(BaseballStL) - The thing about projections are they're just that, projections. How you envision something working out three or four years in advance rarely comes to fruition.
But that can't stop a team from having a rough guideline for what they believe will happen in the future. Hence, making projections.
And, so, projecting how the Cardinals starting rotation will look years down the road is necessary. It's actually a pretty picture when you think about it.
Baseball fans know that pitching wins. It's been true for 100 years - minus the steroid era I suppose - and it will be true for another 100 years. Good pitching simply beats good hitting. That's why it's critical to project a good rotation years down the road more than anything else.
Start with the easy one. Adam Wainwright. He signed a five year, $97.5 million extension with the club on March 27th which takes him through the 2018 season. That's a long time being able to comfortably project an elite pitcher on your staff. That's a solid start to say the least.
Next, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. These guys are in the same virtual category because the club has control of them for the next several seasons, but without guaranteeing them anything substantial and could easily move them if the club so desires. Miller, with a spot locked in the rotation, will be arbitration eligible starting in 2016 while reaching free agency - like Wainwright - after the 2018 season. Wacha is in the same boat but about a year or so behind. Either way, he's still under club control for a long time.
After that is where things get tricky and harder to project. Those first three I talked about - Wainwright, Miller and Wacha - are so talented that it would be very hard to imagine the Cards going in a different direction with them. It would take a LOT to get GM John Mozeliak to move one of them. A lot.
Next, Jake Westbrook. He has a mutual option with the team for next season valued at $9.5 million. But with Wacha seemingly ready for the big leagues and everyone else still under contract or control, I have a very hard time picturing Westbrook wearing a Redbird uniform in 2014. Especially now that he's been battling injuries and showing his age.
That spot will be filled by Jaime Garcia next year when he comes back healthy. He has two more years left on his four year, $27 contract that was signed in July 2011. It's been a rough go for Garcia at times. His numbers can look dominant when he's on (no one on the team has better stuff) but he's been too inconsistent. With the guys coming up the system, at this point, I wouldn't expect the Cardinals to plan on picking up his $11.5 million option for 2016 or his $12 million option for 2017.
Part of that is because their number one pick in the draft from last week, Marco Gonzales, should be more than ready to take over a spot in the rotation by the time Garcia's contract expires. It would be a very easy transition going from one craft lefty to another. The hope would be this one - Gonzales - is much more consistent and tough minded than the last one.
The final spot in the rotation is very (read: verrrrrry) murky. In the immediate and short term future it belongs to Lance Lynn. He was an All Star in 2012 and could possibly get back there again this season. He's got that sinking fastball the Cardinals like and has proven to be quite durable. Is Lynn at the level of Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha where the team can't envision someone knocking them out of the rotation? I don't think so. But is he someone whose hold on a job is tenuous? Not at all.
A lot will depend on how Lynn performs over the next few seasons (last year he was unable to maintain his hot start due to conditioning). Should the 26-year old take his game to another level and prove he can keep it there, sure, I could see the Cardinals committing to him long term. Maybe he could be here as long as Wainwright, Miller and Wacha.
If not, the Cardinals other first rounder from the June draft, lefty Rob Kaminsky, could be ready by the time Lynn reaches free agency. Not that is a very extreme projection. No one knows how Kaminsky will develop. No know knows what Lynn will do. So much can happen between now and four years from now. But it's a possibility.
Either way you look at it, this Cardinals rotation stacks up very nicely for the foreseeable future. And that's a great thing for St. Louis.