What was the plan for the 2024 starting rotation?

Smart organizations often look 3-5 years into the future when planning out a roster. The bones of a strong rotation were present in 2020. What went wrong?

Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals / Joe Puetz/GettyImages
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Who was supposed to rise in the system?

The first question that needs to be answered when solving this riddle is "Who?'. As of 2019, Jack Flaherty was only 23 years old, he was in his third professional season, and finished the season 4th in National League Cy Young voting. Flaherty was the presumptive and hopeful ace of the future.

Behind him, Michael Wacha was a stalwart in the back of the rotation, Miles MIkolas was the veteran free agent with a fresh extension on the way, Adam Wainwright was the wily veteran, and Dakota Hudson, a recent top-5 organizational prospect, was on the rise.

These 5 pitchers were supposed to lead the team in 2019 and 2020, and they did a fine job of it. Mozeliak must have figured that Jack Flaherty would continue to soar, Dakota Hudson would be serviceable, and Mikolas and Wainwright would age on typical curves.

Behind young pitchers like Flaherty and Hudson, the Cardinals would trade for a former first-round pick in Matthew Liberatore from the Tampa Bay Rays in January of 2020 to bolster their pitching farm system, their own first-round pick from 2019, Zack Thompson, was getting more seasoning in his sophomore season in the minors. Players such as Genesis Cabrera, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, and Angel Rondon provided high-upside depth in the minors, though some of these prospects were likely going to be forced into the bullpen.

As of 2020, the 2023 rotation would be led by Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas with Adam Wainwright closing out his career and at least one of the aforementioned pitchers taking significant steps to improve. Thompson and Liberatore would be 25 and 23, respectively, and hopefully prepared to take on a role in the back of the rotation.

When the 2021 rotation didn't pan out as well as initially expected (21st in starting pitcher bWAR), John Mozeliak once again had to reevaluate his future plans. Randy Flores had just gifted Mo Tink Hence, but he was years away from being ready. Essentially, the plan was to let Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore continue to develop while filling in the rotation in other ways. That came in signing Kwang-Hyun Kim and letting a faltering Carlos Martinez trot out every 5 days.

By the end of 2021, Jack Flaherty's once-promising allure had faded, Adam Wainwright wasn't his old self anymore, and Mikolas's spectacular return was hampered due to injuries. John Gant pitched the fifth-most innings that year. The plan was starting to crumble. Dakota Hudson, while he was still fine in the back of the rotation, wasn't what the team needed him to be either in 2019 or 2020.

Fast forward to 2023 and 2024, and we are still waiting for Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson to show improvement. Players such as Johan Oviedo, Zac Gallen, and Sandy Alcantara were traded away, although their Cy Young abilities were never predicted in the first place.