As we wait for the St. Louis Cardinals to underwhelm us with a free-agent acquisition (likely a mediocre outfielder who doesn’t have a draft pick tied to him), and we cry for the need for a more consistent (higher average/OBP) bat and better defense (atrocious last year), we also need to address the elephant in the room:
The Redbirds have a ton of pitching, but it’s just not all that good.
In a discussion with Gashaus34 earlier this week, we identified as many as 13 potential starters heading into spring training. The biggest problem is that only one of these guys — Carlos Martinez — has true No. 1 or No. 2 potential, which makes it rough to see a consistent winner during the season or a competitive team in a playoff series!
So, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Cardinals realize this, and that perhaps they are targeting Chris Sale or someone else to be the No. 1. I know … optimistic, right?
Well, let’s do it anyway, then break down the rest of the group (some of whom would obviously be sent to the White Sox in a Sale deal) for our Nos. 2-5 starters, along with who might fill the Andrew Miller-type three-inning midgame closer role. Here we go:
No. 1: NEW GUY — It would be great to get an ace, take the pressure off Martinez, and solidify this team.
No. 2: Martinez — The Cards’ best pitcher by far last season, he needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his consistency.
No. 3: Adam Wainwright — We are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he will be better after sorting out his Achilles’ troubles during the 2016 season. Can he return to pre-injury form? I sure hope so.
No. 4: Lance Lynn — He should be ready to go in the spring, and he averaged 15 wins a season over his first four full years in the bigs. He is a horse when healthy (and even when he wasn’t healthy), and he has postseason experience as well. We’ll be glad to get him back.
No. 5a: OK, this is tricky … Jaime Garcia — He stunk it up the last two months of 2016, and he is always a hangnail away from DL time, but the Cards are paying him $12 million. If he’s on the roster, he’s going to pitch. I think there will be interest on the trade market (some think the Yankees should make a play), so let’s move ahead to …
No. 5b: ALSO a “meh” candidate … Mike Leake — The Cards owe him a ton of money (at least $68M, including a 2021 buyout, over the next four years. OUCH!), and he has a no-trade clause. Therefore, he’s likely to be a starter. Could we find a taker in the Southwest, where he’d like to move? Diamondbacks, please offer us anything for him, and we will eat some of the contract. That would allow us to move ahead to better (and cheaper) options like …
No. 5c: Alex Reyes — It was a small sample size, sure. And he had plenty of rest after a suspension to start the season, so who knows how he holds up over the course of his first full MLB season? But wow, can he bring it! I just don’t see how he couldn’t make the roster, or the rotation. But perhaps the Cards will want a few more months of seasoning in Memphis. If he somehow is demoted, it’s likely that it will be …
No. 5d: Michael Wacha — He’s got inconsistent mechanics, hasn’t been able to keep the ball down consistently, and he has a creaky shoulder to put it mildly. He’s a far cry from the guy who took the world by storm in 2013. Was that the height of his career? I sure hope not. But we don’t know if he could do the Andrew Miller role healthwise, or if he would need the four days off between starts (or relief stints). So that question mark puts him ahead of …
No. 5e: Trevor Rosenthal — I just don’t think he can be a starter. We really have no idea if he’d be able to be consistent, maintain velocity, or stay healthy in that role. I really like him as a potential Miller type if he gets stretched out for something like that and could do it for a whole season. But seriously, what the heck happened last year? He went from being a dominant, dominant closer to useless in the span of a month. Is it the every-other-year bugaboo? I don’t know. It’s great that Seung-hwan Oh took over the closer role, but I sure don’t think that we should count out a guy who had a rough patch but still throws 100 consistently.
Let’s assume that Garcia is traded and either Leake, Reyes, Wacha, or Rosenthal ends up the No. 5 guy with the other two in the pen — OR MORE LIKELY, two of them slot in as the Nos. 4 and 5 starters when the Cards fail to address the top of the rotation.That takes us to the No. 6 starter options, those guys waiting in the wings …
No. 6: Tyler Lyons — he’s hurt and will miss at least spring training and probably a few months. When he comes back, the Cards will likely use him out of the bullpen, where they are going to need some help with only Kevin Siegrist back and Zach Duke out for the season. So that leaves two to fight it out at Memphis (behind Reyes if he ends up back there):
No. 7a: Luke Weaver — The Cards like him, but he didn’t show much in his stint this year. He’s ticketed for more seasoning at Memphis, or perhaps he showed enough to be packaged in a deal.
No. 7b: Marco Gonzales — He has missed the last two seasons, but he certainly showed promise in 2014. This might be his last chance to prove he can stay healthy — and maybe his best option will be out of the bullpen, where he was stellar in the 2014 playoffs.
Nos. 7c/d: Tim Cooney/Mike Mayers — Neither has shown the ability to get MLB hitters out consistently (or at all). If healthy, the lefty Cooney and the righty Mayers will be starters at Memphis or packaged in trades.
There are other minor leaguers also reportedly waiting in the wings, but they’re probably a year or so away. So the 13 guys above are the likely options, and some of them will no doubt end up in the pen.
My best guess is that the Cards will make no major pitching upgrades from the outside. Therefore, the 2016 rotation: Martinez, Waino, Lynn, Leake, and Reyes/Wacha, with Garcia traded for a position player or prospects.
Wacha/Reyes, Rosenthal, Lyons (when healthy) and possibly Gonzales in the bullpen, with one or perhaps two of those guys splitting the Miller role, one in long relief, and one as a setup man for Oh.
(Seven-man bullpen prediction: Oh, Siegrist, Wacha/Reyes, Rosenthal, Lyons/Gonzales, Matt Bowman, Jonathan Broxton/Seth Maness — one of the last two traded or released.)
Weaver in Memphis along with probably Gonzales, Cooney, Mayers, and the next wave of young starters. Also Miguel Socolovich and Sam Tuivailala in the Memphis pen.