JUPITER, FL (BaseballStL) -- Usually attempting to figure out what the Cardinals are thinking as it regards to a major personnel decision is an exercise in futility. It's typically impossible to get inside the heads of Mike Matheny and GM John Mozeliak largely because what they say publicly is hardly what they're truly saying behind closed doors.
As it pertains to this starting rotation behind Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Michael Wacha, it is no doubt interesting times in Cardinal Nation.
The trio of Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia are all worthy of starting for this club. In fact, the best way of putting it is if all three were free agents right now, every single one of them would be scooped up in a second and inserted immediately into a starting rotation somewhere.
That's called depth.
So what do the Cards do? Well, politics have something to do with this. You have a 23-year old in Martinez who has paid his dues for the last year and a half and has earned the right to be given a chance to start. You have another 23-year old in Gonzales who is in virtually the same spot Martinez was last year (brought up too soon the year prior out of necessity, got valuable bullpen experience in the postseason, competing with someone who's paid more dues than him - for Martinez it was Joe Kelly). Then you have Garcia, the 28-year old who's been a fixture in the rotation - and darn good at it - when healthy. The problem is shoulder issues have limited him to 16 starts over the last two years.
All three are pitching well. None have been perfect. If this were a true competition where the best in spring training gets the assignment, it'd probably be Gonzales who gets the nod. But not all competitions are created equal.
Usually, decisions like these come down to the path of least resistance. It's simply much easier to justify sending Marco Gonzales either to Memphis to continue working on all his secondary pitches or to the bullpen as left-handed depth. It's easier to justify holding Garcia back in extended spring training and making him prove himself over a long rehab assignment to show health.
Martinez came into spring as the favorite to win the job and has done nothing to lose it. Are the Cardinals really going to mess with him again by sending him to the bullpen (a place that already is stocked with righties)? Are they seriously thinking about sending him to Memphis because Gonzales' stats in Florida were a bit better?
The Dominican native has paid his dues and is more deserving of a chance right now than Gonzales. It's just the way it is. No matter how you slice it, the Cards are going to need more than just the five starters they take into the season anyway. So even if you send Gonzales to AAA, he's going to be needed in St. Louis. So, it really doesn't matter to a point. Both of those guys figure to start a lot of games for the Redbirds in 2015.
Garcia is the tricky one. Every game he starts is a hindrance to the development of Martinez and Gonzales. Now, if there's an injury or two and he's needed? That's different. But presuming health, how can the Cardinals trust someone who has proven very difficult to be trusted? It's nothing against Garcia. He's a filthy pitcher when right. But history has proven he hasn't been right for more than a month or two.
If I had to guess - and it's just a guess - they'll use April as an excuse to leave Garcia in extended spring training to keep throwing. At some point he could go to AAA on a rehab assignment to, again, prove his health over a long period of starts. Then, by that point, either Garcia will get hurt (which would effectively answer his question in the negative), a need will have arisen for the Cardinals (who could then insert him into the rotation) or they could shop the lefty to the highest bidder.
There are so many moving parts here it's difficult to get a read on what's real and what's not. What's perception and what's reality? No one but the manager and general manager really have a clue.