The question becomes, how do you replace him?
There are two ways: Directly and indirectly.
Directly, of course, is by replacing his innings. Trevor Hooth over at Redbird Rants covered this here in an excellent article but I’ll give my two cents. The best candidates to do replace the innings, in my mind, are Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, Luke Weaver, and Trevor Rosenthal.
Wacha, of course, has had success as a starter. As recently as 2015, he was an All-Star, going 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. You wonder how much of that was luck, though, because in 2016, with a nearly identical BB rate and K rate, he went 7-7 with a 5.09 ERA. his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, tells part of the tale: in 2015 it was .276, in 2016 it was .337. Yes, part of that was due to shoulder issues as he missed time due to a shoulder injury, but what if some of it was the Cards defense? The D wasn’t exactly shiny last year, as noted elsewhere in the Cardinals Blogosphere (or whatever it’s called.). The Cards know that and have been working on that, though I’ll believe it when I see it.
Marco had TJ surgery last year and is going to need so rehab, so he likely wouldn’t join the rotation until late May at the earliest, and that’s the best case scenario. Still, he did ok in 2014 as a starter, going 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA, starting in 5 of 10 appearances. Not bad for a 22-year-old. We’ll see if he builds on that when/if he makes it back to the bigs since there’s a chance he may spend the whole season in AAA rehabbing, which may be wise. You don’t want to rush him.
3) Luke Weaver
Weaver struggled last year going 1-4 in 9 games (eight started) with a 5.70 ERA. I would give this a small sample size, or SSS asterisk, though. it was only 36 innings after all, and the kid has owned AAA lately. Plus, as I told a friend on twitter, 9/10 kids struggle when they first reach the bigs. The tenth was Reyes. Weaver is only 23 years old and is our second best prospect. If Wacha falters even a little, I wouldn’t hesitate giving Weaver a shot. Heck, if Weaver’s spring training numbers are markedly better than Wacha’s, I’d go with the kid.
This one makes the least amount of sense to me. Not because Rosie doesn’t have the potential to start, he does. Rather, I think he has more value as a shutdown bullpen swingman ala Andrew Miller. He should continue working on developing his secondary stuff, which he’s doing in preparation to compete for the starter role, then when the time comes, management should assign him the swingman role, and he’ll have those additional pitches, which will help him do the job that much better.
Last year Leake pitched like a #5 starter if that. He went 9-12 with a 4.69 ERA, and this guy was our big FA signing last year. (He was plan B IE we gotta sign *somebody*! Plan B options scare me.) People talk about other pitchers, but I think Leake is one of the keys. He needs to pitch like he did from 2013 to 2015, not like he did last year, or he’s not worth the money we spent (even then, I think we overpaid.)
Lynn needs to bounce from surgery. Honestly, I think he has a better chance of doing so than Leake rebounding. However, Lynn relied almost exclusively on his fastball before the injury, so if he has lost any velocity, he could be in trouble.
Other things like Adam Wainwright bouncing back from a bad season, and Carlos Martinez continuing to excel and not letting his new contract make him complacent (doubtful, the kid has a fire in him) would help, but the most pressure is on the 3-5 spots, as those are the biggest unknowns.
As always, thanks for reading.