Trevor Rosenthal could be an attractive trade chip for the Cardinals this winter and at least nine teams make sense as possible partners as a deal. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

Watching the NL Championship Series between the Cubs and the Dodgers, it’s easy to understand why the two most attractive pitchers on the free agent market this winter will be Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.

Teams will line up to offer both closers lucrative contracts which almost certainly will earn them more money per season or for the total value of a contract than has ever been paid to a relief pitcher. The current records are $15 million, to Mariano Rivera, and $50 million over four years, to Jonathan Papelbon.

Another free agent closer also heading for a big pay day is Mark Melancon, but he will be 32 in 2017, three years older than both Chapman and Jansen, so his deal will likely be for fewer years and less money.

There are more than three teams with money, however, and more than three teams that will be shopping for a closer – and that brings us to the case of Trevor Rosenthal and the Cardinals.

The attractiveness of having Jansen, Chapman and Melancon hit the free agent market at the same time – and knowing there will be disappointed teams that don’t sign one of them – could open up some interesting trade discussions involving Rosenthal, who, at 26, is three years younger than Jansen and Chapman and still two seasons away from being eligible for free agency.

He also has 107 saves on his resume over the past three years, including the injury-filled 2016 season, when he finished with 14 and spent July to September on the disabled list after struggling early in the year. Rosenthal came back and pitched seven innings at the end of September, allowing just one run, and appeared to have regained the form he had in 2014 and 2015, when he collected 45 and 48 saves.

Normally, the Cardinals would not be thinking about seeing what other teams might offer for Rosenthal, instead trying to lock him up to a long-term contract. But while he was on the DL, Seung Hwan Oh took over as the team’s closer and recorded 19 saves - prompting manager Mike Matheny to say in his end-of-the-year review that he saw no reason to take Oh out of the closer’s role going into next season.

That brings us back to Rosenthal, who thanks to being eligible for arbitration for the first time last year and his big seasons the previous two years, received a raise to $5.6 million this year.

While that is a reasonable expense for a closer, most of the other pitchers who work ot of the bullpen other than Andrew Miller of the Indians do not receive close to that kind of salary.

The Cardinals are thus in a position to consider some options as they explore ways to improve the team for 2017 and beyond: Do they want to break that mold and pay Rosenthal $6 million or more to pitch in the seventh or eighth inning, or do they want to see if he could become a starter, even though they already have at least seven or eight projected starters for next year?

A third option would be to float his name as a trade candidate and see how much teams would be willing to send to the Cardinals in return. There would appear to be at least nine teams who could potentially match up with the Cardinals in a deal, teams which should be in the market for a closer.

Here is a look at the teams which could be interested in Rosenthal, either individually or in a multiple-player deal: (Teams are listed in alphabetical order)

– It’s too soon to know what strategy new GM Mike Hazen, hired away from the Red Sox, will have as he tries to rebuild the mess created by Tony La Russa. The previous regime traded closer Brad Ziegler to the Red Sox in July, so that need is obvious. One player who no doubt would interest the Cardinals is A.J. Pollock, who won a Gold Glove in 2015 but suffered a fractured elbow in spring training and was out until late August, playing only 12 games this season. Pollock, who hit .315 with 20 homers in his 2015 All-Star season, has two years of arbitration left before he can become a free agent.

Chicago White Sox
– One of the more prominent players in trade rumors this winter will be left-hander Chris Sale, a 17-game winner this year but the subject of some off-field discord with the front office. The White Sox will want a ransom to trade the 27-year-old Sale, which would have to include not only Rosenthal but at least three or four of the Cardinals’ top prospects as well. Sale might be worth it – he is owed $12 million next year with club options for $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019, although the salary does increase if he wins a Cy Young award. Another player on the White Sox who could interest the Cardinals is centerfielder Adam Eaton, who is signed through 2019 with club options for 2020 and 2021.

Colorado – A player who has been on the radar of Cardinals’ fans for a couple of years is centerfielder Charlie Blackmon, who this season debunked some of the suggestions that he could only hit at home. He hit .313 with 17 homers and 35 RBIs on the road this year, compared to a .335 average with 12 homers and 47 RBIs at Coors Field. The question would be how much of a defensive upgrade he would be than Randal Grichuk. Blackmon, 30, is arbitration eligible for two more years and his salary for 2017 is projected at about $9 million. The Rockies definitely need a closer but it’s doubtful they would trade Blackmon even up for Rosenthal, so other players would have to be involved.

– The Astros had almost a closer-by-committee approach in 2016, with three pitchers combining for 42 saves – Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson with 15 each and Will Harris with 12. If they are not able to settle on one of those three, somebody with Rosenthal’s level of success could interest GM Jeff Luhnow. The Astros have stockpiled a lot of good prospects in the last few years, and one who could intrigue the Cardinals is 19-year-old centerfielder Daz Cameron, the son of former major-leaguer Gold Glove winner Mike Cameron.

Kansas City
– The Royals have an interesting decision to make with their closer, Wade Davis, who is owed $10 million for next season. If they could replace him with somebody making less, such as Rosenthal, they would be able to try to shop Davis to a club that misses out on signing Chapman, Jensen or Melancon. Rosenthal also is a Kansas City native. A player who could interest the Cardinals is outfielder Lorenzo Cain, 31, who is set to make $11 million next year, his final season before free agency.

Los Angeles Dodgers
– If Jensen leaves, the Dodgers will need a replacement. Would they be willing to give up young centerfielder Joc Pederson in a trade for Rosenthal? If not, another outfield prospect who could interest the Cardinals is 20-year-old Alex Verdugo, who played all of this season at Double A.

San Diego – Only four teams had less saves than the 35 by the Padres in 2016 – Arizona, the Angels, Cincinnati and Minnesota – as Brandon Maurer finished the year in that role after Fernando Rodney was traded to Miami. A player such as Travis Jankowski might interest the Cardinals, as would top prospect Manuel Margot, whom the Padres got from Boston in the trade for Craig Kimbrel.

San Francisco
– As was witnessed by all of baseball in the second half of the season and the Division Series, no team needs a closer worse than the Giants. They likely will go heavy after one of the free agents but if they fall short, they no doubt would have interest in Rosenthal. There would not appear to be many players on the big league roster the Giants would put in such a deal who would interest the Cardinals, so a trade with San Francisco would most likely be for prospects.

Tampa Bay
– This might be one of the best possible fits. The Rays want to rebuild their bullpen, and have perhaps the best defensive centerfielder in the majors in Kevin Kiermaier, who won the Rawlings Platinum Glove in the AL last season. If defense is truly more of a priority than offense, Kiermaier might be the Cardinals’ number one target. If the Rays were interested in expanding the deal, it’s also possible the Cardinals could go after starter Jake Odorizzi, a native of Highland, Ill., but they would have to put several prospects into the package going to Tampa with Rosenthal to make that happen.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains