ST. LOUIS -- Now that the dust has settled on the whopper of a deal the Cardinals completed yesterday, we can start to look at the questions prompted by it. Aside from another bench bat – and maybe a new backup catcher – it appears the biggest question left is: who will assume Shelby Miller’s spot in the rotation?
During his press conference following the announcement of the trade, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak championed both Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales for the opening. He said it’ll be a competition in spring training.
(As an aside, the Cards have had several “competitions” which weren’t really competitions before. Sometimes they know who they want to win the job but don’t want to publicly give it to them. Thus, making them think they’re competing for it.)
The likely and leading candidate figures to be Martinez. The Cardinals love to have playersserve apprenticeships before taking over full time roles. Recent examples, Matt Carpenter (2012) and Matt Adams (2013), did it before becoming starters. Kolten Wong went through the process as well.
Lance Lynn was a reliever first before entering the starting rotation. And now figures to be Martinez’s chance. He’s done his time in the bullpen, gaining experience over 117 innings in the majors and is well prepared to take over as a starter.
That’s not to speak ill of Gonzales. The Cardinals absolutely love the young lefty and Mozeliak was beaming after the season talking about how impressive of a young man the Colorado native is. But there’s nothing wrong with making him spend a year in the bullpen getting further adjusted to the big leagues. 2015 will be just his second full professional season following college.
Apprenticeship first, starter later. At last check, John Lackey is only signed through the 2015 season.
But just because this is how the Cardinals may be thinking, that in no way means that’s how it will go. Things happen. Players have a way of making decisions for coaches. Whether it’s by performance, injury, or something else entirely, decisions are usually pretty easy to make.
We don’t know what the makeup of the bullpen will be by the time spring training comes to a close. What if young relief pitcher Sam Tuivailala isn’t ready for a big league job and the Cards are flush with healthy (Kevin Siegrist?) left-handed relievers? What if Gonzales out-pitches Martinez in Jupiter?
Heck, what if the often-injured Jaime Garcia turns out to be healthy and pitching well by March?
What if one of these so-called “big” free agent pitchers don’t like the offers out there and are willing to sign a one year deal before testing free agency again next winter? It’d be pretty foolish for the Cards to ignore that potential opportunity since it’d allow them to keep both Martinez and Gonzales in the bullpen.
Circumstances tend to change over time.
If I were to wager a guess three months from the start of spring training, Carlos Martinez figures to be in the lead for the opening in the starting rotation alongside Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Michael Wacha.
But just because the 23-year old flamethrower may be in the lead now by no means suggests he’ll be in the lead come April.