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Free Agent Friday
On November 3rd, 2021, the Oakland Athletics let star reliever Trevor Rosenthal walk to free agency. The 31-year-old reliever didn’t make a single appearance in any uniform affiliated with the Athletics in 2021 and was subsequently let go when the season was over. In order to understand why the Athletics would just let a star reliever that they spent $11 million to bring in walk to free agency, we need to look back at Rosenthal’s career in whole.
A Kansas City local, Trevor Rosenthal played most of his amateur career in the city between both high school and community college. In 2009, after pitching just 4 2/3 innings and playing mostly at shortstop, the St. Louis Cardinals decided to draft Rosenthal in the 21st round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. Even though they had only seen Trevor in limited time on the mound, they decided that a player who could hit 90+ MPH with barely any experience could be a pretty good pitcher.
Rosenthal would start to gain experience pitching immediately in 2009, making 14 relief appearances in the Rookie League for the shortened season. He wouldn’t perform fantastically in those appearances, with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP, but considering he was still learning the position, it was still somewhat promising. On top of this he threw a very promising 9.8 K/9 and relatively low 3.8 Walks/9.
Trevor Rosenthal would live up to this promise in 2010, throwing a 2.25 ERA and transitioning to the rotation in Rookie League before being called up to Single-A for 2011. He would have a somewhat high ERA in Single-A of 4.11, but would throw a 9.9 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 while pitching in the Single-A championship clinching game and winning it with a good performance. He would also be a Single-A All-Star during this season.
Due to this promising talent, Rosenthal was called up for Spring Training at only 22-years-old in 2012. Although he impressed in his brief stint at the major league level, the World Series winning Cardinals squad did not have room for him on their team. This would lead to Trevor starting half the season in Double-A and make the Double-A All-Star team while absolutely dominating in 17 starts. On July 16th, 2012, Rosenthal would be called up to the majors and, outside of a few brief trips to Triple-A in 2012, would remain in the majors until 2019.
After making his MLB debut, Trevor Rosenthal would become an irreplaceable member of the bullpen immediately. In 2012, Rosenthal would finish with a 2.78 ERA in 22 2/3 innings pitched with a 9.9 K/9 and 2.8 Walks/9. Following this he would become an integral part of the Cardinals’ playoff roster, allowing 0 runs in 7 appearances during the playoffs and striking out half of the batters he faced.
He would follow this up with an even better performance in 2013, throwing a 2.63 ERA with a 12.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. On top of this, he would continue his postseason scoreless streak, allowing 0 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings of work while being named the closer during the failed World Series run. His playoff scoreless streak would come to an end in 2014, but his regular season dominance would continue as he would pitch a 2.65 ERA with an 11.0 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 in 2014 and 2015 combined. During the 2015 season specifically, Trevor Rosenthal would have a few eye-popping accomplishments.
In 2015, Rosenthal would be named to his first and only MLB All-Star game. He would also set the Cardinals’ saves record with 48 and become the 3rd Youngest MLB pitcher and 2nd Cardinals pitcher to have consecutive 40-save seasons. This is especially impressive when you consider that the Cardinals have had Hall-of-Fame relievers Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter on their team, along with notable closers Jason Isringhausen and Todd Worrell. He would even get MVP votes, getting more than Curtis Granderson, Gerrit Cole, and Adrian Gonzalez. On top of this, the only time that Rosenthal missed time was due to paternity leave.
Rosenthal’s great 2015 would unfortunately become the peak of his career at only age 25. In 2016, Trevor’s walk rate would balloon to a 6.5 BB/9. This, along with a 5.63 ERA, would result in him losing the closing spot to Seung-hwan Oh. He would improve his ERA to 4.46 by the time the season had finished, but this would unfortunately be a sign of things to come.
Trevor would have his first experience with arm injuries in 2016, but it is 2017 where those injuries would have a lasting effect on his playing ability. After posting a 3.40 ERA and a 14.3 K/9, Rosenthal would be put on the IL for elbow irritation. This irritation would instead be an injury to the UCL, and thus requiring Tommy John surgery. This would rule out Rosenthal for the rest of the 2017 season and possibly the 2018 season as well. Possibly due to this, the Cardinals were not able to come to an agreement in arbitration and allowed Rosenthal to walk to free agency.
After missing the entirety of the 2018 season, Rosenthal would sign for the Nationals for the 2019 season. With a heavy incentive-based contract, things were looking up for Rosenthal in 2019. These hopes would immediately be dashed as he would throw a 22.74 ERA for the Nationals before being released. He would spend time with both the Tigers and the Yankees (only in their minor league system), but would fail to improve back to a useable level as his BB/9 hovered above 9.0 for the season.
During the offseason, Trevor Rosenthal would sign with the Royals to a minor league deal. He would eventually be called up to the majors and perform admirably, having a 3.29 ERA before being traded to the Padres for Edward Olivares (an outfield prospect) and Dylan Coleman (pitching prospect). Rosenthal would perform even better for the Padres throwing a 0.00 ERA in 9 appearances with a 15.3 K/9 and a 0.9 BB/9.
While this form would not carry into the playoff, it did show that Trevor Rosenthal had a bit left to give. As such, the Athletics signed him to a one-year contract worth $11 million. Unfortunately for the Athletics, they would never see how their investment in Rosenthal would pay out. After suffering two major injuries in 2021, one to the shoulder and one to the hip, Trevor would not make a single appearance for the A’s before being let go in free agency.
Overall, it is unclear how much Rosenthal will be missed. While he might bounce back to form if he can remain healthy with another team, it does not seem very likely considering his injury history. Also, considering his potential $11 million salary, it is unlikely that the Athletics would want to risk paying that to someone who could easily get injured again. In total, it doesn’t seem like the A’s will regret letting Rosenthal go, only that he was yet another failed 2021 experiment.
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