A couple of months ago I hoped the Cardinals would sign Roy Oswalt and try to trade Jake Westbrook to improve the back of their rotation.
It's funny how much things can change after half a Grapefruit League season.
Westbrook showed up to camp in better shape than he has been in for years and has been the Redbirds' best pitcher so far. Meanwhile ace Chris Carpenter has come apart at the seams with injuries and the weak link of the St. Louis rotation seems to be at the front rather than the back.
Oswalt is still available on the free agent market. But now I wonder if signing him would be such a good idea.
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First, the Cardinals have a surplus of strong arms in the bullpen. And, second, no one knows at this point if Carpenter's problem is going to be brief -- or potentially career threatening. If Carp's trouble is truly a bulging disc in his neck, the problem could likely be quickly solved and he'd be back as good as new. At that point, what would the team do with six starters and only five slots in its rotation?
I'm pretty sure Oswalt, who was picky about where he was willing to pitch and how he would be used to the point that he turned down offers from the Tigers and Red Sox while rebuffing the Rangers who considered him as a swing man between the rotation and the bullpen and the Cardinals who didn't meet his financial demands, isn't going to jump into an uncertain situation.
The strong performance of the Birds' bullpen competitors puts the team in a postition where it has more pitchers than roster spots. If the Cardinals think that Carpenter is going to miss a month or two, they're much better off sticking with their plan to use Lance Lynn in the rotation on a short term basis. The team also has Kyle McClellen in reserve -- and he pitched well for half a season in 2011 before his arm wore down.
The Cardinals have had contact from at least one team interested in McClellan. But the word is the team has told Baltimore that it prefers to hang on to McClellan as insurance for the rotation.
I still like Oswalt. But there is a big difference between plugging him in as your fifth starter and expecting him to be the ace. Let's not forget that he had to be shut down last season for back problems of his own. So the Cardinals may have to hope that Adam Wainwright is ready to shoulder the load of being the ace in 2012 as he comes back from Tommy John surgery and that -- like in 2011, a weakened rotation can hold the fort until a mid-season trade can shore things up.