Conventional wisdom might suggest that the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen will simply be more crowded as soon as Jason Motte returns to the active roster following his full recovery from May 2012 Tommy John surgery.
I see it differently.
A healthy, productive Motte, fully ready to return to his late-inning duties, could free up another important resource to be better utilized later on.
Both the 2013-ending eighth- and ninth-inning options for the Cardinals, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, are starting pitchers by training and skill. Granted, the organization almost always keeps its top arms in the rotation in the minors, even if their ultimate destination appears to be the pen.
However, I do not see that being the case for these two. They each have more than upper-90’s heat – a multi-pitch arsenal that should provide greatest benefit to the team with them pitching every fifth day. In fact, Martinez has been directed to prepare to report to camp as a starter, yet there is no apparent room, at least immediately.
Sure, there are other more experienced arms in the rotation, but ultimately, I think both Martinez and Rosenthal could be among the organization’s best five starters. But if that happened, it would down the road, not out of the gates in 2014.
Because of the importance of their current roles, the problem in trying get there during the season would be like trying to change a tire on a moving car.
Though Rosenthal has just three career regular-season saves in eight opportunities, his masterful 2013 post-season performance cemented his role as the continuing closer in 2014.
Even if Motte eventually appears ready enough to return to closing, the 31-year-old is in the final year of his current contract. Assuming the Cardinals do not want to ante up to pay free agent prices to keep Motte beyond 2014, they would need another closer next season.
Rosenthal might seem to deserve the chance to start again ahead of Martinez, but it may not happen that way. Fairly or unfairly, I can envision a scenario in which Rosenthal may remain chained to the ninth inning this year because of the team’s needs for next season and beyond.
Martinez, on the other hand, does not appear to have the same restrictions. His time as the eighth-inning man has been no longer than Rosenthal’s as closer and that job can be more easily moved among relievers.
A mid-season migration of Motte into the set up role could free up Martinez to return to Triple-A Memphis and stretch out as a starter. The Cardinals masterfully engineered Michael Wacha’s workload in 2013 so he could become a difference-maker in their post-season rotation.
Martinez could be the man to provide that shot of fall adrenaline in 2014, but he may need Motte’s help to get there.
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