After reporting this morning that the Marlins had agreed to a deal with right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reversed his initial report upon being informed by agent Scott Boras that no deal was in place. (Twitter links.) Indeed, to the contrary, Boras says that Rosenthal does not plan to sign a contract at all for the coming season.
It seems that Rosenthal, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, had been weighing an offer from Miami that would have allowed him to complete his rehab and potentially return later in the 2018 season. Per the initial report, Rosenthal would have earned at the league-minimum rate in both the minors and majors for any active time in the current season.
Importantly, it was unclear whether the prospective contract was a minor-league deal or a split major-league deal. In the latter situation, presumably, Rosenthal would have earned MLB service time while on the disabled list. Whatever the case, Brian Stull of St. Louis Baseball Weekly reported (Twitter link) that the Cardinals made a “similar offer,” so there were evidently multiple teams in pursuit.
Instead, Rosenthal expects to complete his rehab and showcase for the teams in the 2018-19 offseason. It seems, then, that he’ll follow the course taken previously by Greg Holland, another Boras client. Holland underwent Tommy John surgery late in the 2015 season, much as Rosenthal did a year ago. He ended up waiting until early in 2017 to sign a deal that allowed him to earn good money for the coming season and then return to the open market thereafter.
There were, of course, alternatives. Many recovering TJ patients have found guaranteed money on the open market. Drew Smyly and Michael Pineda recently took down $10MM guarantees on two-year deals, despite the expectation that both will miss most or all of the 2018 campaign. Nathan Eovaldi was promised $4MM in the prior offseason. Relievers have similarly inked two-year arrangements in prior years, with Luke Hochevar and Eric O’Flaherty representing examples (though in both cases, their rehab timelines led to expectations of significant availability in the first season of the contract).
When the now-discarded report came through this morning, though, it seemed that there were two other possibilities. Because Rosenthal currently has just over five years of MLB service, he’d remain eligible for arbitration in 2019 even if he returned late in the season. Had he joined the Miami organization on a minors pact, then, the club would effectively have picked up an option. Rosenthal had projected to earn $7.9MM in his final season of eligibility, which isn’t exactly cheap but would also be quite an appealing price tag if he can regain his former form.
Of course, Boras no doubt anticipates there could be quite a bit more earning power for a pitcher who is still just 27 years of age. Thus, it seemed possible that Rosenthal could have inked a split MLB contract. In that case, he’d have gone onto the major-league DL, where he could have accrued enough service time to qualify for free agency at the end of the campaign while also having a shot at showcasing at the MLB level late in 2018. Only the possibility of a qualifying offer — unlikely, perhaps, to be issued by a budget-conscious Marlins organization — would have clouded Rosenthal’s future open-market status. Whether or not such an arrangement would have passed muster with league and union officials, perhaps, is an open (and thus-far hypothetical) question.
In any event, that’s all academic at this point. It now seems Rosenthal will work back to full strength before he goes after his next contract. Given his age and track record, it’s conceivable that he could end up even seeking a longer-term deal than the one Holland initially signed with the Rockies.
There certainly seems to be reason to hope that Rosenthal can again be a premium relief asset. Long a quality late-inning arm, he struggled quite a bit in 2016 but bounced back last season. In his 47 2/3 innings in 2017, Rosenthal pitched to a 3.40 ERA with a career-high 14.3 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9. He worked at 98.8 with his average heater and generated a 15.9% swinging-strike rate — both also personal bests, the latter by quite a significant margin over his career average.