Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Overcoming the Loss of Wainwright

The Cardinals suffered a huge blow on Saturday when Adam Wainwright tore his left Achilles. St. Louis lost their ace, and one of the most durable starters in the majors. It was a freak injury similar to Ryan Howard's Achilles injury at the final out of the 2011 Division Series. Not only is Wainwright one of the best pitchers in the league, he is a mentor to the team's younger pitchers.

If any team can overcome an injury like this, it's the Cardinals. After all, this team won the World Series in 2011 after Wainwright underwent season ending Tommy John surgery during spring training. This year's edition of the Redbirds has several young hard throwing starters, something the 2011 team did not have. Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez are three of the most talented starters in the league. Lynn has proven himself to be a 200 inning workhorse pitcher, while Wacha and Martinez have not.

Besides veteran John Lackey, this is a really young rotation with Wainwright's season ending injury. Lynn is the second most experienced starter, and he is only in his fourth full season. He took a major step forward in 2014, and has become even more important now. Wacha missed several months last year because of shoulder soreness. Wacha has shown flashes of greatness, including his 2013 postseason run. However, Wacha has yet to prove to be a durable major league starter. It's unclear if the Cardinals can count on him for 200 innings right now.

Martinez was one of the Cardinals most hyped pitching prospects for years. This year, he finally got a chance to be in the big league rotation after the trade of Shelby Miller. Martinez has electric stuff, but has bounced between the rotation and bullpen during his big leagues stints in 2013 and 2014. When in the rotation, Martinez had struggled to pitch past 5 innings. So far this year, Martinez has pitched really well. The Cardinals are counting on him to step up.

There is no question about the ability of the Cardinals young starters and minor league prospects, but there are concerns about filling the gap of innings lost due to Wainwright's injury. If Wacha and Martinez step up, the Cardinals rotation will be fine. There are plenty of internal options to fill in as the fifth starter. They may not necessarily have to make a big deal because of this. If none of these options work out, John Mozeliak won't hesitate to make a deal later in the year.

Among the options to take the vacant rotation spot include minor leaguers Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, John Gast, and Marco Gonzales. Oft-injured Jaime Garcia could be an option if he ever gets healthy. If things got really desperate, the Cardinals could turn to major league reliever Carlos Villanueva. As of right now, either Lyons or Cooney are likely to Thursday's start that Waino would of had.

Long term, Gonzales has the best long term potential of all these pitchers. Gonzales nearly made the team out of spring training, but he lost out on the fifth starter competition to Martinez. Gonzales would of likely gotten the call if it wasn't for a minor shoulder issue that landed him on the 7 day disabled list. The lefty showed flashes of his potential last fall, when he picked up two wins in relief during the Division Series against the Dodgers.

Lyons has filled in a few different times the last couple of seasons in the big league rotation. While he doesn't have the potential of Gonzales, he can be a serviceable starter. The Cardinals are hoping to get something out of Garcia this year, but he hasn't pitched a full season since 2011. Cooney has pitched well in Triple A this year, but will need to be added to the 40 man roster before making his major league debut.

Mozeliak will give the internal options before exploring pitchers outside the organization. The Cardinals have long been a potential landing spot for Cole Hamels, but the Phillies price has been steep. The Cardinals would have to assume his contract, which is guaranteed until 2017. The Cardinals were rumored to be in the running for Hamels this past offseason, but nothing materialized. These rumors could heat up again towards the deadline. There are other pitchers that could potentially be on the market as well. Mozeliak has proven that he will pull the trigger in the past, with the midseason acquisitions of Jake Westbrook, Edwin Jackson, and Lackey.

Wainwright's injury has reignited the debate on the designated hitter in the National League. The Nationals Max Scherzer has called for the DH to be adopted by the NL. Scherzer recently injured his thumb batting. Wainwright has always been adequate with the bat, and there is no guarantee that this injury wouldn't of happened while pitching. I've always been more of a fan of the NL style of play over the American League DH style. Some pitchers are against a change, like the Giants Madison Bumgarner. Still, this could be a catalyst that changes things. The Players Association has long wanted the DH in both leagues, and new commissioner Rob Manfred may want to add it to increase offense.

As for Wainwright, it will be a tough road ahead. It will take 9 to 12 months of recovery before he's ready to return. Even then, there will be an adjustment period. It will take awhile for Wainwright to become comfortable with his delivery. After all, Howard has never been the same since his Achilles injury. That said, Wainwright has a history of overcoming adversity and injuries.

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