Already one week into spring training camps, St. Louis Cardinals all-time saves leader Jason Isringhausen decided he could wait no longer for the club to issue a return offer for 2009 that apparently wasn’t coming.
On Friday night, the 36-year-old accepted a minor league contract from the Tampa Bay Rays with an invitation to major league spring training. The non-guaranteed deal includes incentives for making the team, appearances, and set up results.
With the defending American League champions, Izzy joins former Cardinals teammate Adam Kennedy, who also accepted a make-good minor league deal from the Rays earlier in the week.
In 2008, Isringhausen became the symbol of the disappointment that concluded with a fourth-place finish for the Cardinals in the National League Central Division.
He had entered last season optimistically coming off a stellar 2007 campaign in which he ranked first in the NL and second in the majors with a 94.1% save rate (32 of 34).
The 2006 season, one to remember for the World Champion Cardinals, was one to forget for Isringhausen. He blew a career-high ten saves while picking up 33 and his season ended with September hip surgery.
2008 turned out to be an even greater nightmare. He saw heavy use early in the season, appearing in almost half of the club’s first 43 games (21). By mid-May, a run of six blown saves and five losses led to him punching a television in frustration and a trip to the disabled list.
The right-hander returned in mid-June and by late-July was anointed as the closer again, but picked up just one more save. It was his all-time team-leading 217th and final save as a Cardinal, collected on August 1.
By August 18, Izzy returned to the DL with tendinitis and a partial flexor muscle tear near his right elbow that would require surgery in September. He became a free agent after the season.
Overall in 2008, Isringhausen took the ball in 42 games, of which 21 were save situations. In the latter contests, he posted a 1-4 record, picked up 12 saves and blew seven. His ERA in those contests was 10.70.
While he pitched much better in less pressure situations, 2.16 ERA, his job was to close games, not mop up.
That seemed to be the concern about his future in St. Louis. Isringhausen campaigned to return to the Cardinals, offering role model assistance for a young staff and a willingness to pitch in whatever role requested. But lingering concerns over his 2008 season and whether he fit with a staff of younger relievers apparently led the Cardinals to reconsider, but ultimately not offer a 2009 contract.
During the off-season, his name came up in conjunction with several clubs, including the Tigers and Dodgers, but it seems that no one was willing to offer him a major league contract.
In addition to Kennedy in Tampa, the Rays’ closer is a familiar face, former Cardinals reliever Troy Percival. The closer apparently helped convince Izzy to sign there, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Now it appears the two relievers’ 2007 roles with St. Louis will be reversed in Tampa, with Isringhausen hoping to set Percival up.
In terms of continuous time on the Cardinals 40-man roster, Izzy had been there second-longest after Albert Pujols, having signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in December, 2001.
With the Cardinals, Isringhausen saved eight games in 19 post-season appearances, posting a 3.05 ERA. He had only one outing in the 2004 World Series and missed the 2006 post-season due to the aforementioned hip surgery.
The 13-year MLB veteran originally broke into professional ball in the New York Mets system in 1992 after being their 44th round draft pick in 1991. He joined the Oakland As in a July, 1999 trade before becoming a free agent following the 2001 season.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.
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