The bullpen of the St. Louis Cardinals, among the worst in baseball during the first three weeks of the season, has stabilized somewhat with the emergence of Edward Mujica as closer. In addition, Trevor Rosenthal has settled in and first-time call ups Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness have shown nicely.
The club recently logged a six-game winning streak, longer than any in 2012, and is a half-game off holding the best record in baseball before game two of the current series against the last-place Chicago Cubs.
So, about what should one worry? How about 2014?
Mujica has done everything asked of him and more. The 29-year-old has saved eight games in eight opportunities, has four holds, stranded all eight inherited runners and 11 of 13 first batters faced. All in all, it has been a tremendous “relief” to a club that needed it badly.
That success has led some to wonder about Mujica’s Cardinals future. Acquired from Miami at last July’s trade deadline for former first-rounder Zack Cox, Mujica is in his final season prior to becoming free agent-eligible for the first time.
I have been asked my opinion of whether or not I see Mujica remaining a Cardinal after this season.
My guess is “probably not”. Really, despite the elevation in Mujica’s role, I do not see a change in the end result I projected since the day he was acquired. Still, a year and a half of solid relief work would be a pretty good return for the disappointing Cox.
Long before Motte was hurt, I had assumed Mujica would leave next year. If Mujica continues to excel as closer, as a free agent, he will likely price himself out of St. Louis. In the unlikely event he struggles, his 2014 return would not be a priority.
I do not agree with those who think the Cardinals would be wise to try secure a 2014 draft pick by making Mujica a qualifying offer this coming fall. I do not see the club willing to make him a one-year commitment of over $13 million.
After all, why should they? In Motte, the Cards already have a closer under contract in 2014. It is true that the delay in Motte’s Tommy John surgery means he will likely not be ready for the start of next season, but the cupboard is not bare. Several young right-handers (see above) could move into more prominent roles following a year of grooming and sorting out optimal roles in 2013.
I do think it is good to have some veterans in the pen, but as the acquisition of Mujica in the first place clearly illustrated, quality right-handed set up men can be found at a reasonable cost.
Bottom line, I believe Mujica the closer will become more expensive than the Cardinals will want and need to spend. The considerations would not be unlike the reason Kyle Lohse left last off-season – availability of lower-cost replacements.
The Lohse decision was one that many disagreed with at the time, but few, if any, are questioning it today. Perhaps Mujica will earn the same kind of respectful good wishes as he cashes in elsewhere.
But all of that would be in the future. For now, enjoy Mujica’s splitter-driven success.