St. Louis Cardinals: Michael Wacha Will Start Over Alex Reyes (For Now)

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals have a bit of a log-jam when it comes to their starting pitching. The big question is “Who will break camp as the fifth starting pitcher?”

St. Louis Cardinals baseball is approaching quickly. Pitchers and catchers officially report for spring training in less than a week, but plenty of Cardinals are already down in Jupiter. Rosters for the World Baseball Classic are being released, with eleven Redbirds making the cut for seven countries. That tournament starts March 6th, while Spring Training begins February 25th.

There are a few notable position battles to watch this spring, including for the third base spot. However, I’m more interested in the competition between Michael Wacha and Alex Reyes for the last spot in the rotation. More specifically, I’m interested in whether this is really a competition at all.

This upcoming battle got more interesting this week, when GM John Mozeliak reportedly noted on MLB Network that he is “surprised everyone has Reyes penciled in as a starter.” Of course, I remember just four months ago when John Mozeliak himself penciled Reyes in as a starter, but what do I know.

Previously, there was concern that, with Reyes committed to the Dominican Republic WBC team, he might miss valuable time with the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter. Without that time, he would be more likely to start the season with the AAA team in Memphis to continue developing as a starter and honing his command.

However, Jenifer Langosch reported that Alex Reyes was named to the “designated pitcher pool,” rather than the DR’s active roster. He will not be active for the first round of the WBC, but could be activated in the second or championship round. In other words, Reyes might spend some time at the WBC, but he’ll also spend time in Jupiter with St. Louis.

With the expectation of more Reyes in camp, the battle between him and Michael Wacha retakes center stage for the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter. Who wins the spot?

Well, we have precedent for this exact sort of battle. Back in 2014, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez “competed” for a spot in Spring Training. Kelly “earned” the starting spot, despite a 6.28 spring ERA compared to Martinez 1.76 mark. Obviously, more went into this decision than spring training performance alone.

Likely the biggest reason the St. Louis Cardinals went with Kelly over Martinez was to manage the latter’s workload. Martinez cracked 100 innings pitched twice as a minor leaguer, but barely. His career high heading into 2014 was the 110 he threw in 2013. Based on the two previous seasons, Kelly was a perfectly competent fifth starter, and could serve in that role to preserve Martinez arm.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

This should all sound eerily familiar (maybe even frighteningly so). The St. Louis Cardinals have stated they will be mindful of Reyes workload this year. Reyes has cracked 100 innings pitched twice as a minor leaguer, with a career high 111.1 innings in 2016. Michael Wacha, for his career, has been an effective MLB starter when healthy. All signs point to Wacha entering the 2017 camp healthy.

I wanted to write about how Alex Reyes was going to pitch well in camp. I was going to remind you how nasty his repertoire is. I wanted to narrate how his performance would put pressure on the Cardinals to slot his name into the rotation. He’d be there to start the regular season, and he’d contend for NL Rookie of the Year.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen (NL RoY might, still). Alex Reyes is plenty good enough to start for the Cardinals. He’s better than Wacha, and might be the most talented pitcher on the team. Additionally, he’s performed well at every stop, including his taste at the MLB level. Yet, it doesn’t matter.

When John Mozeliak pulled back on his stance on Alex Reyes role for next year, saying that he was surprised we all had him slotted in the starting rotation, he was laying the groundwork for the inevitable outcome of this spring’s “position battle.”

Next: Trevor Rosenthal Faces Pivotal Spring Training

Michael Wacha will get the nod to start the regular season. It’s not because he’s better than Alex Reyes. Rather, it’s because Mozeliak and Mike Matheny want to use Wacha while he’s healthy and see what value he still has, while limiting Alex Reyes exposure either for the full season or until the second half. The St. Louis Cardinals front office predetermined the “winner” of the Joe Kelly vs. Carlos Martinez battle. They’ve already decided who will win this one, too.