Cardinals Boast Strength in Starting Pitching

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Cardinals have young starting pitchers under team control

At 71-61, the St. Louis Cardinals own a half-game lead over Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot are are just three games behind Atlanta for the top wild card position. That alone is enviable, yet what Major League teams most covet from the Cardinals is their multitude of starting pitching.

Even without Adam Wainwright  in 2011 (because of Tommy John surgery) and Chris Carpenter this year (due to nerve damage), the club’s rotation has been a strength. With a bevy of talented young arms in the majors and in the high minors, the Cardinals could say goodbye to some prominent arms, save money and still boast a formidable starting five.

According to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals will likely part ways with 33-year-old right-hander Kyle Lohse, who is a National League Cy Young Award contender with a 14-2 record and a 2.64 ERA in 27 starts. Rosenthal also speculated that St. Louis will be hesitant to give an attractive extension to the 31-year-old Wainwright, who is 13-11 with a 3.90 ERA in 27 starts this year.

It is not a certainty that the Cardinals will even pick up Wainwright’s $12 million option for 2013 because the team recently inked 34-year-old right-hander Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.94 ERA, 26 starts)  to an extension that covers 2013 and a mutual option for 2014.

The Cardinals reportedly do not want to commit a significant amount of long-term money to the starting rotation, and because of their young arms, they can afford to let veterans like Lohse, Wainwright and even the 37-year-old Carpenter leave when their contracts expire.

Beyond Wainwright, Lohse and Westbrook, the Cardinals rotation currently features 24-year-old rookie right-hander Joe Kelly (who is 4-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 15 games, including 13 starts) and 26-year-old left-hander Jaime Garcia.

This year, Garcia has struggled with a 3-6 record and a 4.52 ERA in 14 starts after consecutive seasons of a 13-8 record and a 2.70 ERA followed by a 13-7 mark and a 3.56 ERA in 2011. He signed a four-year, $27 million extension last year that runs through 2015 (with options for 2016 and 2017) and Kelly has a minimum salary since he is a rookie.

Lance Lynn, a 25-year-old right-hander, who is 13-5 with a 3.99 ERA in 25 starts but was recently moved to the bullpen after struggling to a 6.56 ERA in five August starts, is under affordable team control for several seasons.

Trevor Rosenthal, a 22-year-old righty who has a 3.72 ERA in seven relief appearances since being called up to St. Louis, is a power pitcher whose long-term Major League future could be in the rotation, where he has been in the minors.

Many teams would be ecstatic solely with Kelly, Garcia, Lynn and Rosenthal, but the Cardinals also have 21-year-old right-hander Shelby Miller, who is ranked as the second-best pitching prospect in baseball by MLB.com, and 20-year-old righty Carlos Martinez, whose heater hits the upper 90s and whose arsenal also includes a curve ball and a change-up.

Miller and Martinez (who is MLB.com’s No. 23 prospect on its top 100 list) will likely open 2013 at Triple-A Memphis with a chance to help St. Louis at some point next season.

The Cardinals are uncertain whether Carpenter will be healthy enough to pitch in the final year of his contract, which will pay him $12.5 million in 2013.

After starting for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series last October, Carpenter was lost for the 2012 season in spring training when he had a procedure to relieve nerve compression that left his arm and much of the right side of his body numb. During the surgery, Carpenter’s top rib was removed along two of the connecting muscles to free nerves, and scar tissue was also taken out.

Once Wainwright and Carpenter are off the books, the Cardinals will have a cadre of talented, young starting pitchers under cost-effective team control, which will allow them to spend money on bolstering their lineup.

 


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