MLB Hot Stove: Six reasons why the Cardinals should add more starting pitching
Fortunately for St. Louis, there's a lot left on the market
The Cardinals have been fairly quiet since their Dec. 14 trade for Marcell Ozuna. While the Ozuna addition surely moves the needle when it comes to the Cardinals' chances of making the postseason in 2018, needs remain.
Mostly, the focus has been on third base. While you can certainly argue that a known quantity in the infield is called for, I'd argue the rotation presents more of a need. Here's why that's the case ...
1. The Cardinals have lost a lot of starts from last season.
In keeping with ancient tradition and the rulebook, the Cardinals played 162 games in 2017. Lance Lynn and Mike Leake combined to start 59 of those 162 games, or 36.4 percent of them. Lynn is of course one of the many free agents currently seeking employment, and Leake was traded to the Mariners on Aug. 30 of last year. Assuming Lynn doesn't wind up back in St. Louis (likely a safe assumption), those 59 starts aren't coming back.
2. It's not certain how much Adam Wainwright has left.
As things stand now, the stalwart Wainwright will be part of the St. Louis rotation to start the season. While he's had an outstanding career and will probably one day have his No. 50 retired by the Cards, he may be done. Wainwright's coming off a 2017 season in which he pitched to a 5.11 ERA in 123 1/3 innings while also putting up his worst K/BB ratio in a decade. Even if there were some bad luck baked into those numbers, Wainwright going into his age-36 season is hardly a sure bet to bounce back.
3. Michael Wacha's stamina and durability remain concerns.
In some ways, Wacha's 2017 was a success. He logged a qualifying number of innings for just the second time in his career, and he enjoyed a nice velocity rebound. On the downside, just three times out of 30 starts in 2017 did he pitch into the seventh inning. As a partial consequence, he logged a quality start just half the time he took the mound. Wacha has a fairly grim history when it comes to his shoulder, and health and durability are not to be assumed going forward. Even if he takes his regular turns, Wacha's usually going to tax the bullpen to some extent.
4. They're poised to lean heavily on young arms.
"Sophomore" Luke Weaver figures to crack the rotation coming out of spring training, and rookie Jack Flaherty will either join him or be first man up when needed. Elsewhere, top prospect Alex Reyes is slated to return from Tommy John surgery in early May. You'd be hard pressed to find a better trio of young arms, the oldest of which is Weaver at 24, in any system.
Young arms, though, aren't sure things. Reyes, as mentioned, is bouncing back from reconstructive elbow surgery, and he may be needed in the bullpen upon his return. Weaver has never thrown more than 138 innings in a season as a pro. Flaherty struggled after his call-up last season and still needs work on his secondary offerings. Can this troika give the Cardinals, say, 50-60 starts in 2018 while preventing runs at an adequate clip? That might be asking a lot from three guys who figure to be more long-term plays than near-term solutions.
5. Miles Mikolas isn't a sure thing.
The Cardinals made a nice low-risk addition when they signed Mikolas to a two-year, $15.5 million deal. Mikolas reconstructed his career in Japan and comes back with a stronger repertoire. The countervailing reality, though, is that last time Mikolas washed out of the majors after just 10 starts and 27 relief appearances. Taking a flyer on him is a sound calculated risk, but as the Cardinal roster is presently constructed they badly need Mikolas to hit the upper bound of his projection.
6. They're probably going to need a lot of starters.
This is the reality for almost every team, even contenders. Last season, the Cardinals gave starts to nine different pitchers and gave 18 starts to pitchers outside their top five. In 2016, they used eight starters and gave 14 starts to those outside the top five. In 2015, when the Cardinals won 100 games, they used nine starters and gave 19 starts to those outside the top five. This is just how things go.
Survey the depth chart going into 2018, and it seems likely the Cardinals will need to go even deeper when it comes to having guys not in the Opening Day rotation make starts. They should be prepared for the likelihood, and right now they're not.
To be sure, Carlos Martinez at the front end is a fine starting point for a contending rotation. After Martinez, though, the Cardinals are riddled with uncertainties, whether it be because of youth, age, health, or some combination thereof. They don't necessarily need to make a nine-figure addition like a Yu Darvish or a Jake Arrieta, but a hedge in the form of an Alex Cobb or a healthy Chris Tillman or even an unlikely reunion with Lynn is probably needed.
The Cubs are still the favorites in the NL Central, and the Brewers -- already contenders -- . Now it's on the St. Louis front office to address what right now looks like their most glaring weakness. The competitive landscape of the division demands it.
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