Jordan Walden’s continued unavailability was a key factor in the St. Louis Cardinals’ trade with Milwaukee on Friday that landed them reliever Jonathan Broxton.
Walden, acquired with right fielder Jason Heyward from the Atlanta Braves in November for pitcher Shelby Miller, was expected to be the eighth-inning bridge to closer Trevor Rosenthal. But Walden has been on the disabled list with right biceps inflammation since April 30.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Broxton, 31, was 1-2 with a 5.89 ERA in 40 games with the Brewers. He was unscored upon in his last seven games, allowing three hits and striking out five in 6 2/3 innings. Broxton has 10 walks and 37 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings overall.
“When you look at the last six to eight weeks of how he’s been throwing, we felt confident he was trending in a very strong direction,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “And we felt like putting him into our bullpen with (Steve) Cishek is definitely going to help out the manager, making sure (Seth) Maness and (Kevin) Siegrist don’t get overused.
“This gives us flexibility in the seventh and eighth inning that, prior to these moves, we really didn’t have.”
To make room for Broxton on the 25-man and 40-man rosters, the Cardinals optioned reliever Miguel Socolovich to Class AAA Memphis and designated pitcher Marcus Hatley for assignment.
Broxton, in his 11th season, recorded a career-high 36 saves with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009 and owns 118 saves in his career. He also has pitched for Kansas City and Cincinnati.
Mozeliak said Broxton’s recent turnaround made it easier to make the deal.
“If you look at his first month and a half of the season vs. where he is today, that will tell you everything you need to know,” Mozeliak said. “But more importantly, he’s been in pressure situations. He’s been in that big moment, and now he’s going to get a chance to do it for the Cardinals.”
Broxton throws a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a sinker. He is in the final year of a three-year, $21 million contract that is paying him $9 million this season. There is a mutual option for next season at $9 million, with a $2 million buyout if the Cardinals wish not to retain him.
The Cardinals sent minor-league outfielder Malik Collymore, 20, to the Brewers and received cash considerations along with Broxton. Collymore, a 10th-round pick by the Cardinals in 2013, is a converted shortstop who was batting .216 with two homers and seven RBIs in 23 games at rookie-level Johnson City. The right-handed hitter was a postseason All-Star for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in 2014.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Broxton will provide additional late-game support. Broxton, like Cishek, is capable of pitching effectively in the seventh, eighth or ninth.
“Just another great weapon for us to have, kind of like we talked about with Cishek,” Matheny said. “He has those late-inning experiences and has been throwing the ball well. A big arm with experience is just a great addition to our club.
“If we can throw him into the mix, it just gives us more options. Just like the last couple of days, we’ve used Kevin Siegrist pretty heavy and we haven’t had a lot of guys that could go in and jump into that spot to get the ball to Trevor if we have a lead. We’re bringing in some players who have been there before and hopefully they can get it done.”
Walden’s minor-league rehab hit a speed bump Wednesday when he suffered heat exhaustion during a game with Memphis. The Cardinals aren’t sure what to do with Walden at this point, although reporting to Jupiter, Fla., for more rehab is a possibility.
“It’s not really a commentary on Walden, but candidly, we’ve been waiting and waiting and at some point, you’re going to have to do something,” Mozeliak said. “Going into the July 31 deadline, it’s just easier to react before that than after. And so this (Broxton) deal is something that we had talked about for a few days, but it started to crystallize (Thursday) night. Then (Friday) morning we were able to finish it.”
The Cardinals hoped Walden would return this homestand.
“I don’t think he’s as close as I positioned it a week ago,” Mozeliak said. “We’re going to have to take our time and allow him to gain his strength back. I think his preparation leading up to this rehab assignment has been focusing on more mechanical and shoulder strength. But there is the whole body component that I think he realized is going to take a little more time to get there.”