Many watchers of the St. Louis Cardinals expect the club to approach Carlos Martinez and his representatives before the start of the 2017 season in an attempt to secure a long-term contract covering the club’s young ace’s arbitration years and perhaps longer. This makes a lot of sense to me.
Elsewhere in baseball, three top closers currently on the free agent market are expected to cash in this winter with major multi-year deals as well. Of course, I am referring to Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.
The intersection of these two situations leads me to consider a much-less discussed contract extension opportunity for the Cardinals – closer Seung-hwan Oh. With just one year remaining on his initial two-year deal, it seems the club should also be trying to extend Oh’s contract beyond the 2017 season.
The 34-year-old from Korea, with 357 saves over 11 seasons in his homeland and in Japan, originally signed with St. Louis in a projected role to set up Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. That script changed with Rosenthal’s struggles with injury and ineffectiveness, leading to his removal from ninth-inning duties at the end of June.
Since joining St. Louis, Oh has put up numbers that look very good alongside the elite closers in Major League Baseball. In his 76 games, seventh-most among NL pitchers, he logged a 1.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, six wins in nine decisions, 19 saves in 23 opportunities and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
In direct comparison, Oh’s 2016 bWAR of 2.8 was equivalent to Melancon’s and greater than both Chapman’s and Jansen’s (2.5 each).
With the increased pressure and scrutiny that comes with the closer’s responsibility, Oh continued to perform well. Over the remainder of the season since taking over from Rosenthal – Oh’s first save was on July 2nd – his ERA was 2.27. His WHIP was 0.96 and his strikeout rate held strong at 11.3 per nine.
Where would the 2016 Cardinals have finished had Oh not been ready to seamlessly take over for Rosenthal? I think this is one of the most overlooked and under-rated factors in St. Louis being able to remain in the Wild Card race until the very end.
On the other hand, looking forward, one has to be realistic.
Oh’s high mileage, advancing age and shorter MLB track record would make a direct comp inappropriate with the deals the trio of free agents should receive this winter. However, with another strong season in 2017, Oh could look to make what may be his last chance at a big payday as a free agent next winter.
Because of these factors, this seems like a good time to try to extend the relationship – when some risk remains on both sides of the bargaining table.
Though investing significantly in closers has not been part of St. Louis’ master plan to date, perhaps that should change. In fact, some segments of the fan base and media would like to see them go after one of the three elite closers currently available.
It seems to me the Cardinals should first try to lock down the elite closer they already have.
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