It would not be a St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training without health questions surrounding a key player, and once again a member of the starting rotation is awaiting test results analysis and a diagnosis before throwing again. But the name attached this time is all too familiar to these situations: Chris Carpenter.
All the facts of this story can be found in Joe Strauss’s STLtoday piece from Friday. Right now, no one really knows much about the cause of Carpenter’s neck discomfort, but updates should start trickling in this weekend as the information makes its way back to Florida from St. Louis.
The real question on everyone’s minds is simple, though. What now?
It’s hard to get too panicked over this news because, honestly, it cannot be that big of a surprise. Carpenter’s injury history is checkered, to say the least, and he threw over 270 innings in 2011 (including the postseason). No one should claim they saw this coming, but when the word came in how many had a reaction similar to “Ah…Carpenter has an injury? OK then.” Hearing about Carpenter battling through something is different than hearing about Adam Wainwright last year. Wainwright was young and durable. Carpenter is neither. But speaking of Wainwright, the Cardinals certainly managed to right the ship after his departure and ended the 2011 season on a bit of a high note. Who says they can’t do the same thing in 2012 if Carpenter ends up having to miss significant time?
Unfortunately, it may be an even longer shot this time around. Last year, the Cards had a healthy Carpenter ready to step in and take the ace role in Wainwright’s absence. This year, the Cards have Wainwright back—but he is not 100% yet. He may not be at any time in 2012. So the team cannot and should not expect him to pick up all of the slack and toss 200+ innings this season. If he ends up doing that, great. But counting on it would be a mistake.
One more thing the Cards should absolutely, positively stay away from at all costs is another bullpen-to-rotation-to-bullpen song and dance with Kyle McClellan. Last year, McClellan started off pretty well as a starter. But once Edwin Jackson was acquired, McClellan was no longer needed for the rotation. Back to the bullpen he went, but the innings had already taken a toll. By the end of 2011 McClellan was gassed. They really need to let him stick with one thing, and he has proven several times he can handle a full season as a reliever.
Remember the Roy Oswalt sweepstakes of a couple months ago? Still going on, except now no one is trying. Oswalt is a free agent and perhaps could be a candidate for a spot in the Cards’ rotation if Carpenter can’t go for a while. The Redbirds could also look internally for a young pitcher to step in for some starts if Carpenter is only expected to miss a few weeks. But, again, messing with the integrity of the bullpen by “promoting” a reliever to the rotation could prove to be a mistake with the potential of affecting both sections of the pitching staff. Maybe a Triple A pitcher chomping at the bit gets a look at Busch Stadium this year…
No one has all the answers yet, but you can bet the questions will continue to mount. Perhaps this is just a minor speed bump with little to no effect on the regular season. Or perhaps it is more. Hopefully the news over the weekend into next week is good news.