The signing of Miles Mikolas most likely completed the Cardinals 2018 starting rotation. The only real question mark is currently Adam Wainwright, who many still expect to at least start the season in the rotation. If not, Gant and Lyons are feasible options for the fifth spot.
At the winter meetings, Mozeliak said he was confident in the starters they had assembled. Still, many are uncomfortable with the current rotation. While it is headlined by a world class player in Martinez, there are those arguing it is not enough to win the NL Central. So, where does the rotation actually stack up against the rest of the division?
As mentioned above, the Cardinals 2018 rotation, right now, is Martinez, Wacha, Weaver, Mikolas, and Wainwright. Steamer will be used for all projections in this article.
Cardinals 2018 Projected Rotation
A couple things jump at you right away. First, that Carlos is the clear ace of the staff, projected to throw over 200 innings. The second is Wainwright’s projected innings. I would posit that 171 is not simply an overestimate, but a gross exaggeration for a player who did not throw even 130 innings a year ago. Nevertheless, the Cardinals rotation is projected for 13.4 WAR.
The competition for the division crown comes mainly from the Chicago Cubs. Their rotation currently projects as Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood, and Montgomery.
Cubs 2018 Projected Rotation
The Cubs have both a high ceiling and high floor with their top two starters projected for almost 8 WAR. Although the back end of their rotation appears weak, the entire group will account for 14 WAR according to Steamer. The innings are also more balanced than those of the Cardinals starters. In the Cubs rotation, three are projected to throw 170+. In St. Louis, that number is two including Wainwright, which seems unlikely.
Moving to the Brewers rotation, which is made up of Davies, Anderson, Woodruff, Super, Chacin, and eventually Nelson.
Brewers 2018 Projected Rotation
The Brewers have, at first glance, a rotation made up of third and fourth options. And, upon a closer look, that is confirmed. Without a single starter projected for 180+ innings or a sub 4.00 ERA, the Brewers are in a bit of a jam. Even with the inclusion of a sixth starter, Nelson, who will return from a torn labrum later in 2018, the entire rotation only projects for 8.7 WAR.
Perhaps the Pirates rotation will provide more competition: Cole, Nova, Tailon, Kuhl, and Williams.
Pirates 2018 Projected Rotation
The starters in Pittsburgh are much more formidable than their counterpart in Milwaukee. In fact, they project for 12.3 WAR, behind the Cardinals. Additionally, the St. Louis rotation accounts for more innings—note Williams is projected for just over 100 innings.
Although it is widely known the Reds have a weak team and rotation, for the sake of completeness, we’ll examine what they offer as well: DeSclefani, Bailey, Castillo, Stephenson, Mahle, and Finnegan.
2018 Reds Projected Rotation
The Reds rotation projects for 6.6 WAR from their top six guys. It is an abysmal number for a team with virtually no shot at winning the central.
The rotations project as follows: Chicago (14), St. Louis (12.4), Pittsburgh (12.3), Milwaukee (8.7), and Cincinnati (6.6).
Although the Cardinals project in second place, the Pirates have a more solid rotation one through five. While very little separates the top three teams, Chicago unequivocally has the best rotation in the central. A player like Archer (4.3 WAR 2018) would certainly give the Cardinals the best rotation in the division. An acquisition such as Arrieta (2.7 WAR 2018) would boost the rotation into contention.
Certainly, it may be important to consider relative depth, where the Cardinals have an advantage with the return of Alex Reyes. As it currently stands, the Cardinals do not have the best rotation in the Central. However, the starters are a strong group. In looking only at this aspect, the front office has put together perhaps not an elite staff, but certainly one that will give the team an opportunity to compete.