The State of the Cardinals’ Starting Rotation

Rumors have surfaced as of late that the St. Louis Cardinals may be involved in the sweepstakes to land free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta. His most recent team, the Chicago Cubs, are the leading suitor for the former Cy Young Award winner.

The fact that the Cardinals are at least entertaining the possibility of adding a front-line starter to their rotation raises questions about their confidence in the rotation as it stands now. Carlos Martinez is the ace, but who follows him?

Penciled in for the 2-through-5 spots in the rotation, in any order, are as follows: Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, and Luke Weaver. Each of these four pitchers has question marks surrounding him entering spring training.

Can Michael Wacha put together another full, healthy season? He’s had shoulder troubles in the past that have limited him as the summer months roll around.

Can Adam Wainwright turn back the clock and stop the slide of regression that’s plagued him the past two seasons? And, how many innings can his arm handle in 2018?

What will Miles Mikolas bring to the staff? Can he withstand a full season in a major-league rotation? He pitched well in Japan, but never eclipsed 27 starts in a single season.

And what will Luke Weaver’s first season in a major league rotation look like? Will the Cardinals put a cap on his innings or pull him early in games to protect his arm? He’s thrown less than 100 innings in his major league career.

All of these questions lead to the inevitability that the Cardinals must have a plan to do something besides trot out each of the aforementioned five starters every fifth day and expect them to turn in a quality start, no exceptions.

That’s why it’s not surprising to hear the Cardinals are looking at adding a proven veteran arm to the rotation.

Another avenue St. Louis could take, as suggested by Bernie Miklasz Thursday morning on 101 ESPN, is a “progressive” approach to the rotation.

This could mean a couple of things. The Cardinals could go with a six-man rotation, or they could manipulate the 10-day disabled list to rotate starters in and out of the picture to keep arms fresh and inning counts low. Another option would be to lean more heavily on the bullpen to eat up innings rather than expecting starters to pitch late into games.

If the Cardinals were to add Arrieta or another starter before spring training, the possibility of a rotating six-man rotation could be in play. The organization has the confidence that Martinez, Wacha, Wainwright, Mikolas, and Weaver can be more than capable starting pitchers at the big league level. That’s why they’re penciled in as the five right now. But given the uncertainty surrounding the workload of multiple pitchers in the rotation, having insurance wouldn’t be a bad idea.

If the Cardinals land a free agent starter like Arrieta, he would be in the rotation. But the coaching staff could then get creative with guys like Wacha, Wainwright, Mikolas, Weaver, and other younger pitchers waiting in the wings such as Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson. If need be, with more than five starters to pick from, the Cardinals could spare Martinez a day or two as well.

That kind of system worked well for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, who rotated pitchers on and off of the 10-day DL to keep guys rested and ready to go. The Dodgers, of course, took the World Series to the limit in 2017.

The Cardinals have the confidence in their young starting pitchers to give them a shot in 2018, but that doesn’t mean they can’t protect them by either adding another arm, taking a progressive approach to the rotation, or both.

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