The Jaime Garcia era is over in St. Louis. I’ll certainly miss the ridiculous whiffle ball-like action that Jaime’s arsenal possessed. But while yesterday’s coverage here at VEB centered on looking back at Garcia’s tenure with the Cardinals, today we’ll look forward.
With the Cardinals taking eight MLB-ready options into an offseason which featured a pitching-starved free market, someone was bound to be moved. Trading Jaime was the safe move, the future-oriented move. The bold move would have been to trade Luke Weaver, who I thought was the biggest realistic trade chip the Cardinals possessed this offseason. However, that move had its downsides, and I also shared some concern over those risks.
The chief risk was that, if the team retained Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia for 2017, they’d have two spots to fill in the 2018 rotation. It would have made the team depend a lot on Michael Wacha over the next three years, despite accruing just 426 1⁄3 innings over the previous three years thanks to his rare injury.
With Garcia out of the way, the team still boasts Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Wacha, and Mike Leake. Should the team retain these five in the in the rotation, that would leave MLB ready top prospects Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver on the outside looking in. The team also has new comer John Gant, and should expect Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons back at some point.
Back in September, I worried that Alex Reyes may end up stuck in the bullpen in 2017, like Carlos Martinez was in 2014. I would much prefer to keep Reyes as a starter in Triple-A awaiting the inevitable injury than in then in role where he ends up throwing just 60 innings all year. That seems like wasted developmental time for the 22 year old fireballer.
And then there’s also the part of me that wants to see Reyes in the Major League starting rotation on Opening day. Most of my posts revolve around doing what’s best in terms of winning games. But in terms of pure excitement, I absolutely want to see Reyes in the rotation.
And really, it’s probably what’s best for the team anyway. Wacha may become the team’s new Jaime Garcia, at least in terms of constant injury risk. On top of that, he’s projected to be worse than Reyes going forward. I’m not trying to pile on Wacha here. While he’s had his struggles, he’s still been above average by FIP and xFIP in each season. So putting Wacha in the pen isn't about him being a subpar pitcher as much as it is about Reyes looking like he's just plain better.
Wacha should come into Spring Training prepared to be a starter. But unless there's injuries early on, I think it's best that he moves to the bullpen to start the year. Ideally, he would be used for multiple innings at a time, so if he needs to move to the rotation, that’s a viable option.
Not only does that allow the Cardinals to improve their rotation, it might be best for Wacha. In three full years in the majors, 2015 was the only year he didn’t miss time to injury, and many saw a fatigued pitcher down the stretch. A bullpen assignment doesn’t have to be permanent. If his shoulder is given a lighter load to start the year, then perhaps he could add a shot of life to the rotation down the stretch.
At the same time, Wacha could be a force in relief. On average, pitchers lose 65 points of FIP when moving to the pen. Knocking 65 points off Wacha’s 2016 starter FIP gives him a 3.15 FIP, which was lower than every 2016 Cardinals reliever besides Seung-Hwan Oh and the already lost for the season Zach Duke.
Other than Oh and Brett Cecil, a lot of questions surround the pen. Matt Bowman has been a nice surprise, but you shouldn’t want him to pitch in the highest leverage situations. There’s certainly hope that Trevor Rosenthal can bounce back, and he’ll be given that chance. He’s reportedly going to be given a chance to start, but I just don’t see that happening.
For all of Trevor’s troubles, Kevin Siegrist arguably had a more troubling season. He may have had a 2.77 ERA, but of 135 qualified relievers, Siegrist had the 25th worst FIP (4.43) and 33rd worst xFIP (4.24). Joe noted his drop in velocity as well as worse command of his fastball.
Nobody - not even Mike Matheny - wants to see Jonathon Broxton pitch high leverage innings, and the Cards just non-tendered Seth Maness, a move I support. With so many question marks, Wacha could move into a high-leverage role if he pitches well out of pen to start the year. Weaver, Gant, Lyons, and Gonzales could be enough starting rotation depth.
The biggest drawback to trading Jaime is that it lowers the chance of a big move. Weaver and Reyes were two chips that could have brought in an elite player, and now it’s much less likely they’re dealt. Such a move was never very likely though, and it wouldn’t make all that much sense: even a blockbuster trade isn’t going to get the Cardinals all that close to the Cubs. They probably shouldn’t trade either pitcher just to increase their Wild Card chances in the short-term.
Instead, the Cardinals made a move with the long-term in mind. In that vein, they should make sure this move allows the team’s most exciting player to start the year in the rotation.