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The State of the Cardinal Rotation, Right Now

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In the aftermath of missing out on David Price, the Redbirds find themselves forced to reconsider their starting rotation going into 2016. Where do they stand, and how much more do they need?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not going to sugarcoat my feelings this morning. I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed the Cardinals did not get David Price. And not a usual sort of disappointment, a simple things-didn't-work-out-for-my-team letdown; David Price just happens to be my second favourite pitcher in all of baseball (after our own Carlos Martinez), and one of my three or four favourite players in the game period to watch. He also happens to be flat-out amazing at what he does. He also also happens to be probably the one and only pitcher on the market this year I would bet on long term. Hell, he's one of the only pitchers in the game I would bet on in general, this or any other year.

In other words, the team I love, that I care about so much I have written at least one, and usually multiple, articles about it pretty much every week since October of 2007 (which, to give some perspective, is when Chris Antonetti was considered the most likely next GM of the Cardinals), had the chance to add one of my very favourite players in all the game of baseball. This wasn't wishcasting, or blue sky hypotheticals, or just hey-wouldn't-it-be-cool bullshitting on a barstool. This was real, and closer than close. There was an opportunity, resources available, and a desire to make it happen.

And now, nothing. Now I get to pretend I never liked David Price all that well, because now he is a Red Sock, and I will never, ever, ever harbour anything but contempt in my heart for that franchise.

Do I sound bitter? I suppose I probably do. And I'm okay with that. It probably seems silly to some of you, but I don't care. Sports, aside from all the fun amateur general managing that everyone enjoys so very much, is about passion, about caring entirely too much about what city a person you don't know decided to take a job in, and I feel I'm entitled to a bit of bitterness this morning. I really couldn't give a fuck less about the cost effectiveness of a David Price signing, or how it affects the payroll of the club going forward, or any other thing I'm sure will be brought up. For once, I just wanted my team to get the awesome thing I wanted them to get. And they didn't. There are no championships given out for the most efficient roster, and rooting for a billionaire to turn a larger profit isn't exactly my idea of a fun summer.

I didn't care when Albert left; I never liked Pujols that much anyway, in spite of his being the greatest player I ever saw play for my team in my life, and it was very easy to see the Albert of the 2000s was not likely to show up in the 2010s, and he was going to be paid as if he was still very much that Mang. I didn't mind when the club flirted with Jason Schmidt, only to see him go elsewhere; it would have been exciting to have an ace like that, but it felt like there were better ways to win. I never really even cared about Mark Buehrle's constant googly eyes toward Cardinaldom; Buehrle seems like a nice guy, went to the same junior college at which I began my own collegiate career, and was really quite good for a while there. But I never really cared that much about Buehrle coming home, beyond the fact it would offer the Cardinals a high-quality arm, hopefully. This, though...this was different.

I will, of course, get over this. By the time spring training rolls around, I'm sure we will have had a whole long offseason in which to contemplate various moves and non-moves, and I'll be fully invested in seeing the club go after yet another division crown, and hopefully a deeper run into October than 2015 brought. This morning, though, I'm just going to be bitter.

However, if the difference in offers between the Cardinals and Red Sox really was something in the $30+ million range (which seems reasonable; 7/$182 or 7/$189 feels about right for the Cards' offer to Price, I think), then I have a hard time really being that upset with either side. Even if someone was already offering me 190 million dollars, I have to admit I would immediately be swayed by another 30 million. All things being equal, I really do believe Price would have preferred to pitch in St. Louis. Thirty million dollars difference is not all things being equal, or even close. Do I think David Price will be worth $217 million? Yes, I actually do. And I wish the Cardinals would have tried to get closer, to see if they could have still lured him here. But at some point you have to understand your limitations, and the Cardinals' limitations are, essentially, getting what they want when some other team really wants that same thing. Just the reality of the situation.

Anyhow, given that there will be no David Price in St. Louis, I thought now might be a good time to look at the Cardinal rotation, and what sort of context we should be considering when discussing what moves still need to be made. I'll be using the Steamer projections for 2016, as most of the other projection systems have yet to spit out their next year numbers.

