Cue the sad Sarah McLachlan song—no, the other one—Ben Jukich is returning to the Reds. I, for one, will remember all the good times we had together. There was the time the Cardinals selected him in the Rule 5 draft, and the time, singular, he pitched this Spring. And all the times in between where I wondered where the Cardinals had planned on putting him.
His departure is being framed as though the Cardinals just couldn't find the right deal to keep him in St. Louis, but it's not as though they're lacking for parts; the aging, possibly adequate C- guy is the official prospect type of the Cardinals farm system. What this means is that Jukich had fallen behind the homegrown suspects on the Cardinals' internal list—P.J. Walters, Francisco Samuel, et al.
With two lefties on the roster and Jaime Garcia in camp I'm not entirely sure what the Cardinals expected to happen, but you can't end up with Brian Barton every year. In the meantime I think it's best we avoid dwelling on the negative, and just remember—keep with us, always—the great times we had together. We'll never get them back, sure—but by god we'll never lose them, either.
Things have looked brighter for the other transplanted left-hander, too; as long-time kremlinologist Derrick Goold notes, Jaime Garcia has officially horned in on the two-man race—
Hours before Rich Hill lost command of his start against Atlanta, the Cardinals announced that Garcia, peerless as a reliever this spring, would start Monday against Houston. During the early weeks of spring training, Cardinals coaches portrayed the contest for the open spot in the rotation as a duel pitting Hill against in-house candidate Kyle McClellan. Garcia, a candidate from Class AAA championed by some in the organization, has pitched too well to be ignored.
Garcia is great, but I'm sympathetic to the idea that penciling him into a rotation spot after 40 rehab innings seems sudden. He's pitched 155 innings before, but it was when he was 19, which is kind of a loaded endorsement to make—like claiming Kerry Wood is a horse because Dusty Baker once had him throw medicine balls at Michael Barrett until he couldn't feel his arm anymore.
But the Joba Rules, for all their overhyped inanity and mixed signals, aren't the only way to control a Young Pitcher's innings and his "readiness", as nebulous a concept as that is. La Russa and Duncan have not done well at this, historically, something that's always followed them around anecdotally and was attached to them analytically in Chris Jaffe's recent study of managers. But he'll be a young pitcher, and La Russa and Duncan their less-than-optimal young pitcher selves, whether he comes up in 2010 or 2011; if he's the best pitcher available, and he's kept around the 162 innings required for the ERA title, there are worse ways to start a career.
Is there a purer expression of the #hpgf hash tag than the sequence of events described in this blog entry? A scrap-heap veteran is forced out of the game, and into the breach flies Fernando Salas, a rookie who's increased his chances of making the Opening Day roster like no other player in camp. Aided by a diving Colby Rasmus he impresses again; over the next two innings Rasmus and Allen Craig, hitter-without-a-position, blocked by the powers-that-be, club extra-base hits. Which is to say: you don't need five-star prospects to be a hyperventilating prospect-geek fraternity.
As for Salas himself, the red baron is the early pick for official Nostradamus of Spring Training 2010, which means that the History Channel should be by the RFT offices any day now to film a breathless documentary about him. Salas has good-enough stuff and great results, and the Cardinals are in no position to be picky. Should Kyle McClellan be outrun for the last spot in the rotation by Jaime Garcia things get murkier, but I wouldn't be particularly concerned about who ended up in this bullpen if I didn't think someone was going to be joining it circa the middle of May.