The bullpen has provided a large problem for the Cardinals a month into the 2011 season. Releasing a player that makes over three million dollars does not suggest a wise or welcome business decision. As long as Ryan Franklin does not retire, the Cardinals have him in their bullpen for the remainder of 2011. The farm system is not particularly strong, leaving little to offer in a potential trade. These factors would suggest that the bullpen will not upgrade from outside the organization this season.
That leaves me wondering: Who’s the closer in 2012? The answers are numerous. There are internal options. There are external possibilities.
Internally, it would appear that Mitchell Boggs had the first shot at the job, and could not quite hold it down. He is under team control through 2016 and will turn 28 before Opening Day 2012. He has shown dominant stuff at times and proven to be stable at the back end of the bullpen. Another year of maturity might be what he needs. He may never be cut out for the role. I would have to say that I do not believe he is the solution. Decision: Not The Answer
The free agent crop promises three very interesting names. The one we hear the most about is San Diego closer Heath Bell. Bell has, simply put, been dominant for the last two seasons. His strikeout rates are high, walk rates are low, and has consistently nailed down the end of ball games. He will turn 34 years old prior to next season meaning that his next three to five year deal may be his last. Teams that have closer issues are dreaming of Heath Bell and if he smells free agency, his price will climb quickly. He makes seven and a half million dollars this season and his price will sky rocket if he gets onto the open market. Decision: Out Of The Price Range
Free agent choice number two will send us to Los Angeles to examine the 300 pound right hander, Jonathan Broxton. Broxton will hit the free agent market at the tender young age of 27, which will be his strength and weakness. His youth makes him an answer for a long time for the team willing to put up the years for the contract. His youth will also leave questions as to whether or not he has established himself enough to be crowned the next big thing for a team. He has seen ups and downs and has not been dominant consistently at any point. He will command a decent salary but a higher risk. Decision: Cheaper Options Exist
The final free agent option is that appears to be truly attractive is Mike Gonzalez. He was a solid closer in his days in Pittsburgh, but that dates back to 2006. His years in the Braves organization would see him bounce into and out of the role with mixed results. He has been at the Baltimore bullpen over the last two seasons but he has not been the man to shut the door. Gonzales will be 33 before 2012 arrives, but may be the option that the Cardinals are looking for. A veteran pitcher, looking to reclaim his position as a key pitcher, would be paired up with Dave Duncan for another run (assuming Duncan is back for another year). The combination of a veteran with a few years left to prove coupled with young pitchers poised to take the next steps may be just what the doctor ordered and well within the team’s price range. Decision: Solid Free Agent Answer
If the Cardinals are to bring in a veteran pitcher like Gonzalez, it would be best to have the young pitchers in development get a few chances themselves. Boggs is one option but thus far in 2011, Eduardo Sanchez has started to prove that he is ready, willing, and able to assume the role. Taking the young (he will be 23 in 2012) fire baller and giving him the support of a veteran pitcher that knows the ups and downs of the role could help the young man develop into the closer the team will need him to be in the future. Decision: Best Long Term Option
It appears that a combination of an external veteran leader and the young arms in the system may be the complete solution for the Cardinals in 2012, but the remainder of this season will tell the complete story.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
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