The St. Louis Cardinals' starting rotation is set up to look like this on opening day:
- Adam Wainwright
- Lance Lynn
- John Lackey
- Michael Wacha
- Carlos Martinez
"But at the same time, there was never one doubt in my mind that I was going to come back from this really tough surgery and really tough injury that has ended careers in the past," Garcia said. "I knew it was going to be a tough challenge -- just like my Tommy John [surgery in 2008] and my shoulder [surgery in 2013] -- but there was not one doubt in my mind that I was going to come back from it."
Langosch also reports that manager Mike Matheny has bestowed a creative name on Garcia as pitchers and catchers start their warmups:
"He's kind of been the 'oh, and …,' and that's a different spot for him," manager Mike Matheny noted. "That happens to a lot of people throughout their career, especially when there is uncertainty about health. [It's] not ideal for anybody, but circumstances put you in spots where sometimes you have to go about it a little different."
Riddle me this: What happens if the "oh, and" is healthy and pitching like the starter the Cardinals signed to a four-year, $27 million extension during the 2011 season? I know it's putting the cart before the horse. Heck, Craig barely wanted to entertain the possibility on the podcast. But what if? To make it all the more interesting, let's also assume that Wainwright, Wacha, Lackey, Lynn, Martinez, and Gonzales are all healthy, too.
I don't think St. Louis can stick Garcia in the bullpen. Relief work seems like a bad fit for Garcia's shoulder, nerve issues and all. The lefty seems like a particularly bad candidate for throwing on two or three consecutive days. Further, the regular calls to get loose (sometimes without actually getting the call to enter a game) seem to make a bad fit worse. That leaves the rotation.
It appears as if general manager John Mozeliak and the front office have essentially cleared the field (by trading away Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller) for Martinez to join the St. Louis rotation in 2015. And with Martinez's thermonuclear arsenal, it's a good plan. But Garcia has good stuff of his own, a proven track record of MLB success when healthy, and will earn $9.25 million this year. If he's healthy and effective, he's a proven middle-of-the-rotaiton arm with top-of-the-rotation potential. It would seem wise for the Cardinals to get whatever starting innings they can from Garcia. But sticking Garcia in the rotation would mean relegating Martinez to the bullpen for the second straight spring. That's not all.
The Cardinals signed Carlos Villanueva to a minor-league contract with a non-roster invitation to MLB camp in Jupiter. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week that Villanueva has an opt-out clause. He can choose to become a free agent if it appears he won't win a big-league job with St. Louis. Placing Garcia in the rotation would presumably bump Martinez to the bullpen as the fifth righty (behind Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, Seth Maness, and Matt Belisle—all of whom have signed guaranteed MLB contracts for 2015), which would in turn leave Villanueva as the odd man out. Presumably, Villanueva would respond by exercising his opt-out clause and becoming a free agent. The swing-man insurance the Cards signed for Martinez would be gone. Martinez would likely fill that yo-yo role, meaning he would have to build up to a starter's workload midseason for the second straight year if an injury strikes the rotation. Given how that worked last season, it seems less than ideal.
Normally, having too much starting pitching depth is impossible. (Just recall last season's Cardinals.) But St. Louis is presently built around an offseason plan centered on Martinez joining the rotation. A healthy and effective Garcia would present a tough choice to the Cardinals: Stick with the plan or go with Garcia? Here's hoping Garcia stays healthy and pitches effectively enough to force the Cardinals to make a tough decision at the end of March.