St. Louis Cardinals Still Don’t Need A High-Priced Starting Pitcher After Shelby Miller Trade
The St. Louis Cardinals took a chunk out of their pitching depth with their first big move of the offseason Nov. 17 when they sent right-hander Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves as part of a four-player deal for outfielder Jason Heyward, but they should not be in a rush to sign a big-name free agent to fill that void.
The Cardinals still have an abundance of pitching depth, and whatever money the team would spend on the massive contracts of $20 million per year or more free agent pitchers such as Max Scherzer or Jon Lester will probably command could be better spent elsewhere to address the team’s limited, but still significant needs.
Recent reports say Lester will meet with the Cardinals at some point next week, but Cardinals general manager Jon Mozeliak already said after the Heyward trade he expects youngsters Carlos Martinez, a right-hander, and Marco Gonzales, a lefty, to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation left open by Miller’s departure.
Neither of those options carry the weight of a track record because Martinez has made just eight starts across two seasons with the big club while being shuffled between the starting rotation and bullpen, as well as St. Louis and the Triple-A affiliate Memphis Redbirds. Gonzales, meanwhile, was a rookie in 2014 who made five starts but is little more than 18 months removed from starting for Gonzaga in college.
Still, the Cardinals have depth beyond those two options. That is significant because it has a good chance to become a necessity in 2015 with questions about the health of ace right-hander Adam Wainwright’s elbow, fellow righty Michael Wacha’s shoulder and veteran, 36-year-old right-hander John Lackey’s age.
When Major League Baseball enters the offseason, many people tend to view the game from a fantasy baseball perspective that makes the Boston Red Sox’s signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez for a combined $188 million look like a genius move.
Sometimes those blockbuster signings work out, but that is a lot of money to spend on Sandoval, who has not hit better than .279 in the last three regular seasons, and Ramirez, who has played more than 128 games once in the last four years.
Those high-priced contracts are even more perilous when given to starting pitchers, who play in only about 20 percent of the schedule in a given season and are at great risk to injury with the stress their position places on their arms.
Given those concerns, the Cardinals would be wise to steer clear of Lester, Scherzer or any other big-name free agent pitcher on the market this offseason and focus their efforts on finding a right-handed backup infielder, preferably a first baseman or catcher, and another reliever, preferably a left-handed option, especially if Gonzales makes the starting rotation out of spring training.
The Cardinals will be able to survive without another starting pitcher from outside the organization. Their other options aren’t nearly as noteworthy, but they have fill-in starters such as Tyler Lyons, John Gast and Nick Greenwood who could come up to fill innings if one of the original members of the starting rotation goes down with an injury. Those backups wouldn’t even have to enter the rotation if the Cardinals wanted to bump up Martinez of Gonzales from the bullpen.
Even though it is fun to imagine Lester or Scherzer in a Cardinals uniform and penciled into a postseason rotation with Wainwright and Wacha, the Cardinals will still be able to produce a roster that is plenty competitive without them, and one that is likely more well-rounded.