St. Louis Cardinals

You’ve loved him. You’ve loathed him. You may see him with Cards again in 2017

Left-handed pitcher Jamie Garcia could return to the Cardinals rotation in 2017 if the club exercises its contract option.
Left-handed pitcher Jamie Garcia could return to the Cardinals rotation in 2017 if the club exercises its contract option. Associated Press

All signs indicate that enigmatic left-hander Jaime Garcia will return to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017.

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said Wednesday that the club isn’t ready to confirm that it will exercise a $12-million option on Garcia for next season, but Mozeliak’s comments at Busch Stadium made it appear the Cardinals are leaning in that direction.

“As we sat here a year ago, we felt really comfortable with our rotational depth,” Mozeliak said. “You saw how quickly that got tested in spring training (with the injury to Lance Lynn). There’s not much of a free-agent pitching market out there, so if we felt like we were going to come up short at some point, we would be better off just securing him.

“But we’re going to need the 30 days to sort through this.”

As we sat here a year ago, we felt really comfortable with our rotational depth You saw how quickly that got tested in spring training. There’s not much of a free-agent pitching market out there, so if we felt like we were going to come up short at some point, we would be better off just securing him. But we’re going to need the 30 days to sort through this.

St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak on whether Jaime Garcia will return in 2017

Garcia was 10-13 with a career-worst 4.67 ERA, and he surrendered 26 home runs in 171 2/3 innings. His ERA was almost double what it was in 2015 (2.43) and he pitched five innings or less in 14 of his 30 starts.

“In Jaime’s case, it was definitely a struggle,” Mozeliak said. “There were nights where it looked like he was a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, then there were nights when the manager (Mike Matheny) wanted to punch me.

“When I think about Jaime, it’s probably something that we just need to take the 30-some days we have here and see what makes the most sense.”

The Cardinals moved Garcia, 30, to the bullpen for two late-September games following two dreadful starts. Garcia earned another chance when rookie Luke Weaver struggled, but he lasted just one inning in his final game of the season Sept. 26.

In his last three starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.79 ERA.

Mozeliak said rookie Alex Reyes earned a spot in the rotation for next season based on his performance this year, when he went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 games and five starts.

“I would say he probably earned a spot in the rotation,” Mozeliak said. “But speaking in absolutes is never healthy three days after the season.”

Carlos Martinez (16-9, 3.04 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (13-9, 4.62 ERA) also are rotation locks, and Mozeliak expects Lynn to come back strong from Tommy John surgery. That leaves Mike Leake (9-12, 4.69 ERA), Michael Wacha (7-7. 5.09 ERA) and possibly Garcia to fight it out for the remaining spot.

Left-handers Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney, and perhaps right-hander Mike Mayers, are depth at this juncture, with Lyons probably looking at remaining a reliever. Weaver could be in line for another season at Class AAA Memphis.

Matheny said Wacha, who missed time with a stress reaction in his right scapula for the second time in three years, will spend the offseason “trying to put on some more muscle.”

“As he came into the league (in 2013), you could almost envision 15 to 20 more pounds of muscle as he would just mature,” Matheny said. “He has matured, but we haven’t necessarily seen the body structure (change).”

From my standpoint, I feel like he’s laser-focused. He knows he wants to come back and put his fingerprints on this team. I’m excited and looking forward to welcoming him back. Any time you can get somebody of his quality back into the fold, I think it’s a good thing.

John Mozeliak on the return of Lance Lynn to the 2017 rotation

Mozeliak doesn’t expect to add starting pitching from outside the organization. He believes the return of Lynn, who won 60 games between 2012 and 2015 and was a National League All-Star in 2012, will be akin to making a trade for a starter.

“Lance Lynn is probably the bigger name you can count on,” Mozeliak said. “From my standpoint, I feel like he’s laser-focused. He knows he wants to come back and put his fingerprints on this team. I’m excited and looking forward to welcoming him back. Any time you can get somebody of his quality back into the fold, I think it’s a good thing.”

Mozeliak also said it’s not fair to criticize the Cardinals’ starting rotation this season unless looking at the entire picture.

“It’s hard to look back at 2016 and say that they didn’t pitch well, because a lot of the stress that was put on them were extra outs, extra pitches,” Mozeliak said in a reference to the Cardinals’ shaky defense. “If we clean that up, I think all of them benefit from that.”

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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