With Adam Wainwright done for the season with an Achilles injury, the Cardinals' first move was to turn to in-house options to fill his spot. As Ben pointed out earlier this week, the Cardinals have plenty of viable internal options, although the top two (Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia) are currently on the DL. After Tim Cooney's rough debut Thursday, the Cardinals have already decided to give another pitcher the opportunity to fill Wainwright's spot, although it is not entirely clear yet who this pitcher will be.
When a starting pitcher for a contending team goes down for the season, we often see writers and pundits discuss the possibility of that team trading for a starting pitcher. This has certainly been the case for the Cardinals so far, as we have seen the reappearance of Cole Hamels rumors and some articles in the Post-Dispatch discussing potential trade candidates. While it is far too early to expect the Cardinals to make a trade for a starting pitcher, it is a possibility that Cardinals fans should be prepared for. We saw them acquire two starting pitchers last year (John Lackey and Justin Masterson), one in 2011 (Edwin Jackson), and one in 2010 (Jake Westbrook), so it's certainly familiar territory for John Mozeliak.
Here's an early look at some of the starting pitchers who have a good chance of being traded before the trade deadline this year.
By now, you probably know all the issues regarding Hamels and his likelihood of being traded: his contract situation, his no-trade clause, and Ruben Amaro's high asking price. Hamels is going to be one of the best starting pitchers available this year, and he is likely the best fit for the Cardinals if they are looking for a high-end starter. (I realize that Johnny Cueto will probably be available if the Reds fall out of contention, but I cannot envision a scenario where he ends up with the Cardinals.) While Hamels has had a disappointing start to the season, especially based on his FIP and WAR, he has always started slow in April, as my colleague Spencer Bingol of Beyond the Box Score pointed out earlier this week.
If he rebounds as expected, his value will be as high as it has ever been, especially with the growing number of contending teams in search of a starting pitcher. Given the perceived difference between how the Cardinals value Hamels and how the Phillies value him, I think it will be hard to find a deal that both of these teams can agree on. Taking on the rest of Hamels' contract is already a big obligation, but giving up considerable talent in addition to the financial commitment is a step no team has been willing to make, up to this point. Perhaps one team is going to give in to the demands of Ruben Amaro Jr., but personally, I don't think it will be the Cardinals.
Harang has had a bit of a late career resurgence, as he put up a solid 2.7 WAR in 204 1/3 innings last season with the Braves after four straight seasons as a mediocre back-end starter. He has had an excellent start to the season so far, as he is currently on pace to have more than 6 WAR(!) this season. While it is unlikely that Harang keeps pitching this well, especially once his HR/FB ratio regresses towards his career norm, the rest of his peripherals look pretty solid so far. He is capable of filling the innings gap created by the Wainwright injury, and if he pitches anywhere close to the way he has so far this season, he could surprise a lot of people. He will certainly be easier to acquire than a pitcher like Hamels, since he is on an affordable one-year contract. Given that the Phillies have already fallen out of contention, as everyone expected going into the season, Harang will almost certainly be traded, and he is probably a player that Cardinals fans should keep on their radar.
The Cardinals certainly have a high level of familiarity with Lohse, but it remains to be seen how much the 36-year old right hander has left in the tank. He put up solid but unspectacular numbers in each of his last two seasons with the Brewers, and he has one year left on his contract. He still eats a lot of innings, but at this point, it is debatable whether he is a better option than a healthy Marco Gonzales. Given how he has performed so far this season, he will need to have a big turnaround if the Brewers hope to get much of anything in return for him.
Haren is yet another former Cardinal pitcher that could be traded at some point this season. The Marlins are off to a somewhat slow start this season, and Haren, who is set to be a free agent at the end of the year, will probably be available if the Marlins don't bounce back. As with Lohse, it remains to be seen how good Haren can be at this point in his career. While he is only 34, he is nowhere near the ace-level pitcher he was from 2007 to 2011. He can still provide plenty of innings, but they aren't likely to be very high quality innings. While Haren won't cost a team much money (his salary is being covered by the Dodgers), giving up talent to acquire him might not be a smart move. Until the Cardinals' in-house options prove that they aren't viable starters, trading for someone like Haren makes little sense, especially if his first four starts are any indication of his future performance.
There are certainly other pitchers who will be on the trade market later this summer once more teams drop out of contention. Bernie Miklasz mentions Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, and Doug Fister as other high-end pitchers who are in their walk year and may be available. However, these pitchers are all on teams that figure to contend this year. (Samardzija's White Sox might be the exception.) Looking at the list of upcoming free agents, a few other names that stand out as possible trade candidates are Mike Leake, Yovani Gallardo, and Mat Latos. And if the San Francisco Giants don't improve, we could see some of their starters (Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy) on the trade block as well.
Perhaps this speculation is too early, as most teams still have a realistic chance of making the playoffs and would be foolish to commit to being sellers this early in the season. At the same time, we are now one month into the season, which means that trade season isn't too far off. If the Cardinals cannot fill their open rotation spot internally, perhaps we should start to keep an eye on the trade market for starting pitchers, since there's a chance one of these pitchers could be wearing the birds on the bat at some point this year.