St. Louis Cardinals Spike Starting Rotation Intrigue With Jason Heyward Trade
The St. Louis Cardinals made one of the first big moves of the Major League Baseball offseason Monday in a trade with the Atlanta Braves that solved their question in right field but opened up a bushel full of uncertainties about their starting rotation.
The Braves sent right fielder Jason Heyward and right-handed reliever Jordan Walden to St. Louis in exchange for right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league righty reliever Tyrell Jenkins.
But the two headliners of the deal are certainly Heyward and Miller. The Cardinals picked up a hitter for an outfield situation that was unsettled after the 2014 season and death of rookie right fielder Oscar Taveras in a car crash Oct. 26 in the Dominican Republic, and they lost a pitcher from one of the deepest pitching staffs in all of baseball.
However, Miller’s absence creates a myriad of possibilities for the makeup of the starting five pitchers to begin the 2015 season. A rotation that was rather set with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller now has the No. 5 door swung wide open for competition in spring training.
The obvious candidates to battle for the spot are Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales. Those are the two names general manager John Mozeliak mentioned Monday during his press conference, but that pair does not bring guarantees of production.
Martinez has an electric repertoire of pitches and can reach 100 mph, but he has been inconsistent at the major-league level as he’s bounced between the bullpen and rotation, as well as St. Louis and the Triple-A affiliate Redbirds in Memphis. He has been the eighth-inning setup reliever at times, but his career earned-run average with the Cardinals stands at 4.28.
Gonzales came on strong at the end of the season and postseason as the long reliever who ate up innings when starting pitchers could not pitch deep into games, but he was only one year removed from playing college baseball at Gonzaga and had his fair share of bumps in the road with a 4.15 ERA and 21 walks in 34.2 innings pitched during the regular season.
Counting on either of those pitchers would be a fairly significant gamble for the Cardinals, but they don’t have much other choice anymore. They traded away righty Joe Kelly to the Boston Red Sox at the trading deadline this past season as part of a deal that included Allen Craig to get Lackey. Kelly posted a 3.25 ERA in three seasons with the Cardinals but never got an opportunity to be a member of the rotation full time, as he lost the battle for the No. 5 spot in consecutive spring trainings in 2013 and 2014, first to Wacha and then to Miller.
Another option the team could explore would be to bring Trevor Rosenthal in from his role as the closer and give him a shot at a starting job. Rosenthal has a career 2.69 ERA in three seasons with St. Louis, including 45 saves in 2014 after he became the closer at the end of the 2013 season and saved four postseason games.
Similar to Martinez, Rosenthal has made his desire to be a starter well-known in the past and would likely jump at such a chance, especially as he developed control issues late in the 2014 season that created many rumors manager Mike Matheny would take him out of the role in the postseason.
In any case, the Cardinals are almost certain to enter the 2015 season with a very inexperienced No. 5 starter, although all of the early candidates have shown potential a job at the back of the rotation might only be the beginning of a long career that finds them as mainstays near the front of the team’s starting rotation.