As I discussed at the beginning of the week, the starting rotation of the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals did not live up to its preseason hype. However, in no way was the rotation “awful,” either. In fact, it was just outside the top ten in ERA despite dealing with inconsistent defense virtually all season. I can understand the frustration with 2016’s starting rotation, but at the same time, it is not fair to compare it to a 2015 rotation that was historically good at run prevention (so good that its success was highly unlikely to be repeated).
As the Cardinals failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010, a popular opinion for the offseason is to go out and acquire a “top-flight” starting pitcher because there is no guarantee that any member of the current staff will ever reach that caliber in the future. Unfortunately, no such pitcher exists in this year’s free agent market. Now, at one point this season, that pitcher did exist in Stephen Strasburg, but he was quickly re-signed (to a monster 7-year extension) by the Nationals in May only to go down with yet another throwing arm injury in early September.
Thus, unless you expect general manager John Mozeliak to unload the farm system for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher (if one is even made available), you might as well get comfortable with the internal options for the 2017 season. With the health disclaimer always in mind, let’s get the rotation “locks” out of the way first. Adam Wainwright has two years left on his contract, and he is a St. Louis guy to his core now, so he will be back. We are only one year into Mike Leake’s five-year deal, so he will be back. Carlos Martinez (who may soon receive a contract extension) and a returning-from-Tommy-John Lance Lynn round out the “guarantees” for 2017’s starting rotation.
Jaime Garcia is due a $12 million dollar team option (a relative bargain given the current price tag for starting pitching), which started as a “no-brainer,” but given how the season ended, appears to require deeper thinking within the Cardinals front office (and presumably, the medical staff). Luke Weaver, whose rookie status is still intact, dominated the minor leagues only to suffer through some MLB speed bumps after his promotion. He may or may not start in St. Louis. Hopefully, at least one of Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Lyons will be back and healthy for 2017. Michael Wacha, after suffering another shoulder setback this season, is almost certainly destined for a bullpen role.
Finally, we reach the 22-year-old, flame-throwing Alex Reyes. Where does he fit in to start the 2017 season? While I would consider each pitcher in the preceding paragraph “available” on the trade market, Reyes is my “untouchable,” unless, somehow, a reasonable Mike Trout deal presents itself (which will never ever happen). The obvious and fun answer to question above is to throw Reyes, who was wortha remarkable 1.4 fWAR and 2.2 bWAR over 46.0 IP, in the starting rotation and watch him fly.
While I would absolutely love to see what Reyes could do over a full season as a starter, I am not sure he is physically ready for such a role just yet. If you include the 2015 Fall League, Reyes has pitched ~110 innings in each of his last three seasons. If inserted into the starting rotation from the very beginning (and he remains healthy), this workload will jump by at least 50-60 innings.
Could Reyes do it? Absolutely. Martinez, despite a minor shoulder flareup late in 2015, has been able to make the jump (from ~100 or so innings in 2014), but given what the Cardinals have now seen from Wacha, Cooney, and Gonzales, do they really want to push the limit with Reyes, one of their very best pitching prospects in history?
Personally, I would like to see Reyes start 2017 in the MLB bullpen, and depending on how the season is going for the Cardinals, send him down to Memphis to stretch out, and ultimately reinsert him into the big league starting rotation. Obviously, given the grab bag of question marks regarding possible members of the starting rotation, we have no clue what to expect, but as of 6:48 AM on Thursday, October 6th, I’d be more than happy to see Reyes open next season in a bullpen role.
What would you all like to see?