ST. LOUIS — The question came early in John Mozeliak’s media session and often in his forum afterward with fans: Are the Cardinals still searching for a big-name starting pitcher? The answer, issued a few times in a few different forms, was a clear “no.”
“At this point, no we’re not actively shopping,” the GM said to a room of reporters at Saturday’s Winter Warm Up. “At this point I don’t feel like we need to do that. I also feel like we have more depth than people really give us credit for. Marco Gonzales I certainly think can pitch in the big leagues, I think somebody like Tyler Lyons gets overlooked.”
If that was unclear, he later told a banquet hall full of fans, “we are out of the big pitcher market.”
That’s not to say the rotation is set heading into spring training. While Lance Lynn and John Lackey are healthy and ready, plenty of questions linger around the rest of the rotation.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright had elbow surgery at season’s end, and beyond the obvious uncertainty brought on by any operation, his usage brings its own concerns. The 33-year-old has finished in the top three in the NL for innings pitched four times since 2009, leading the category in 2013 and finishing second last season.
“What we should do is try to understand volume and how much he’s used,” Mozeliak said. “He’s pitched a lot over the last few years. Anything we can do to help manage that would only be smart.”
All reports on Wainwright’s recovery have been positive, but if the team aims to limit his innings, they will need to be creative. Michael Wacha will certainly have limits built in this season to avoid a reappearance of the stress reaction in his shoulder. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales, should either make the rotation, will be monitored closely as well. So where do the extra innings come from?
Lyons could be one source, Jaime Garcia could be another.
Having undergone thoracic outlet surgery this summer, the 28-year-old is reportedly recovering very well and has already started throwing.
“Right now, the feedback has been extraordinarily positive,” Mozeliak said. “From a medical standpoint, from what we’re hearing about his workouts and so forth, he really is feeling good.”
It’s not clear how that news translates to a particular role, or if it forecasts one at all, but the team is encouraged by the medical feedback. Garcia is on contract for more than nine million dollars next season, so if his body is able, he’ll certainly be utilized. However, he doesn’t appear to have factored in any decision making for the St. Louis front office regarding the pitching market.
“I think everyone in this room would agree: when he pitches he’s really good,” the Cardinal GM said. “But let’s be honest, he’s made one little corner turn. It’s a big lap to make before he’s actually competing at the major league level.”
If he does return, he doesn’t figure to be in the bullpen. Mozeliak described the team’s left-handed relief situation as “crowded,” noting at Sam Freeman and Randy Choate as known quantities in addition to at least two other candidates. Additionally, the stop-and-go nature of bullpen work doesn’t exactly gel with a Garcia’s injury track record.
“There’s times where you might have to have a pitcher that might get up, sit down, get up and I’m just not sure physically how he would hold up to that,” Mozeliak said.
So perhaps he could add protection for a rotation that may have to be handled with care.
Spring training never goes as planned, and the picture will certainly change several times before Opening Night in Chicago. Currently, though, it will be painted with existing colors.