The St. Louis Cardinals are in for an uneventful end to their 2023 season. As we painfully drag our fandom through the chase for 200 career wins, the pitching staff this year has nothing to show. Fans are counting down the days until John Mozeliak can fix the situation he put the team in. The shell of the starting rotation is exposed down to the bare bones. It is almost certain that the starting five is not guaranteed for anybody next year. This sets up a particular player to make his case, as his case is diminishing unless he can control his own fate…..
It is Make it or Break it time for Matthew Liberatore.
Three guaranteed spots
John Mozeliak has stated multiple times on record that the team doesn't want to go through this kind of disappointment ever again. This is the rare moment when you can hear the blunt truth in his words. This is not a front office show-face moment to calm the masses. Ownership and management do not know what to make of this current season. Everyone is on the same page to never go through this again. It starts with revamping the starting rotation.
In yesterday’s press conference and interviews, Mozeliak stated that the Cardinals will be aggressively pursuing not one but three new starting pitchers for next year. Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery are both traded away and as good as gone for any potential return to St. Louis. Steven Matz, who finally has discovered what kind of pitcher he is, is now suspected to be out for the remainder of the year with a shoulder injury. So there are three spots. But wait! Adam Wainwright is retiring, whether he is ready or still wants to pursue 200 career wins. So the Cardinals have four wide-open spots for new starting pitchers. Does Mozeliak have any legit contenders internally?
The most Cardinals-esque decision would be for the promotion of Triple-A arms to fill the holes and state that they have “really seen tremendous improvement in these players during spring training.” So if that is going to be the case, The best options are Zack Thompson, Dakota Hudson, Gordon Graceffo, Michael McGreevy, and……Matthew Liberatore.
Thompson is very intriguing, as he has been stretched out as a starter and failed miserably. But he has looked really good as a long reliever and shows that he has great stuff in limited innings. So under inning control from the front office, maybe Thompson can become an effective starter.
Dakota Hudson is a DFA candidate. He has been around for quite some time and has regressed every season since his 2019 breakout. He has a high ERA, FIP, hits allowed, and low strike-out numbers. In the modern game of baseball, this is a pitcher that becomes batting practice. Unless the elite defense comes back to STL, Hudson will not be coming back.
Graceffo and McGreevy are progressing their way to potential debuts in 2024. They are promising arms and should help out the club in the future. The big question is: are they going to help out in any way in 2024? I would say the odds are more in their favor to produce in 2025 for the big league club. But I am excited to see what they can do in 2024 if they get the call to the show.
That leaves us with Matthew Libertaore. The prized prospect in the Randy Arozerana trade, we are years removed from the trade and so far it looks like a major loss for the Cardinals. Randy has become a global phenomenon while Liberatore has been riding the carousel from Memphis to St. Louis and back. It has been constant promotions or demotions with no clear sign of if he is big-league ready or not. Pitching 58 innings in Memphis this year, Libby has a 3.72 ERA, 1.362 WHIP, 7.9 H/9, and 11.3 SO/9. That looks like a very reliable arm for a rotation right?? In the Majors in 2023, he has a 6.70 ERA, 1.511 WHIP, 10.1 H/9, and 5.9 SO/9 in 45.2 IP. If you have not figured it out yet…..this is a problem.
Headlining the 2023-2024 free-agency will be Shohei Ohtani. Everyone wants Ohtani, but not everyone will be bidding for him. Smart teams will move fast on the available starting pitchers and you better expect John Mozeliak to be in this bidding war.
The most notable name is Aaron Nola. He is the most reliable arm out of the group and can provide innings that the Cardinals have lacked all year with injuries and age. Nola is on the wrong side of 30, but some pitchers age like wine. We will see how aggressive his market becomes.
Julio Urias is the second most intriguing name given his age and postseason performances. He is only 27 and has many years ahead of him to rack up the innings. But his Statcast data suggest that he is losing his stuff. His velocity is way down to go along with whiff rate. But Urias is keeping himself in the high-end market with his elite spin rates and hard hit% and walk rate. A pitcher who has control of his arsenal is always worth a look into.
The last options available will be Blake Snell, Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolitio, old friends Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty, Eduardo Rodriguez, Sonny Gray, and the remaining middle to low-end market. You better expect Moxeliak to spend most of his time in this realm of reality.
With under two months remaining in the 2023 season, two players are really fighting for their chance to be in the future of this pitching staff. One is Steven Matz, who recently hit the Injured List for the remainder of the season. So is he reliable going forward? Or are we stuck with another Brett Cecil/Andrew Miller/Mike Leake/Greg Holland….fine I will move on.
The second player is Matthew Libertaore. After failing to find the next step in his career path, we are stuck in limbo. Is Liberatore still considered a promising young arm in the system? Or is he a failed top prospect that the Cardinals organization cannot develop which is a common issue as of late? Do not look at Liberatore’s Savant page if you are looking for any hidden gem metrics to show any promise. It will be bluer than the feeling the 2023 season is giving fans. All we can hope is…..that Matthew Liberatore shows us why we should still believe in him.