We've talked about Adam Wainwright a lot over the last few days since his injury. Fritz looked at potential replacements, tom s. examined a range of recovery times and danup taught us how to properly grieve in this situation. (For the record, I have 16 stages of grief as danup's step 12 is more grief than I'm capable of feeling.)
In the initial post about Wainwright's recovery, I noted that "losing Wainwright probably costs us upwards of 4 wins" and I feel pretty comfortable a few days later with that number. Four wins isn't by any means a season ending number but it does hurt. I think there are realistic scenarios where the team has a breakout performer who provides more value than projected. Colby Rasmus and Jaime Garcia would be the prime youth candidates to do so and Kyle Lohse or Ryan Theriot returning to form of 2008 would be a pleasant old player surprise.
One potentially disturbing note about Wainwright is exactly how he's provided value to the team in the past couple years. Adam has been a remarkably good pitcher with FIPs of 3.11 and 2.86 in 2009 and 2010 respectively. What will be just a difficult to replace is the fact that those years Wainwright ranked #4 & #6 in innings pitched. Beyond Adam being really good, he was also really durable. We aren't talking about a Clayton Kershaw or Carlos Zambrano who threw <170 IP in a season despite being in the top 20 in FIP. Instead, Wainwright was able to pitch at a high level deep into games. Not only do you have to replace the performance but the innings as well.
I'll readily admit that I think it's more enjoyable to speculate (sometimes intelligently, sometimes wildly) about what a situation like Adam's means for other aspects of the Cardinals team rather than Adam. So here we go:
- Chris Carpenter - With the Cardinals holding a somewhat expensive ($15M) option on Chris for 2012, I'd expect the Cardinals to explore an extension with Carpenter in the near future. I don't like the idea of an extension with Carpenter (I didn't like the last one either) but I expect them to rework his contract at the end of the year. Depending on his 2011 performance, you may see them pay less for 2012 and guarantee some additional years. Chris saw his peripheral statistics take a hit last year but he was still a workhorse tossing 235 IP. The question in my mind is how long can he continue to do that?
- Albert Pujols - Depending on how aggressive the Cardinals are in working out a new contract with Wainwright -- they'll wait at least a little while to make sure there were no surgical complications -- the team could reduce it's current payroll projections in the near term if they sign Adam to a longer deal. This conceivably could free up some additional money to be earmarked for Albert. Realistically, if the difference between Albert and no Albert is a few million in 2011/2012 then the owners are being stingy but here, have some additional false hope, it tastes like Cocoa Pebbles.
- Jeff Luhnow/John Vuch - This is the farm system's time to shine. With all the weird statements from Tony LaRussa and John Mozeliak about not wanting to sign an external candidate (Kevin Millwood still looks like a nice option to me), having a player like Lance Lynn or Adam Ottavino take a step forward would be a big deal. It would be a big deal for 2011 but also for the foreseeable future: Carpenter and Lohse are signed through 2012, Wainwrght and Westbrook through 2013. The rotation has the potential for some high turnover in the next two years. Adding another cost controlled starter to Jaime Garcia would be a nice feather in the farm system's cap and La Russa seems oddly accepting of it right now.
- Yadier Molina - Molina has been a staple of the team since 2004 but after a $7M club option for 2012, he's poised to be a free agent. I don't see him ever reaching free agency but shepherding another young pitcher through their first season would only increase the accolades he receives for his ability to handle pitchers. (Fun Fact: The Wainwright contract provided the team with huge surplus value but the Molina contract did as well. Accounting for arbitration discounts, Yadier has been paid for 6-7 WAR between 2008-2012. From 2008-2010, he's produced 12+ WAR depending on how you value his defense.)
- Dave Duncan - Let's be clear about something right now. The Cardinals' coaches will get their pick of starting pitchers for this last spot. Whoever makes the team will be stamped with the TLR/DD "seal of approval" or, at minimum, "seal of least bad option available to us from a collection of young players we don't really like". This is what Dave Duncan gets paid for in part. It's great that he can rehabilitate older players into useful starters but the organization NEEDS him to groom young, cost controlled players as well. If the 5th starter is a year long debacle, some of the blame should reside with Duncan. If it goes great, some of the credit should reside with Duncan.
- The Bullpen - Anyone want to make a bet on how soon we see an article about a relief pitcher who can be the long reliever? If ever there was an opening for Miguel Batista to make the team this will be it. Instead of keeping a young, talented reliever on the roster (read: Salas, Sanchez), the club will stick someone less talented but more suited to long relief per a set of unknowable and ill-defined standards. We're also likely to see a 13 man pitching staff again and I suspect that it will be couched in the logic that Adam Wainwright's absence has placed a higher burden on the pen and blah blah blah 8 man bullpen.
Well, I just threw my cup of tea leaves at the wall after that last bullet point. Now the tea leaves are dripping down the wall. . . I think they're spelling something . . . R . . .E. . . DR. . . U. . .M. Well, I have no idea what REDRUM is but whatever. I better clean those up. Have a great Sunday!