Taking The Fifth (Starter)

It seems every time I sit down at the keyboard over the past few weeks, I’m talking about that fifth starter slot.  Partly because there’s little other competition on this roster, partly because it’s the most interesting, partly because, with three players vying for it, almost every day one of them is pitching.  Today’s no different, as Jaime Garcia went out yesterday and showed that it’s going to be awfully difficult for him not to be the one in the rotation after Easter.

Garcia didn’t have his best outing of the spring yesterday, but it wasn’t bad on the whole.  He was slow out of the gate, allowing a run in the first on two singles and a walk, but he was able to work out of that jam with strikeouts, which is what he did a lot of yesterday.  Seven in all in just four innings of work, which is fun to watch.  It might not be the most efficient use of his pitches, but when Garcia’s got his movement and deception going, it really makes it hard for hitters to not strike out.  Garcia now has 13 strikeouts in 9.1 spring innings.  It’s hard to judge a lot by the spring, as we’ve said, given the small sample size but nothing has indicated that Garcia is not healthy or he’s not effective.

Which means that the number that isn’t tied to sample size seriously comes into play.  Garcia will receive $9.25 million from the Cardinals this year, making him the second-highest paid starter in the organization.  Given that price tag and given his spring outings, it seems unlikely that the Cards are going to put him in the bullpen.  We’ve talked at length about how that probably isn’t the best thing given his history anyway.  They could send him on a rehab assignment, but given how well he’s looking right now, that’d be a little difficult to swallow unless they feel he needs to build up his stamina, which is a possibility I guess, though it just postpones the tough decision for a month.

John Mozeliak, at least, seems to be coming around to the chances of Garcia being in the starting rotation.  Bernie Miklasz also writes that Mo doesn’t have plans to trade him, which really makes sense at this point.  Garcia’s health is such a huge question mark that teams would want to buy low in case they were the ones that got stuck with an injury.  Garcia’s talent, though, demands a higher return.  Now, if Garcia pitches well into the summer?  That’s a different story, though of course you’d have to wonder if the Cards would trade him if he was pitching well.  It probably would depend on how Marco Gonzales was looking at Memphis (because I can’t see him and Carlos Martinez both going to a fairly full bullpen) and whether the club needed to open up a spot for him in the rotation.

That said, perhaps you just ride the Garcia train until it breaks down.  The odds of him lasting an entire season are so very long that there are some 16 seeds in today’s NCAA Tournament that would take their odds over his.  As Aaron Schafer said on the most recent Viva El Birdos podcast, it’s probably best to get whatever you are going to get out of Garcia in the big leagues instead of wasting what may be a limited supply of bullets on a rehab assignment.  Interestingly enough, the Cardinals apparently have an insurance policy on Garcia, so that if he does break down again, they can get some of that salary back.  That gives them less reason to try to get out from under that salary.  I think it is increasingly likely that when the season starts, Garcia is the fifth man in the rotation, at least for a while.

As I said, I can’t see the other two candidates both winding up in the bullpen because, right now, there are a lot of good arms and not necessarily a lot of spots out there in the pen. You know Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, Randy Choate, Seth Maness and Matt Belisle are locks and most likely Kevin Siegrist is as well.  That leaves one last spot if we assume a seven-man pen, which is reasonable.  Right now, it would look like Martinez would get that one.  That would leave Sam Freeman in limbo, though his control has done some of that for him.  Freeman is out of options and it wouldn’t be surprising if Mo dealt him to someone that could use a lefty.  With Choate and Siegrist, plus Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons at Memphis and Gonzales also a possibility, lefties are not exactly rare in the Redbird bullpen.

That configuration would also put Carlos Villanueva in Memphis, giving the organization some depth.  I know Villanueva was roughed up in his first couple of outings and those scars still show on his spring training stats since he’s only thrown six innings.  Still, having an arm like that around in case of emergency is, frankly, why he was signed in the first place.  I expect he’ll get some time in St. Louis, but to start with, he’s probably Memphis bound.

That article notes that Mitch Harris (along with Sam Tuivailala) will start in Memphis.  I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting that Harris will get his opportunity at the big leagues this year.  After having to put his dream on hold to be in the Navy, I never thought he’d have the time to climb the ladder and make an impact, but he’s looking very good and will be just one step away if he does start at AAA.  That’d be a wonderful story this year, wouldn’t it?

Pitching, pitching, pitching.  Man, do you talk about anything other than pitching, Shoptaw?

Not usually and especially when yesterday’s game didn’t exactly overflow with offensive highlights.  When Mike Matheny says a spring game is terrible, it’s probably terrible.  The only notable was Peter Bourjos hitting his first home run of the spring, raising his batting average to .080.  That said, the home run now ties him for third on the team and ahead of folks like Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward, Matt Holliday….. wow, I knew there’d been a lack of power this spring, but you start listing all that out and realizing that they’ve played 12 games, about half their spring schedule, and it really brings it home.  Hopefully they’ll get on track before heading into Chicago in 16 days.

Anyway, Bourjos.  It’s always fun when people say someone has broken out of their slump with a hit.  If he goes 0 for his next 10, isn’t he still in it?  Let’s see a few hits before we declare a player cured, shall we?  Bourjos’s home run hopefully is the start of a nice run, though Jon Jay should be back any day now to start working on getting his rust off.  The story is that Bourjos’s blast is a result of the new swing and it may mean that it’s starting to come together for him, but I think we are going to need to see some more production before we just assume that it’s working.  One of anything could be a fluke or coincidence.  Don’t get me wrong, I do hope that it’s working for him because his defense is such that he needs to be in the lineup if he can hit even reasonably well, but I’m not convinced as of yet.

Let’s wrap this up with our next Cardinal Approval Ratings review.  Our player today is, actually, Garcia, which works out well since I’ve talked about him significantly.  Given his health history, Garcia’s never done exceptionally well on this poll, but this year he plummeted into Joe Strauss territory.  Garcia got a 43.1% mark, which actually, when I look at it, is the lowest mark anyone has had in this seven-year history of the CAR.  If he’s on the sheet next year (and if he’s still a Cardinal he will be), I expect that will go way up, mainly because if he’s still a Cardinal he pitched well enough for them to pick up his option.

Our media person of the day is Jim Hayes.  The Cat seems to be a bit polarizing, with folks either loving his fun-loving act or wishing he’d be more serious.  There’s no doubt he does have a good relationship with the players, though, which helps with his interviews.  Hayes is usually in the mid-70s on this and this year is no exception, clocking in at 73.1%.  Hayes has been on the CAR for five years and over that span, his high was 76.1% and his low 71.9%.  He’s got a wheelhouse and he stays in it.

Our final rating of the day has to do with the Cardinals’ Internet presence.  They’ve got a lot of social media stuff going, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or even their own blog.  (I’m hurt they haven’t asked to be part of the UCB yet!)  But how effective is it?  Do folks pay attention or just tune it out?  Is it goofy or fun?  Last year I asked this question and they came in just shy of 79%.  This year, it dropped a bit to 73.1%.  Whether that’s a function of the number and makeup of voters or the idea that things weren’t quite as good, I don’t know.  I do know that some people have their issues with them, but on the whole, the Internet interaction to me seems fairly innocuous.

We get the Cards and Mets again today, this time over at their place.  Hopefully the team comes out looking better than they did yesterday.  Adam Wainwright goes tomorrow, with Martinez backing him up.  Should be a great weekend!

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