Let me start by saying that I do not have an answer to the question that I pose.
Mostly, this is me calling out the continued failure of the Cardinals front office and the their affinity to sit on their hands. Specifically, their failure to address the desperate need for Major League starting pitching.
I mention Rick Porcello, by name, but not because I feel he would be some sort of savior for the team, but because he is a nice all-inclusive example of the issue. Burying the lede, I guess, but I will address Porcello later on.
Let’s talk about this rotation.
Here are the bullet points:
- May 31st – Jack Flaherty out indefinitely with oblique injury
- June 2nd – Carlos Martinez allows 10 ER in 0.2 IP, has in 9.47 ERA and 18:13 K:BB over his next 4 starts.
- June 4th – Kwang Hyun Kim goes on IL (returned June 15th)
- June 5th – Johan Oviedo, who had 3 K’s and 11 BB’s in his 2 previous starts, becomes permanent member of rotation. He has pitched 5+ IP twice in 8 starts, the team is 2-6 in those games.
- June 6th-23rd – John Gant has a 11.57 ERA and 11:14 K:BB over 4 starts.
As of 3 weeks ago, the Cardinals had 2 members of their rotation on the IL (3 if you count Mikolas). On that premise alone, starting pitching was a need going forward.
They were also aware of the cracks in John Gant’s profile (and they were exposed immediately, naturally) and they were turning over a rotation spot to Oviedo — a AAA pitcher in terms of development that keeps being forced into spotty MLB action. Plus an implosion by Martinez. The need has only been amplified.
Since June 1st, the rotation has a 6.29 ERA, 11.8% BB%, and are averaging 4-2/3 innings per start, boosted by Adam Wainwright throwing 6-2/3 innings on average.
So they added arms, right?
No. Andrew Miller came off the IL as the first dice to fall. And then…they added Wade LeBlanc a week ago. It was an uninspiring depth move, but one that I was excited to finally see. It took too long to happen. All other moves were minor league additions to backfill innings at those levels, but not to provide impact to the big league team.
So now, as Kim and Wainwright start a new turn of the rotation, the Cardinals reasonably could, should, replace 3/5 of their starters before their next start. I expect LeBlanc will get a chance to start in the next week. The expectations won’t be high, and he allowed a couple HRs in mop-up duty on Thursday, but the guy at least throws strikes. He has given only 1 walk in his 6-2/3 innings with the Cardinals. That’s a positive.
They may not swap out 3 starters, but in addition to LeBlanc, we should be seeing at least one more new face. Could that be Jake Woodford? I don’t know how many pitches he could reasonably be expected to throw and he has often needed bailed out mid-inning this season. How deep in the game could he get? Also, with a 12.3% walk-rate of his own, this does nothing to correct the present issues with the Oviedo/Martinez/Gant portion of the rotation.
It may be rushing him a bit, but promoting top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore should be on the table. Last night for Memphis, he rebounded from a bad 1st inning to strike out 9 in 5-1/3 innings. His overall numbers aren’t eyepopping, but it may be time to be bold.
Now, about Rick Porcello.
Nearly a month ago, when injuries hit the rotation, John Mozeliak dismissed the idea of signing free agent pitchers. This is what he said in an article by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“Regarding free agents, recent or otherwise, Mozeliak said, “Are they going to have to ramp up? Or are they going to literally be ready to plug and play? Of course, we’re going to look at what that market looks like but I don’t feel like there’s a quick answer that’s necessarily going to help us. It’s not real practical for us to have someone go out and have to spend a month to ramp up, at this point.”
He followed that with:
“It’s not like you can simply say, ‘Let’s be patient and try to muddle through this.’”
With only the return of Andrew Miller — replacing Tyler Webb — and the June 17th signing of LeBlanc as significant pitching moves, muddle through is exactly what they tried to do. They are 6-15 in June.
And about dismissing the idea of a free agent that may need a month to get ready… Guess what? They could have used him.
Let’s say that on June 5th, the day after Kim went on the IL, and 5 days after Flaherty did so, the Cardinals agreed to terms with the biggest name available as a free agent, Rick Porcello. As a 12-year veteran, he has no-doubt been throwing and staying ready. Maybe it takes a week to get him cleared through protocols and he makes his first minor league start on June 12th, Then another on the 17th, and another on the 23rd. Three starts in, he is probably ready enter the Major League rotation. Sign him and get him pitching a few days sooner than my guestimate and he’s definitely ready.
Now, let’s be real, Porcello wouldn’t be available if he was a pitcher capable of saving a team. He has an ERA over 5.50 over the last 2 seasons. Despite that, he’s produced fWARs of 1.8 and 1.7, which would rank 3rd and 4th among Cardinals pitchers in 2019 and 2020. Viva el Birdos laid out this breakdown of Porcello in December.
There are two parts of his game that would make him an appealing option. He’s averaged more than 5 innings per start over the last two seasons — an improvement over the current guys — and he doesn’t give out walks. His career walk rate is 5.5%. For context, Adam Wainwright — who we know for being stingy with walks — has a career rate of 6.6%.
So, a strike thrower capable of shouldering innings to save the bullpen?
Sign me up. Or sign him up, I should say.
In the June 4th article, Mo cited lack of immediate options at AAA:
Our hands are a little bit tied at the moment. It’s not as though you have two or three guys at the Triple A who are just knocking on the door to help us at the big-league level.
Why then did they not add a pitcher, like Porcello, who would give them an additional veteran option eventually? Why did they add almost no one, in nearly a month, to provide themselves with additional options when the (stuff) inevitably hit the fan?
They believe the trade market is unfavorable for them. That teams are seeking to exploit their desperation. I question this and hold up the example of the New York Mets sending 3 starting outfielders to the IL in May, yet being able acquire Cameron Maybin from the Cubs for just $1, despite their desperate situation. Is there really no veteran arm lingering around someone’s AAA team that could have been acquired and tried in a low risk move like that? Apparently not. We’re also talking about a team whose last three in-season, Major League trades were the Pham, Voit, and Nicasio trades. The Pham and Voit trades produced only one MLB player, Chasen Shreve, for the season in which the trade happened. The Nicasio trade was made so late, in September, that he wouldn’t have been eligible for the postseason had they made it. They just don’t add to the roster once the season starts.
So here we are again, worse than ever.
No urgency. No proactivity. They decided to wait it out and now it’s almost too late to react.
Your St. Louis Cardinals.
Thanks for reading.