|Wainwright Injury Ends Cardinals Season||| Print |||Send|
Written by Matt Trueblood (Contact & Archive) on February 28, 2011
Let's be clear: The St. Louis Cardinals are not viable contenders in 2011. Their chances evaporated at whatever moment Adam Wainwright's frayed right ulnar collateral ligament gave way. Wainwright now needs Tommy John surgery and will be out until at least next Spring Training. Absent a very lopsided trade for an ace who can replace Wainwright, St. Louis has no hope of winning the NL Central in 2011.
Looking beyond this season, though, this injury has all manner of implications for the Cardinals front office. Let's examine their next steps.
It behooves us, then, to look at the team's pitching staff as currently assembled. Astute observers have been inundated with the name Kyle McClellan, a young reliever whom the team has begun stretching out in camp in the hope of making him the new fifth starter.
In three full years of work as a reliever for the Cardinals, McClellan has pretty well demonstrated what he is and what he is not. What he is is a three- or four-pitch pitcher with fair control and the ability to keep the ball low in the zone more often than not.
What he is not is a potential impact pitcher. The ceiling here is 160 innings of a 4.00 ERA and a problematic home-run rate. McClellan's best weapon might be a change-up that really baffles left-handers, but he has little confidence in the pitch. He prefers his curveball, a good but not plus offering, and a cutter/two-seam fastball with which he gets way too much of the plate rather often.
Looking past McClellan and the one-to-one replacement framework, the team might ask for more out of sophomore southpaw Jaime Garcia than they would have otherwise. Garcia, a Tommy John alumnus himself, got extra rest between starts down the stretch and ultimately pitched for the last time in 2010 on Sep. 13. The team handled Garcia very conservatively but will likely have to increase his innings count more than they would like to in 2011. Whereas Garcia might have posted roughly 175 innings as a third starter, the team will almost certainly try to push him up to 190 or so to make up for the loss of Wainwright.
Chris Carpenter may have gotten some added job security when Wainwright went down. Carpenter will turn 36 in April, had a 4.78 ERA after September 1 last season, and is owed $15 million on a team option for 2012. St. Louis might well have decided not to exercise that option before, but with so much uncertainty around Wainwright now, the bar Carpenter must clear in 2011 to earn his money in 2012 is now much lower.
Wainwright himself has club options for both 2012 and 2013. They vested - temporarily -- when he finished second in Cy Young voting last season, but can be voided now that he will finish 2011 on the disabled list. Given his long arm action, which increases the chance of re-injury, Wainwright presents even more than the inherent risk of any surgery survivor. The Cardinals should explore ways to replace him more cheaply or more safely and void those options at season's end.
To minimize the cost of replacing their ace, the organization should look to develop its very raw pitching prospects as quickly as possible. Prospect people know Shelby Miller: He is a flamethrower with a promising curveball who (though just 20 and slated to pitch at Class A this season) could be in the big leagues by the second half of 2012. Carlos Martinez (nee Matias) is just 19 but shares Miller's basic skill set: Big fastball, pretty curveball, much to learn and time to grow. Seth Blair, Jordan Swagerty and Tyrell Jenkins are variations on the same theme and none of the three will be ready before 2013, if ever.
To fill the short-term hole left by Wainwright, then, the Cardinals must turn to prospects with less raw potential. Lance Lynn pitched at Triple-A last season and has a very good sinker that Dave Duncan would just love. Joe Kelly, 22, has never pitched above Class-A but could be a rapid riser if he cleans up his delivery to improve his command. Kelly is a 2012 guy, but Lynn could realistically be in the big leagues on or about Opening Day.The Cardinals need to prepare for the possibility that their true ace -- a young stud with no true weakness -- might never be back to full effectiveness. Presumably, they insured his arm financially against injuries like this one and will get some of his salary for 2011 back on that deal. More important, though, is the question of how well they insured themselves against his loss in terms of organizational depth and high-ceiling replacements.