St. Louis Cardinals: Zero reason to demote Luke Weaver

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 11: Starter Luke Weaver
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 11: Starter Luke Weaver /

After two starts for the big-league club, following an early July stint with a couple of scoreless relief appearances, St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher  Luke Weaver is once again being sent down to the minors.  And this time, the move can only be described as foolish.

On the face of it, the transaction is to free up a rotation spot for Adam Wainwright, who is returning from the disabled list.  But a clear-headed analysis demonstrates, given the St. Louis Cardinals fortunes this season (or should we say lack thereof?), there’s no reason whatsoever to demote young master Luke.

All Luke Weaver has done in the minors is to show they belong in his rear-review mirror for good. Four seasons at various levels has produced a 1.81 ERA and a 1.043 WHIP, with a strikeout an inning paired with less than two walks a game. His home run per nine innings is an outrageously low 0.3.

That last stat is what made some of the sports pundits’ comments about Weaver so laughable when he gave up a grand slam against the Diamondbacks last week.  Weaver surrendered the dinger to none other than J.D. Martinez, a recent Arizona trade acquisition who at the time was sitting in the top five in all of baseball in OPS.

Yet you would have thought from listening or reading the so-called analyses about Weaver’s one bad inning (after he had pretty much cruised to that point) made him unready for The Show. Even though he only gave up runs on one of those innings, and totaled seven hits and two walks in five innings, a perfectly respectable sum.

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Weaver, who had what I thought would be the get-back laugh this week, hurled a six-inning-plus gem against the Brewers.

Though his bullpen tried to relinquish the lead, they barely held on for Weaver.

His two earned runs and seven base runners in six and a third innings was plenty good enough to merit the 5-4 win.

So with two scoreless outings in relief, one start with one bad inning and one above-average start, the St. Louis Cardinals relegate Weaver to the minors once again. It just makes no sense.

If the Cards are basically chasing their tail this year — they’ve failed six straight times to get to .500 when given the chance — and with no clear sign the team can compete at a higher level, why is it so critical to remove Weaver from the big-league team and return him to a place from which he surely has earned his diploma?

If the answer is to activate and return Wainwright to the rotation, my question is: Why not have six starters?

It’s the time of year pitchers wear down. Lance Lynn is less than a season removed from his surgery; Wacha has been reconstructed as well. Carlos Martinez has shown remarkable weakness at the outset of many of his starts, and Wainwright is turning 36 at the end of this month.

When one starts to think through the cost-benefit analysis, here is what I came up with for now. We could send Weaver down and give him more starts where he clearly doesn’t need them. Or we could fit him into the St. Louis rotation, and over the course of the next two months have each of the other starters get nine starts apiece instead of eleven.

That would ready Weaver for the role he almost assuredly is going to have in 2018 with the club, as the likelihood of Lynn being here is small, and no one can predict with certainty if Alex Reyes will be ready to return as a full-time starter at the outset of the next campaign.

There’s even another benefit. If Weaver is a potential trade chip for the Redbirds (which I sincerely hope against), then showcasing him for the remainder of 2017 would allow scouts to better evaluate him for off-season discussions.

If the Cards were so in the thick of it, that there was serious peril to contention by such a plan, sure, I’d understand the reluctance. But there’s no real evidence the team is going to suddenly spring forward and overtake the Cubs. A wild-card slot is a fantasy. Weaver doesn’t even appear to be much of a sacrifice in quality if he takes two spots of each other starter between now and year’s end.

The great John Smoltz, also a fleeting Cardinal during a Hall of Fame career primarily with the Atlanta Braves, is a fine national TV commentator on baseball. He often points out that the Braves showed great patience with him, and with teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, also Hall of Famers, by letting them mature through their early major-league starts.

The Cards, who are not a World Series-quality team right now, need to find a way to let Luke Weaver develop at the major-league level.  The most logical way would seem to be a six-man rotation, which would offer some fatigue relief to others while offering Weaver his chance.

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But by sending him down once again, the Cardinals are showing a lack of creativity and are observing their assets with an eye to the past. They’ve seemed to invest in the future with their approach to several hitters like Paul DeJong, Luke Voit and Carson Kelly. Now it’s time to make the same leap of faith by recognizing Luke Weaver should stay.