First, consider for a moment how the rotation would have looked with Price sitting at the top:

Player Name Innings Pitched FIP fWAR
David Price 215.0 3.10 5.0
Adam Wainwright 211.0 3.47 3.7
Carlos Martinez 175.0 3.21 3.4
Michael Wacha 163.0 3.72 2.3
Jaime Garcia 136.0 3.37 2.5
Total 900 16.9

No,  I'm not going to bother averaging up the FIP numbers for the whole staff; you get the idea. What we have here would have been a spectacular rotation, by any measure. The number you're generally shooting for, as far as innings from a starting staff, is about 1000 innings. Looking at this arrangement, the Cardinals would have been about 100 short of that number, which would have been filled by some combination of Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Lyons, not to mention the possibility of Alex Reyes popping up some time in the second half. That is, of course, assuming the starters only hit their projected innings totals, which in the case of Wacha and Martinez could be somewhat low. Jaime's could be low as well, but that's a tougher bet to place.

Now, let's take a look at how the current rotation stacks up, as currently constructed, with the best internal options plugged in.

Player Name Innings Pitched FIP WAR
Adam Wainwright 211.0 3.47 3.7
Carlos Martinez 175.0 3.21 3.4
Michael Wacha 163.0 3.72 2.3
Jaime Garcia 136.0 3.37 2.5
Tim Cooney 73.0 4.00 0.8
Total 758.0 11.7

That is still nothing to be ashamed of, by any means; the Cardinals would still have four better than league average pitchers, and one who, given the opportunity and innings, might be average or above himself. Here's the problem, though: how confident are we handing Tim Cooney 180+ innings in 2016, and just expecting him to carry forward that level of performance? Playing time in projections systems are always wonky, but even if we double Cooney's innings total, that puts us at 12.5 WAR and 831 innings. Going by that ~1000 inning number you really want from a rotation, the Cards are going to have to find around 170 innings, from pitchers further down the spiral than Tim Cooney.

Perhaps the Redbirds will decide to bring Mark Buehrle into the fold. That would look something like this:

Player Name Innings Pitched FIP WAR
Waino 211.0 3.47 3.7
El Gallo 175.0 3.21 3.4
Pac Man 163.0 3.72 2.3
Jaime 136.0 3.37 2.5
Mark Buehrle 192.0 4.35 1.6
Total 877.0 12.5

The moral of the story here: signing Mark Buehrle barely moves the needle, if it moves it at all. He's probably a better bet to put up 180+ innings than Tim Cooney (or any of the other internal options, probably), simply because he's been doing exactly that for better than a decade straight now, but if we prorate Cooney's innings he's probably just as good. So there is a bulk of innings to be had here by picking up Buehrle, but they're not very likely to be quality innings, at all. Or at least not higher than the internal choice.

For the record, Marco Gonzales is projected for 136.0 innings, a 4.21 FIP, and 1.1 wins above replacement. So only marginally better than Mark Buehrle, though there's certainly hope Marco is still growing into his identity as a pitcher. Gonzales's innings would put the Cardinals over that 1000 mark, but something like 30% of the innings your rotation is projected to contribute would come with a fielding independent percentage over 4.00. In case you're wondering, the Steamer projection for Alex Reyes is for an FIP above 4.00 as well, though it's in an extremely limited number of innings.

Investing in David Price for the next seven seasons would have carried with it a certain amount or risk, doubtlessly. And perhaps throwing a contract for better than half a decade at a 30 year old starter would have proven too much of a knee-jerk reaction, and the Cards' 2016 issues would have ultimately compared to the reality of handing out an ill-considered deal for seven years when it was only one season which appeared to fully be in jeopardy.

However, looking at the Cardinals' rotation as it stands right now, I think it's fairly clear that, since the Cardinals failed to sign the ace they had their collective eyes on, there is a substantial quantity of innings come 2016 that are going to have to be addressed in some manner or another. And that is, of course, only counting the innings that have to be thrown, to say nothing of the difference in quality you're likely to see between Price and, say, Tim Cooney.

The apocalypse scenario, obviously, would be to see Adam Wainwright miss time again this season. Adam projects for over 200 innings, but given that he has 650+ innings on that surgically repaired elbow of his, would it really shock anyone if Waino failed to reach that number? The fact he sat out much of the 2015 season with a non-arm injury is somewhat hopefuly; one could make the case that time away from throwing should be beneficial to Wainwright's durability and performance. But there's also the chance his elbow didn't get appreciably better with time off in 2015. And what then?

As you can see, the non-David Price Cardinals are operating on a much, much, much thinner margin of error coming into the season. And they're going to have to find some way of bolstering that starting staff.

If not, it could be a very long year.