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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Will 2013 be the last of Mujica?

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?

At The Cardinal Nation message board, there has been discussion about the aftermath of Jason Motte’s injury and the recent success of Mujica.

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.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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18 Responses to “Will 2013 be the last of Mujica?”

  1. blingboy says:

    I agree Mujica will not be back. Two things I would mention:

    1. He might not be a Cardinal by the end of this season.

    If he is, then

    2. The rules regarding qualifying offers/draft compensation might be different this winter.

    • Brian Walton says:

      What odds would you give to #1? I would generously give it 2 percent. Not worth mentioning, IMO.

      #2. No way. Those rules cannot be changed on a whim. The current collective bargaining agreement has multiple years remaining. I understand Boras had some indigestion over the Lohse situation, but I do not believe anyone else is upset enough to try to reopen the CBA mid-stream. That would be a big deal.

      • blingboy says:

        I concede on #2. As to Mujica being here at the end, maybe we could revisit the topic during the All-Star break.

        • Brian Walton says:

          By then, I will likely be less gracious than now regarding the chances. Obviously until something does not happen, one can hold out hope that it might, but you have presented no logic to refute my assertion that it is anything but a very, very unlikely event.

          • blingboy says:

            There is a good chance we will have at least one very attractive alternative to Mujica.

            Given that our strength is pitching, especially a multiplicity of hot RH arms, it seems possible that we could need or want something else more than we need him.

            His value as the deadline approaches could be very high.

            Mo is reluctant to trade any top pitching prospects, or any top prospects. So it is established players who will have to go.

            Letting a high value player in his prime walk for no return is not an attractive scenario when there is likely to be a plausible alternative.

            • Brian Walton says:

              So if I have got this right, you think the Cards will be so overloaded with effective relievers in two months that they would trade their incumbent closer in the middle of a pennant race because they are worried they will get nothing for him after the season as a free agent?

              Sorry, but I am not buying it.

              • blingboy says:

                Spinning it less negatively, as the deadline approaches, the Cards could have good enough alternatives to Mujica that they would take advantage of the chance to get something they like more than a couple more months of him.

                • Nutlaw says:

                  I can’t even remember the last time that the Cardinals traded away a productive veteran mid-season. Can you?

                  • blingboy says:

                    No. But I also can’t remember the last time this set of circumstances existed.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      What circumstances? They are always in contention. There are always impending free agents. All of the young talent have options so there is no pressure to trade anyone.

                      I cannot imagine that Mujica will not remain among the seven best relievers on this team for the remainder of 2013. Since the goal is winning, he isn’t going anywhere. I am amazed this conversation is continuing.

  2. Nutlaw says:

    I agree that Mujica doesn’t return. Lots of younger and cheaper guys with another year to figure things out. Also, his HR rate will catch up with him sooner or later.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    The question about whether Mujica is re-signed is unimportant right now. We resigned Holiday, Yadier, and Wainwright, paying the high prices. If we seriously need Mujica in 2014, he can expect to receive a fair offer.

    We might want to retain him. Just because there is excitement about Kelly or Rosenthal, this does not make them immediately successful. Some maturity is an asset, as Mujica is showing.

    OTOH, we are setting him up for a monster 2013, possibly yielding a huge free agent contract. We might say, thanks for the memories pal, but we have made you too valuable. Congratulations! Its fantastic to be priced out of town.

  4. jj-cf-stl says:

    mujica will be extended and not reach the FA market. the marshall & affeldt 3 yrs deals as ballpark contracts.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Mujica has been mindblowingly effective in a Cards uniform, at the end of 2012 and early in 2013. Which-ever scout recommended Mujica is unlikely to be the same guy who recommended Old Wiggy.

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