An organization once heralded for its ability to draft and develop starting pitching, the St. Louis Cardinals are knee-deep in the repercussions of a multi-year issue internally.
There is an element of bad luck they've experienced with their pitching, as guys like Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, and Jack Flaherty were all top prospects in baseball and looked like front-line starters upon their Major League debuts. Each of them experienced strings of injuries that derailed their careers though, which as frustrating as that may be, is out of the Cardinals' control.
But outside of that, the Cardinals have either been unable to develop their own talent to be capable Major League starters (Dakota Hudson, Jake Woodford, Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber, John Gant, etc) or have dealt away starters that have gone on to be successful with other organizations
(Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen, Johan Ovideo, Marco Gonzales, etc.).
The Cardinals have failed at developing pitching compared to other contenders
Every single organization has players that they can point to that became failed prospects internally or that found success elsewhere, but the Cardinals' pitching problem has become undefendable. Just look at the other contenders in baseball and their internally developed arms, whether that was through the draft, trade, or international signings.
Developed Pitching (made debut with this club)
Tampa Bay Rays
Shane McClanahan, Taj Bradley, Josh Fleming, Shane Baz
Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, Luis Garcia, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, Michael Grove, Bobby Miller, Tony Gonsolin, Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Julio Urias
Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Bryce Elder, Kyle Wright, Huascar Unoa
Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo,
Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Aaron Ashby, Adrian Houser
Shane Bieber, Tanner Bibee, Aaron Civale, Logan Allen, Triston McKenzie,
These are just some of the contenders around baseball that have been able to develop their own arms that are now making an impact on their current team. Before Matthew Liberatore joined the rotation in May, all five of the Cardinals starters were in their last year of arbitration or on free-agent deals that they had handed out to them. In total, the Cardinals are paying $63.8 million to their five-projected starters coming into the season and yet rank 17th in baseball with a 4.28 ERA from their rotation.
There are some teams that have constructed their rotation like the Cardinals and found success, but they are the big spending teams that do that to "patch holes" rather than out of pure team building philosophy. In general, you need multiple cost-controlled arms in your rotation and the guys that you "spend" on need to be impact arms. Instead, the Cardinals are stuck spending a boatload of money on middling starters.
Hope may be on the way for the Cardinals rotation
The Cardinals are kind of stuck with the rotation they have right now, and unless they make a big run in the next month, I'm not sure they'll be able to significantly upgrade their rotation in the near future. But as the team looks toward the future, there are multiple arms that can be part of the answer for this team.
Matthew Liberatore has already joined the Cardinals rotation and just graduated from MLB's top 100 prospect list. While he does not have the ceiling of a front-line starter, a guy like Liberatore can provide the Cardinals with a cost-controlled arm that can help them get out of the "overpaying for middle or back-end of the rotation" starters.
There are a few other names in the Liberatore mold as well, namely Zack Thompson and Michael McGreevy. The more of those guys that they can develop, the easier it will be to justify signing or trading for a front-line starter.
The real hope for Cardinals fans comesCardinals' from names like Tink Hence, Gordon Graceffo, and Cooper Hjerpe. Hence has the highest ceiling of the bunch with electric stuff that can truly lead a rotation, but Graceffo and Hjerpe also have high-end ceilings where they could realistically headline the Cardinals' rotation in the next few seasons.
With about $35.7 million coming off the books in just their starting rotation and Miles Mikolas, Matthew Liberatore, and possibly Steven Matz slated for next year's rotation, it makes a lot of sense for the Cardinals to bring in a high-level veteran starter like an Aaron Nola, Shane Bieber, or other names to lead the rotation while those names develop. The worst thing the Cardinals can do is sign more low-end starters to free agent contracts, blocking young arms and tying up money to low-ceiling players.