Now with Bud Norris joining previous acquisitions Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone, not to mention the cast of returning characters, a recovering Alex Reyes, and several flame-throwing minor leaguers who might just cut their teeth in the big league bullpen, the Cardinals have a variety of options.
Can they do the same thing with the rotation?
Traditionally, we've thought of a starting rotation as just five guys, each taking the ball every fifth game. We know that we'll lose at least one of those guys to injury, so it's good to have a useful #6 and #7 either down in the minors or working as a long-man out of the pen. But in general, the focus has been loading a rotation with as many top-tier arms as possible and then stomaching a precipitous drop-off when we reach starter 4, 5, 6...
Last season, the Dodgers took a different approach. At the top they had Clayton Kershaw, the #1 of #1s. Behind him, they had Rich Hill, who has been consistently excellent in consistently limited innings. And then you've got just a pile of guys: Wood, Maeda, Ryu, McCarthy, Urias... and that's before they added Yu Darvish at the break. And it's not including Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling, who moved in from the bullpen to start six games between them. It's also not including Brett Anderson or Scott Kazmir, who they had in the organization but never panned out.
That makes ten guys who started games for the Dodgers last season, seven of whom started nine or more. Ordinarily, that would sound like a disaster of a season. But this was, to a large degree, by design.
The Dodgers made extensive, some would even say abusive, use of the new 10-day disabled list - particularly with their pitching staff. With that 10-day DL, a savvy team can give a starter ten days of rest and only have them miss one start. And that's just what the Dodgers did. Sure, there were injuries, but there were also numerous examples of starters heading to the 10-day DL with rather vague bouts of "fatigue" and "soreness," which looked a lot more like simply "rest."
And it worked really well.
Only one of the seven Dodgers who started at least nine games put up an ERA north of 4.00 (Maeda). Alex Wood went from being a guy who battled injury and fluctuated between the pen and the rotation to putting up half a season of Cy Young numbers. Those are extremely anecdotal examples, and sure, this was just one season... except it wasn't. Even before the advent of the 10-day DL in 2017, the Dodgers of 2015 and 2016 were two of only three teams in history to use 15 or more starting pitchers and still make the playoffs.
Every time you rest a pitcher by moving them onto the 10-day DL around an off-day, you can also give their spot on the roster to another bullpen arm. That (coupled with the managerial forethought not to grind guys into dust) allows you to keep everyone in the bullpen fresher. In fact, the Dodgers spread the innings around their bullpen better than any team in baseball.
The Cardinals are, in many ways, chasing the Cubs. But the best way to compete with their rotation might be to follow the Dodgers.
The Cubs signing of Yu Darvish was a punch in the gut. Especially at the price he went for, I'm baffled why the Cardinals were (seemingly) not in on that. The Cubs now have a 5-man rotation that looks head-and-shoulders above the Cardinals.
Perhaps St. Louis can still work a trade for Chris Archer, likely swapping some of their young pitching depth and talent - think names like Reyes, Weaver, Flaherty - to add another big name to their rotation. Honestly, I'd love to see a move like that.
But if the Cardinals follow something more like the Dodgers model, with their growing stable of young arms who are MLB ready or very close, they could leverage players with minor league options and the 10-day DL to spread their starts around seven or eight potentially useful arms.
Carlos Martinez is the closest thing the Cardinals have to Kershaw, and obviously, they want him to start as often as possible. Miles Mikolas seems like a guy the club is confident in taking the ball every fifth day as well.
While Michael Wacha bounced back last season to be surprisingly effective, his ongoing shoulder issue makes him a great candidate for a 10-day rest here and there. Adam Wainwright is promising a bounce-back this season, but whether through injury or ineffectiveness, you've got to be ready to move on quickly from his spot if need be.
Weaver looks to have a rotation spot locked, but I'm sure the Cardinals wouldn't mind easing his innings load with a trip or two to the 10-day DL. Flaherty dipped his toe into the rotation last season and probably deserves another chance in 2018. While the club plans to use Reyes primarily out of the bullpen, he could certainly start at some point. And in the high minors, you've got guys like Hudson, Hicks, Gomber and Greene. It's easy to imagine any of them taking another step forward and being ready for a cup of coffee.
Now, are ALL of these guys going to pan out? Of course not. That's the point of throwing numbers at the problem.
The Cardinals have a surplus of young pitching talent. One way to capitalize on that is to trade that surplus in bulk for a premium major league player - and that still may be the best option. But through savvy management and leaning heavily on the 10-day DL, the Cardinals might be able to utilize that surplus pitching themselves.