I don’t know about you, but there’s still several times throughout the day where I suddenly think Oh crap, Alex Reyes is gone for the season. It’s a stunning thing that hits close to us as fans. It wasn’t that Reyes was destined to be an ace, but he had that upside. It’s that Reyes was going to be the most exciting player to watch this year. Can he combine his electric stuff with good-enough command to dominate the league? We thought we would get a better idea in a few months, now we have to wait over a year just for some new information on the topic. Purely from a fan perspective, it’s devastating.
From a roster-building standpoint, it’s certainly a critical loss, but I think some are making it out to be a bigger deal than it is. Before this, the Cardinals were in a very enviable position, with seven starting pitching options that project as average or better. A lot of debate has centered on which five should start, as well as what the other two should do. Reyes’ UCL simplifies things a bit. We shouldn’t exaggerate the Cardinals’ situation though: The Cardinals still have six above average starters, which is double a good chunk of the league.
Using the projections hosted on Fangraphs’ depth charts, I grabbed every pitcher who was projected for at least one game started. I assigned them all to their respective teams, and ranked each team’s list of starters by FIP. I then pulled the sixth starter of each team, and ranked them. Here’s the results:
The Cards hold the fifth-best sixth-best starter, and it’s actually a guy with a set spot in the rotation: Mike Leake. Mostly playoff-contending teams head the top of the list, with the Diamondbacks placing much higher than I would have expected. The Rangers, Orioles, and Mariners expect to contend, but this ranking reveals that they have a very low margin for error (about 40% of starters have a D.L. trip at some point of a season).
Most Cards fans knew they were strong 1 through 6 though. The 7th spot is the prospective problem. Surprisingly, according to Fangraphs’ depth charts, there shouldn’t be much worry:
The Cardinals are actually better at the seventh spot in the rotation, relative to the rest of the league. Mike Mayers is who Fangraphs’ depth charts see as 7th in line. The problem though, is that Fangraphs depth charts is only based on Steamer’s projections right now, who likes Mayers significantly better than Zips. Zips is rolled in after their creator releases all 30 teams, which is almost done. Zips sees Mike Mayers as having a 4.81 FIP. For additional reference, the average FIP among starting pitchers last year was 4.30. Mayer’s average projection ends up being just a little higher than that.
The good news is, I don’t think Mayers will actually be the seventh option considered for the five man rotation. Assuming the Cardinals go with a Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake rotation, Luke Weaver will be first up in case of an injury. After that, it’s anyone’s guess, but there’s more than a few options.
For one, Tyler Lyons should be healthy by the time the team needs a seventh pitcher to make a start. He could be throwing off a mound a week from now, and if things go as expected, he’ll only be a little behind the rest of the pitchers. Lyons had home run trouble last year, but pitched to a 3.67 xFIP last year and is projected by Steamer for a 3.37 FIP, and with Zips thinking 3.96. That’s as a reliever though. On average, pitchers gain about 65 points of FIP when going from relieving to starting. Averaging the two and adjusting him to a starter leads to a 4.31 FIP, which puts the Cardinals near the back of the top third in terms of seventh starters.
Then there’s Trevor Rosenthal. I’ve disagreed with it in the past, but there are still elements of the Cardinals’ fan base that want to see Trevor start. The team told him to stretch out in off-season, and while most see it as a reason to put him in a Andrew Miller-type role, it has the added benefit of also making him a more realistic option as a starter. Rosenthal has a 3.35 average projected FIP between Steamer and Zips, and adding 65 points to that gets you to 4.00, which would be around the best seventh starter in the league. I think Rosenthal’s a great example of a guy whose stuff plays up in relief though, so I’m not sure he actually would pitch that well. I personally would rather just keep him in a role that he’s already dominated in. It’s an option though, and Reyes going down makes it a little more likely that it’s actually the right option at some point.
While the Cardinals could use Jaime Garcia, one of the three players they received in return could contribute for short stint: John Gant is projected by both systems in the mid-4’s. Not a great projection, but maybe the Cardinals pursued Gant because they think he is better than that. Marco Gonzales’ time table currently calls for him to be pitching in rehab games by May. He’s had lackluster results in his time in the high minors and the majors, but he still brings a prospect pedigree that could lead to improvement.
Among prospects, most are a little too far away to expect to see in 2016. However, someone could take a big step forward. Austin Gomber might be the most likely. He spent most the year at High-A, and only spent 19 1⁄3 innings at Double-A (3.03 FIP). However, he it the Arizona Fall League for 33 2/3rd innings in the AFL after that (3.36 FIP), which is generally considered to be at a similar level to Double-A and Triple-A. Between the two, that’s 53 strong innings at the higher levels of the minors. It’s also more experience than Luke Weaver had in the high minors at this time last year.
Jack Flaherty spent the year posting a strong season at High-A, but has no experience yet in the high minors. Sandy Alcantara only spent 32 1⁄3 innings at High-A, but they were dominating (2.54 FIP). And then there’s Dakota Hudson, an advanced college pitcher the team took in the first round of last years draft. Maybe he can do what Wacha and Gonzales did beforehand and reach the majors just a year after being drafted. All three are long-shots to take the mound in St. Louis in 2017, but stranger things have happened.
If all else fails, there’s always the trade deadline. Yes, there’s an extra charge associated with the deadline, but there’s probably a decent extra charge during Spring Training too. Doug Fister is about the best option on the market, and his average projected FIP comes in at the similar spot to the Cardinals’ internal options (4.62). Unless he’s willing to hang out at Triple-A most the year, which seems unlikely, I don’t see a match.
The Cardinals could make it through the season without needing an extended run of starts from a weak starter, or they could have a weak first-half that makes an outside addition unnecessary. After all, the reason the Trade Deadline has an extra premium attached to it is because teams have more information on their own players and their chances at a playoff spot. Ideally, a team builds a roster that doesn’t require any adjustments mid-season. But a baseball season rarely works out ideally, and Reyes going down before we even get to see him take the mound exemplifies that.
Losing Reyes was quite the gut-punch. At the least though, the Cardinals might have stashed him in the pen anyway. The team doesn’t look all that different, it really mostly affected the team’s upside and depth. The team still holds an enviable amount of options for depth starters though. Mourn the loss of a very exciting player from the roster, sure. But there is no need to hit the panic button.