The Cardinals have sent Chris Carpenter back to St. Louis to get his neck re-examined due to lingering pain. He was experiencing weakness in his neck, shoulder and upper-arm on Monday according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joe Strauss.
When the issue first arose and was diagnosed as a bulging disk, the Cardinals shifted to a Plan “B” scenario of stretching out Lance Lynn who up to that point was a favorite to be a member of the Cardinals’ bullpen. Lynn has started 72 games in the minors, so this was not exactly foreign territory. The Cardinals felt this was a good route to take because the recuperation time would likely see Carpenter miss no more than a game or two of the regular season. There was actually optimism until Monday that he could make the Opening Day start if he was able to see action in two Spring Training games.
Now that the neck has not improved there are renewed concerns that this could ultimately be related to nerves in his neck. Carpenter has dealt with nerve issues in the past and such problems can take much longer to resolve.
Plan “B” was not a long-term plan. The Cardinals figured they would get Carpenter back in early April and what they would do with Lynn was not really made apparent. If, and this is still a big IF, Carpenter is going to be out for an extended period of time, do the Cardinals reach back out to free-agent in waiting Roy Oswalt?
It is no secret that Oswalt would like to pitch in St. Louis. It is also no secret that when the team and Oswalt were doing their dance this winter it came down to a matter of money. The Cardinals couldn’t or wouldn’t offer much and Oswalt was looking for a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $8-10 million.
I stipulated when Oswalt suggested he would take a one-year contract that the Cardinals should oblige as he would provide extra depth and if he pitched like the Oswalt from 2010, he would bring great value for the contract he wanted. I was not optimistic of the expected performance of assumed #4 and #5 starters, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. I contended that moving one of them to the bullpen, probably Westbrook at the time, would be beneficial to the club if that is what it took to get Oswalt. As interest from the club waned, I let it go. Most fans did. But now, the instant that Carpenter is said to be looking at a longer period of downtime, fans are dusting off their Oswalt desires.
Now, I am not so sure this is the right move, or a necessary move. This is why. Lance Lynn is fully capable of supplying innings for Carpenter. I detailed last week in this space that Lynn could be just fine as a starter all season. His abilities are not much different from Oswalt and he comes in a much younger and durable package. Running out to sign Oswalt to fill the void of an injured pitcher is begging for the same issues. It was different if he was a part of the same rotation as Carpenter. If there was an injury to either, then Westbrook (in my scenario from the winter) could have stepped in. If Oswalt comes to St. Louis as a replacement for Carpenter and Lynn is shuffled back to the bullpen, what happens if Oswalt’s creaky back acts up? They’d have to stretch Lynn back out? Lynn is not a prized arm, but it can be a valuable one and bouncing him back and forth like your favorite Duncan Yo-Yo is not a wise decision.
This column is about numbers and I believe this chart will tell the story.
These projections from Bill James and ZiPS were taken from FanGraphs. You can see that there is a disparity in the number of starts for each as Oswalt is viewed only as a starter and Lynn is speculated to be more of a spot starter. Each sees Oswalt as a slightly better pitcher in terms of ERA and FIP. The ratios show Lynn may have more trouble locating pitches and staying away from walks. But, he may strikeout more batters than Oswalt. For the most part, if we projected more innings for Lynn he would reach similar win/loss totals, though we know I feel they don’t tell the story. This does not take into account costs. For that, let’s look at one more chart.
The WAR estimates are based on the projections of both James and ZiPS, assuming ratios remain constant and using 150 innings pitched for each player. Oswalt comes out slightly better for each projection. But, and this is a big BUT, is it worth the extra cash? Even if Oswalt took a $5 million deal, Lynn is set to make a little more than the league minimum of $480K. These numbers don’t show Oswalt performing 10 times better than Lynn. Plus, I don’t think Oswalt would come at that price.
I’d probably feel differently is Lynn didn’t have a good minor league track record as a starter; he does. I’d re-think my position if Lynn was performing poorly thus far in Spring Training; he isn’t.
I won’t argue Oswalt wouldn’t be a good addition to the ball club. My assertion is that it would have been better under circumstances where Carpenter was not hurt. I also now believe that keeping Lynn stretched out could be more beneficial to the team. The Cardinals have others on the roster who could have injuries creep up on them during the season and the team would likely be financially strapped mid-season if they took on Oswalt now. No one is knocking down Oswalt’s door at the moment and neither should the Cardinals. I suggest the best thing to do is keep Plan “B” going and not jump to a Plan “C”.