The St. Louis Cardinals have some sorting out to do in their overcrowded starting rotation. Step one should be declining Jaime Garcia’s $12MM option.
As the 2016 season came to a close, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves outside of the playoff picture. Many things went wrong for the redbirds this year, as the team missed the playoffs for just the fifth time since 2000. The team struggled defensively, and a depleted bullpen struggled to eat innings and maintain leads—but it was the rotation that struggled the most.
The Cards rotation posted an ERA of 4.33 and opposing teams hit .268 (12th in the NL) against them in 2016. Carlos Martinez was the only member of the opening day rotation who managed a sub-4 ERA.
Lance Lynn missed the season after tommy john surgery, and Adam Wainwright struggled in his first full season back since tearing his achilles. Mike Leake under-performed, and he too missed time down the stretch due to shingles. Michael Wacha also spent time on the DL with a stress fracture in his shoulder, and the Cards were forced to call up youngsters Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver to plug the holes.
A once-deep starting rotation was stretched thin throughout the season. The Cardinals appeared in dire need of some pitching help. Ironically though, the St. Louis rotation appears too crowded, not thin, as the team gets ready for the 2017 season.
The Cardinals have seven viable candidates for their rotation as the injured starters all project to make a full return by 2017. Obviously someone here will have to move to the bullpen, but the Cardinals appear to have one too many starters on their payroll.
Leake has a no-trade clause, Wacha’s injuries remove him from trade discussions, and Alex Reyes all but guaranteed himself a spot. Wainwright, Lynn, and Martinez are staples of the rotation, and Weaver intends to compete for a spot of his own. So who is the odd man out? There’s only one guy who the Cardinals could conceivably drop between now and 2017: Jaime Garcia.
The Mexican-born left-hander is considered by some to have the best stuff on the staff. In 2010, his first full year as a starter, he went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA. Devastating injuries in 2008, 2013, and 2014 have hindered his growth and limited his production.
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Garcia battled back and had the best year of his career in 2015, but he was limited to just 20 games due to more injury struggles. His perseverance and inclusion on the staff this year were impressive, but unfortunately, his actual production was not. His ERA of 4.67, his BB/9 of 3.0, and his HR/9 of 1.4 were all career-worsts. Garcia was ultimately benched in favor of Reyes.
Jamie just completed the final year of his contract, and the team has a club option worth $12MM with a 500k buyout. There are several reasons to consider retaining Garcia: He’s the lone lefty in the rotation, and while he has struggled, his peak form is as good as anyone’s on the team. The Cards could pick him up and use him both in the rotation and out of the pen. Additionally, they could look to trade him.
A trade however, does not seem likely to me. I’m not sure if another GM would be inclined to trade for an injury-prone pitcher coming off of a career-worst year. Especially a 30-year old who stands to enter free agency the following season. A substantial return for Garcia is not likely.
If the Cardinals pick up the option, they have to bank on him staying healthy. Even if he manages to put a full season together, there’s no indication that he’ll return to his 2015 form. He got worse as the year went on. Jaime’s splits for opposing batters changed from .256/.325/.379 in the first half to .284/.340/.583 to finish the season.
Given the log jam at the top of the rotation, and the unlikelihood of an impact trade, I recommend against picking up the $12MM option on Garcia. It’s not a ton of money, but it could be used elsewhere. Garcia was once a promising young starter and a key piece in the future of this team. But the future has arrived, and Garcia’s career did not play out as hoped. It’s time to move on.