While the St. Louis Cardinals have a lot going for them when it comes to pitching, the announcement that ace Carlos Martinez has been shut down because of shoulder trouble really hits the club where it hurts.
The club has depth in spades. But without Martinez, does it really have a true number one starter? For that matter, was the immature but talented Martinez even a number one guy to start with? While he has electric stuff, the St. Louis front office was quick to imply that the right-hander is to blame for his current predicament thanks to too much iron pumping and too little physical therapy.
Before you rush to answer Miles Mikolas, let’s remember that this is a guy who has a grand total of one successful major league season under his belt. I’m not knocking the former Japanese League pitcher or dismissing his 2018 contributions. But he’s never pitched in a postseason game. So, at least at this point, it’s hard to cast him as the guy you’d tab to pitch the seventh game of a winner take all series. Mikolas might ascend to that status by the end of the upcoming season. But he’s still got some things to prove. If the Cardinals truly believe Mikolas is an ace, we should be hearing any time now that the team signed him to a deal that pays him like one. Mikolas is a pending free agent and there has been talk of an extension, but I am concerned that the Birds think they’re going to get another deal like the two-year pact that brought the pitcher home from Japan while Mikolas is going to be looking to be paid like a guy who one 18 games last year -- but who has several years of missed MLB earnings to make up for.
Once you get past Mikolas, there isn’t even really a guy you can make a case for as a number one starter. Or even a number two, at this point. Michael Wacha has the stuff but he can’t stay healthy. Jack Flaherty is still growing after a promising rookie campaign and Adam Wainwright signed a low end deal to remain a Cardinal. Beyond that, it’s a bunch of kids who will play a role this year. But should they have the be the guy or just one of the guys, giving them a chance to wade into the MLB talent pool instead of plunging in off the high dive?
The Cardinals have smugly refused to even consider adding outside pieces to bolster the rotation despite the availability of several accomplished starters including Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez, twice a top-six finisher for the Cy Young. Certainly it wasn’t because the team didn’t anticipate that Martinez (plus Wacha and Wainwright) might have issues. Has the front office forgotten that all three of those guys spent significant time on the disabled list last year?
I argued over the last few months that because of his increasingly fragile arm, the Birds should have considered Martinez for the closer role in 2019. Unfortunately, he didn’t even make it that far. Now the team is pointing fingers about Martinez’s offseason workout plans and I’m left to say “here we go again.”
Instead of pointing at Martinez, maybe St. Louis ought to be pointing at its training staff. After much talk about players having “homework” over the winter that included offseason workouts, Martinez is the second player with a pre-existing injury that the team had the gall to act surprised about when he showed up to camp unready for action. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna, in video of his throwing released right after he arrived in Jupiter, actually looked worse than he did when we last saw him in the fall.
Who is to blame for that?
I just don’t see how we’re supposed to believe this team did all it could to win in 2019 when it has major questions about the guy who is supposed to be its best pitcher and both of its starting corner outfielders. Regardless of what we’re being groomed to believe, that all players are basically the same statistically and it doesn’t matter what the nameplate on the back of their jersey says, not just anyone can be a leader and handle the toughest roles of being a world-class professional athlete. I’m all for growing young players. But you can’t expect a kid who has been pitching to teenagers in the bus leagues to come in and beat seasoned veterans from other clubs when the going gets tough.
The Cardinals have had so many opportunities this winter and they just keep passing on them.