In an unexpected yet required form of action, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Trevor Rosenthal his unconditional release on Monday afternoon.
Translation: The Cards and Rosenthal have parted ways for the time being due to roster construction and 2018 payroll.
While initially surprising, the move has practical foundations for a team looking to shift the way their payroll is put together and aim to add a big dollar player to the roster this winter. Recovering from Tommy John surgery will eat up most of Rosenthal's 2018 season, so why float him some couch cash and wait and see if the return on investment ever shows up.
Now, I know what you are thinking-are the Cardinals and Rosenthal done for good? Or is the breakup temporary, with the young man wearing a trench coat and holding boom box while standing on top of a car shouting Peter Gabriel tunes?
Only time will tell, but in the mean time, let's go over a few scenarios:
1) The Cardinals and Rosenthal could still negotiate an incentive-laden two year deal
While the two sides couldn't agree on a contract due to surgery recovery and unknown return dates, they could reconvene. Rosenthal could make a faster recovery or the Cards could simply have a need in late August and September. The recovery time for relievers from Tommy John is different from starters due to the workload they are returning to, so the time away can vary. The Cards could load up on incentives in the second year to secure his services for 2019.
2) Rosenthal signs elsewhere in offseason with a team willing to play the long game
The reality is that Rosenthal will only be 28 years old on May 29, 2018. Compare his skill set and age bracket to a guy like Greg Holland, who is 32 years old and seeking a 3-4 commitment worth 15-18 million dollars per season. Rosenthal will more than likely be 100 percent on opening day of 2019, so teams may sign him this year to a two year term with a few extra incentives to keep both sides honest.
3) Rosenthal waits out, signs contract with Cards or other team near deadline
Once July 31 rolls out around and teams are looking for relief aid, Rosenthal will be deep into his rehab and throwing from a mound. He can always wait on signing a contract until then, relieving any extra pressure from a long process with the burden of a contract. When the man is healthy, he will get paid no matter what.
4) Rosenthal uses this rebirth to come back as a starter, something he's wanted to do for years
Ever since he stepped foot on a mound at Busch Stadium as a big leaguer, Rosenthal has expressed a desire to start. When he was asked about it at the 2014 Winter Warm-up, Rosenthal admitted that he really wanted to get a shot someday at starting before retracting into the "team first" statement zone. Tommy John isn't a complete reset, but it would allow Rosenthal to train his arm to handle more innings, especially if he takes his time. By taking 2018 off entirely, he could get his arm fully ready to handle starts in 2019. That would be over 16 months of time, which is near the north end of regular Tommy John recovery. If there was a time to do this, now would be the ideal moment.
Here's the thing: Rosenthal is still young and formidable, and the Cardinals have a need at closer for the foreseeable future. Cutting ties with him now is an ordinary formality, but not one that makes a future reunion far-fetched. The Cardinals could sign Juan Nicasio and another late inning reliever type to fill the gap before Rosenthal can come back. Before injury derailed his 2017 season, he was nearly untouchable on the mound, so there's no reason to cast off the possibility of his return.
The Cardinals releasing Rosenthal allows them to use his 40 man roster spot for someone who will actually play before June next year. The 60 day disabled list was an option, but a contract would have to be worked out first, and that's not financially feasible for a team looking to be bold this offseason.
Such as, "hey, watch out, we are reloading the roster, which includes that guy that won't throw a baseball until the fall!" That doesn't sound smart at all. This was the sad but true route.
Trevor Rosenthal may throw another baseball for the Cardinals, or he may not. That future is undetermined for the moment. What is determined is the local team is ready for offseason action. The time to transition the Cardinals for a 2018 division title run begins today.