Chris Carpenter's absence in 2013 has all but guaranteed that the starting rotation will be a huge focus of reporting early in Spring Training and throughout the season. If things go poorly, his absence will likely be pointed at as an indicator (despite the fact that the Cardinals did reasonably well without him last year).
It's manifesting early with the heavy scrutiny of a dismissive Jaime Garcia. After suffering a tear in his shoulder last season, Garcia is now connecting with "easy, fluid mechanics" and insisting that everything feels good. Whether Garcia shows durability in 2013, it is worth noting that Garcia has topped 150 innings twice in his 7 year professional career. He's suffered a season ending elbow injury and he's been bumped from a myriad of starts due to minor ailments.
But maybe 2013 will be more like 2010 & 2011 despite a tear in the shoulder that was treated without surgery.
The team hopes that Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook can record some long starts to give the bullpen abbreviated days as the rotation turns. The same applies to Lance Lynn whose question is whether he can perform over 200 innings like he did over roughly 160 last year. Another question is if Lynn can keep away from the cheeseburgers.
The Cardinals will look to a set of prospects to fill the gaps: former #1 prospect Shelby Miller, ace reliever Trevor Rosenthal and unheralded but steady Joe Kelly.
For all of the in house options that exist and for all of the evidence that those in house options should be pretty good, the Cardinals will be followed by another question this season not dissimilar from the loss of Chris Carpenter. Would Kyle Lohse have made a difference?
The Cardinals are the only club, being his former club, that could sign Kyle Lohse without losing a draft pick they currently have. That signing would, however, lose them a draft pick they want to acquire by having another team sign him.
Some writers will make the case for Lohse as a strong rotation candidate on the laurels of 2.86 ERA from 2012. While Lohse is almost certainly not as good as his ERA, he is a good pitcher and, assuming he's past his own health issues related to his forearm, capable of pitching a substantial number of innings. Teams that want to compete for the playoffs would be happy to have him at the right price, which seems to mean a price that doesn't cost them a draft pick.
Aren't the Cardinals a team that meets that criteria? Yes, they are. They're also the team that has what is almost universally regarded as the best farm system in baseball. Much of that rests on the arms of incredible pitching prospects like Miller, Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and newly drafted Michael Wacha Wacha.
If ever there was a year for the Cardinals to shy away from adding another veteran to the lineup, it has to be now.
The problem with Kyle Lohse isn't that he doesn't fit the Cardinals needs. The problem is that he doesn't fit them appreciably better than one of those prospects. If you look at ZiPS for the Cardinals pitchers and compare Lohse to Miller, Rosenthal and Kelly, the biggest difference is between Lohse and Kelly. The former is projected for a 3.65 FIP and the latter a 3.98 FIP. That difference amounts to 7 runs over 200 innings.
The average projection for Kyle Lohse compared to the internal candidate who projects the worst is less than a win on paper. These are, admittedly, average projections. Lohse carries a projection with less variance. What that means is that, hypothetically, 80% of the time Lohse will fall between 3.50 and 4.00 for his season FIP. Kelly, however, has a bigger spread in his performance. His average is 3.98 but his 80% may be spread between 3.25 and 4.75.
That's just one player though and it's a projection that doesn't incorporate any of the Cardinals scouting reports of their prospects. The Cardinals just need to hit on one of the three players listed to get a return equal to Kyle Lohse at ~5% of the cost. The redundancy provided by Miller, Kelly and Rosenthal acts as its own risk mitigation to the non-signing of Kyle Lohse.
Kyle Lohse will sign somewhere or at the very least there are some compelling reasons for a team to sign him. That team isn't the Cardinals though. Even if the Cardinals fail to make the post-season because their rotation finds itself in tatters by the end of the year, a farm system unharvested is pointless. They had to make the plunge eventually and trust their prospects to become veterans in their own right.
It would still be nice to get 200 innings out of Jaime Garcia though. Weird home-road splits and all.