What's behind St. Louis Cardinals decision to skip Wacha, start Martinez

Posted by Scott Wuerz on June 20, 2014 

The St. Louis Cardinals have announced that Micahel Wacha will skip his next scheduled start on Sunday.

The move is being explained away as an effort to get the young hurler a little bit of extra rest as a protective measure. But is there something more behind it?

Wacha, 22, has already thrown 91 1/3 innings so far this season. That's 30 more than he threw all of last year. Although he's had some trouble with his command recently, Wacha's numbers are amazingly consistent with his statistics from his spectacular rookie campaign. 

In 2013 he had a 2.78 ERA and allowed 1.09 walks and hits per inning pitched. In 2014 he's got a 2.79 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP ratio.

I'm less worried about the health of Wacha, who could use the break because he's on a pace to log more than 250 innings this year, than I am about the fact that the Redbirds will give Carlos Martinez his start.

It's not that I have anything against Martinez, who pitched pretty well in his spot start for Adam Wainwright a few days ago. But it seems that the Cardinals are quietly trying to stretch out Martinez for a possible permanent conversion to the rotation. Why? Is another starter dealing with a health issue?

Wainwright is supposed to make his return to the rotation Saturday after missing one appearance with a sore elbow. So it wouldn't appear that he's the one on the chopping block. Lance Lynn appears to be healthy, Jaime Garcia has been pitching very well. Shelby Miller, who lost Thursday night to the Phillies, has scuffled at times. But with Joe Kelly close to a return from the disabled list, it doesn't appear the Redbirds have an obvious need for a starting pitcher.

While I am confused by the move, some folks seem to have completely gone off the deep end.

I have seen speculation that the decision not to start Wacha is an indicator that the Cardinals must be trying to trade him.

While it is sometimes customary to scratch a player who is near a trade, I have never seen a team announce he wouldn't play three days ahead of his next scheduled appearance.

The popular rumor is that Wacha would be part of a huge deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to land starting pitcher David Price. But that makes no sense. Why would the Cardinals give up their young, cost controlled number two starter to add an expensive, soon to be a free agent number two starter? The club might like to add a third starter to go along with Wainwright and Wacha. But trading one of them to get another top end pitcher would be counterproductive.

Although Price is a Cy Young winner, he's currently not having as good of a season as Wacha. He's got an ERA of 3.93 and has allowed more hits than innings pitched. He gave up 16 homers in each of the two previous seasons. But in 2014 Price has given up 15 long balls only about 35 percent of the way through the year.

Trading Wacha for Price has sending Dan Haren to the Athletics for Mark Mulder written all over it.

While you can never say never, people I have talked to within the Cardinals organization have said that Wacha is basically as untouchable as a player can get when it comes to trade potential.

I have the sense that Carlos Martinez is a player the Redbirds would be reluctant to trade. But the team could conceivably be starting him not as a candidate for the St. Louis rotation as much as it is to showcase him for other teams. Martinez is a guy whose name is frequently mentioned when it comes to potential trades with the Birds.

I think, if the Cardinals were willing to part with a young starter, the guy most likely to be dealt would be Miller. Over the off season, when the Birds were scouring the trade market for a shortstop, Miller was the highest ranking starter the team was willing to deal. And that assessment likely has been reinforced by the fact that it seems Lance Lynn has passed up Miller in terms of performance and production.

I'm not sure if a package centered around Miller would land Price. But I am not sure that the Cardinals need the big lefty. At least not unless he can hit.

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