

And then let's get over the idea of using Martinez as a closer. As we saw last year, he's very raw and emotional and I don't think he's ready to be the main man at the back of the bullpen. Ideally, Martinez will pitch the seventh or eighth inning.

If Rosenthal ends up in the rotation this season -- at least before Motte is fully healthy -- it's because terrible things have happened to three or four starting pitchers. And that is never a good thing.

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