The addition of Korean reliever Seung-Hwan Oh on Monday could alleviate some of the stress on the back end of the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen.
Oh came to terms with the Cardinals on a $5 million deal that includes a team option for 2017. He is expected to set up closer Trevor Rosenthal, not replace Rosenthal.
Oh, 33, was 2-3 with 41 saves and a 2.73 ERA with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League last season, walking 16 and striking out 66 in 69 1/3 innings.
“A lot of people are speculating on how he will be used, what his role will be,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said. “We’ve been very candid with Mr. Oh and his agents in just saying that, ‘We’re going to bring him into camp. It’s going to be a competitive camp,’ and having his arm and what he’s capable of doing, competing for hopefully a late-inning role.
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“But as of today, and as I would imagine for the season, Trevor Rosenthal will be our closer. Ultimately, we brought Oh in to just make sure he just complemented what we already feel is a very dynamic bullpen. (He) adds strength to it.”
Mozeliak isn’t sure how Oh’s game will translate from Japan to the major leagues, but said Oh’s stuff should play in the states.
“From a pure scouting standpoint, you look at his fastball, slider and ability to throw a split, a curveball ... we really felt like what he brought to the table would fit us well,” Mozeliak said.
As of today, and as I would imagine for the season, Trevor Rosenthal will be our closer. Ultimately, we brought Oh in to make sure he complemented what we already feel is a very dynamic bullpen. (He) adds strength to it.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak
Oh joins a bullpen that also includes Seth Maness, recently re-signed Jonathan Broxton, Kevin Siegrist and perhaps Jordan Walden, who was injured most of last season. Siegrist worked in 81 games, while Maness pitched in 76 and Rosenthal in 68.
Mozeliak said Walden “is a question mark in terms of what we’ll get from him.”
“You look at that core and you have to have a lot of confidence moving forward, but every year seems to have its ups and downs in terms of injury and health risk,” Mozeliak said. “Basically, what we were trying to accomplish this offseason was find a way to mitigate that. This certainly took some time, but hopefully it’s well worth it.”
Oh has 357 career saves, twice recording 47 with Samsung of the Korean Baseball Organization. He has 772 strikeouts in 646 innings in a career that began in 2005.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Oh has “great stuff.”
“The numbers are there, too,” Matheny said. “Good stuff is good stuff. Realizing the success he’s had at the back end of a game is something that gives us a lot of flexibility of how we could use him here.”
Oh called signing with a team in Major League Baseball is “a dream come true.” The Cardinals did not have to pay a posting fee because Oh was not signed to a 2016 contract.
“I wanted a new environment,” said Oh, adding that former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was one of his role models. “I was looking for a new challenge. That’s why I decided to join MLB at this moment.”
Mozeliak said the Cardinals will hire a full-time interpreter for Oh, a person who will basically serve as a member of Matheny’s staff.
Oh, who will wear No. 26, enjoys the nickname “The Final Boss.” He also has been nicknamed “Stone Buddha.”
Oh’s physical and signed contract with the Cardinals came shortly after he learned he would face a suspension for gambling if he returned to the Korean Baseball Organization. Oh allegedly gambled at a foreign casino, which is unlawful in South Korea. His suspension from the KBO would have lasted 72 games.
Mozeliak said the Cardinals had an agreement with Oh before the pitcher was told about the suspension, and Oh said the suspension had nothing to do with his decision to sign with the Cardinals.
Mozeliak said the Cardinals will continue to be “opportunistic” this offseason. Their offense, which often struggled last season, still appears lack firepower.
“There may be times when something becomes available that just makes sense for us to pursue,” he said. “I don’t think anybody upstairs is closing the book on anything, but I would also caution people to understand we’re not hotly pursuing anything, either. We’re following markets. We’re paying attention, and if it leads us to something great.
“But we certainly are comfortable going in (to spring training) with what we have.”
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Mozeliak said left fielder Matt Holliday accepted grounders at first base Monday in Jupiter, Fla., but that it doesn’t mean the club intends to move him to the position permanently.
“I don’t think we’re anxiously looking at necessarily a position change, but I think the most important thing is he feels good and he’s had a really productive offseason from a physical standpoint,” Mozeliak said.
Holliday, 35, missed all but 73 games last season with quadriceps injuries.
“I think the question mark comes from just the simple fact that he was not able to ever get going last season,” Mozeliak said. “I know he’s been working with a physical therapist all offseason. Reports are that he feels good, that he’s definitely in a better spot than he was a year ago. Having said that, I still think there’s a reason for why we had (Holliday taking grounders) today and why we have a fair amount of questions about what we’re going to get out of him moving forward.”
Mozeliak said superstar catcher Yadier Molina is the only Cardinal who will be restricted in spring training. He has had two surgeries on his left thumb.
“All things considered, that’s pretty lucky,” Mozeliak said of the physical wellbeing of his team. “After this last surgery, (Molina’s thumb) was put in a cast. Until he gets out of that, in terms of strength, atrophy, and see where he’s at, it will probably give us a much better idea in terms of timetable.”
David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm