It is a relationship that started 10 years ago with the last pick in the 22nd round (680th overall) of the 2005 MLB Draft. One year prior, the St. Louis Cardinals produced one of their best regular seasons in franchise history (105-57), but fell short of the ultimate goal as the Boston Red Sox bullied their way to a World Series sweep. While the pitching staff consisted of some relatively big names at the time (i.e. Matt Morris, Chris Carpenter, and Jason Isringhausen), it is clear that the MV3 (Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds) stole the show, especially in a league dominated by offense (2004 league average ERA: 4.46, as compared to 3.90 this season).
Upon reviewing the roster construction of the 2004 team, I found that the average age of the pitching staff was 29.5 years old (and 29.2 in 2005). Jeff Luhnow, in his first year as scouting director, was likely well aware of the need to draft pitchers in hopes of fulfilling the demands of the organization's three- to five-year plan. Flawlessly following this script, Luhnow's first selection in the first round (28th overall) was a highly-touted high-school pitch...errr, outfielder named Colby Rasmus. Honestly, that was a good value pick, though, as Rasmus was likely the "best player available" at that point in the first round, and with another selection two picks later (30th overall), Luhnow would have another opportunity to draft a high-profile pitcher. Instead, he chose "James" Tyler Greene, a college shortstop out of Georgia Tech. In Compensation A, Luhnow began addressing the pitching need by selecting two right-handed pitchers, Mark McCormick (43rd overall) and Tyler Herron (46th overall).
The Cardinals drafted 11 more pitchers (Joshua Wilson, Nicholas Webber, Mitchell Boggs, Jason Cairns, Zachary Zuerner, Daniel McCutchen, Michael Repole, Adam Daniels, Matthew Lane, Michael Cooper, and Miers Quigley) before making their selection in the 22nd round: Jaime Garcia, a 6'2" left-handed pitcher from Sharyland HS in Mission, Texas. Needless to say, Garcia did not possess much hype as a draft prospect, unless you were speaking with Joe Almaraz, the area scout who promoted drafting the lefty (after also doing so the year prior with the Orioles) and eventually convinced him to sign with St. Louis instead of returning to Mexico for pro ball.
What followed was a terrific minor league career where Garcia found his name at #2, #5, #13, and #2 on Cardinals' top prospect lists (via Baseball America) in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, respectively. Adding to these accolades, Garcia's curveball was rated the best in the system from 2006 through 2009. Jaime made his major league debut, though brief and primarily out of the bullpen, in 2008, becoming one of the few to meet the front office's three-year plan from the 2005 draft. Unfortunately, on September 9th, 2008 (via Baseball Prospectus), Garcia's throwing arm underwent its first operation, Tommy John surgery. A successful surgery (combined with a yearlong recovery in 2009) gave Jaime a relatively clean bill of health in 2010 and 2011, and one could say he made the most of it. His performance in these two seasons (3.31 FIP, 6.2 fWAR) led to a four-year, $27-million extension being signed on July 13th, 2011.
Within the first few months of his contract extension, Garcia's arm troubles returned, starting with elbow soreness in May/June and followed by an extended stay (64 games) on the disabled list due to shoulder discomfort associated with labrum and rotator cuff issues. While managing to avoid surgery in 2012, it proved no more than prolonging the inevitable as he lasted only nine starts in 2013 before having to go under the knife for the second time in his career, this time to repair partial tears in his labrum and rotator cuff.
Despite having a set-back in spring training that required a cortisone shot, Garcia returned to the big-league club around this time last year (May 18th, 2014) and pitched relatively well given the circumstances (3.82 FIP, 0.4 fWAR). On June 10th, I wrote about how his velocity and movement were increased from previous seasons. Looking back, the tone of the article was naively hopeful. What scares me is this real sentence found in my concluding paragraph:
"Even if he does not pitch another inning for the Cardinals this season (please, do not be the case), 2014 has been a success."
Sure enough, Garcia was shut down 11 days later (after two outings and 12 innings pitched), and come July, it was determined that he needed season-ending thoracic outlet surgery. As we learned from Chris Carpenter and this surgery in 2012, there was no guarantee that we would see Garcia pitch ever again. Yet, here we are. In a few hours, Garcia will take the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals against 2014 National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets.
What can we expect? While some will undoubtedly share in Garcia's and the team's reported "excitement and optimism," it would probably be wise to take another approach, given the real possibility of disappointment. The Cardinals drafted 13 pitchers before Garcia in 2005. Only one of them (Boggs) pitched in the majors for St. Louis. While delighted by what Garcia has been able to give them (9.5 fWAR over 594.2 innings pitched), in no way could they honestly say they expected it. As fans, let us be "delighted" by what Garcia will bring in 2015, but "in no way should we expect it."