Jaime Garcia won’t pitch in WBC, and that’s good for St. Louis Cardinals

Whenever the World Baseball Classic rolls around, questions abound about who will participate in the tournament and whether or not that compromises their preparation, and later success, in the regular Major League Baseball season.

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The St. Louis Cardinals will have those questions about their four players who were selected to World Baseball Classic rosters, which were announced Thursday, but the biggest news came from the Cardinals player who isn’t on a WBC roster.

Mitchell Boggs will pitch for Team USA, and Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina will both play for Team Puerto Rico. Fernando Salas will pitch for Team Mexico, but his Cardinals teammate Jaime Garcia won’t join him.

Garcia had been on a preliminary roster for Mexico earlier in the offseason, but his participation was contingent on the health of his injured left shoulder that caused him to miss much of the second half of the 2012 season.

It would be unfair to jump off a ledge and say Garcia won’t pitch for Mexico because his shoulder isn’t healing fast enough. We don’t know that. Garcia and the Cardinals could simply be playing it safe to make sure he is as prepared as possible for the upcoming season. Hopefully that’s the case.

Garcia reportedly wanted to pitch for his native country pretty bad, and the Cardinals were playing a role similar to a parent who doesn’t let their child play on the monkey bars because it is dangerous. Sure, it limits the amount of fun, and pitching in the WBC would’ve undoubtedly been fun for Garcia. However, the smart move for the Cardinals is to keep him on his normal rehabilitation schedule.

Garcia is going to be an important part of the Cardinals’ starting rotation this season. If Garcia can pitch well as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter, the Cardinals can use more of their young pitchers in the bullpen instead of having to push them into the rotation and face the uncertainty that comes when a young pitcher is regularly exposed to full lineups rather than three or four hitters each night.

Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly did a great job filling in for injured starters in 2012, and they are big reasons the Cardinals were even in contention for a wild-card spot late in the season. But a full season from Garcia could play a large role in if the Cardinals can compete with the Cincinnati Reds for a division title, not just a wild-card spot.

With Garcia healthy and pitching well, the Cardinals could feature a rotation with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Garcia, Jake Westbrook and either Kelly or Lynn. The loser of that fifth-spot battle would move to the bullpen and provide strong middle relief, along with Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, for what could be a very good bullpen.

If Garcia continues to have shoulder issues, the Cardinals would be OK because they have available pitchers who can fill a rotation spot, but his presence would put the Cardinals in a real position of strength in terms of their pitching staff.

Now even if Garcia is healthy, that doesn’t guarantee success. Garcia has some of the filthiest stuff of any pitcher on the Cardinals roster and is one of the most likely candidates to someday throw a no-hitter. But he has been frustratingly inconsistent in his three seasons with the Cardinals. He owns a 3.43 career earned-run average, and his ERA has climbed from 2.70 in 2010 to 3.92 last season.

The Cardinals would likely be satisfied with an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.43 from Garcia this season, but the key is consistency, which could be as much of a mental issue as any physical problem. For example, Garcia has always struggled on the road when he doesn’t have the normal routine of a home game. His career road ERA is 5.02 compared to 2.82 at home.

Hopefully Garcia is fully on board with the decision to not pitch in the WBC, and that disappointment doesn’t affect his performance for the Cardinals in 2013.

But those types of questions are what always make the World Baseball Classic a conundrum in the world of Major League Baseball.

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