St. Louis Cardinals starting pitchers continue to struggle as rumors about potential rotation upgrades have started to percolate. Something needs to change. But what?
Madison Bumgarner might be had in trade as the San Francisco Giants begin to look beyond 2019. Meanwhile, free agent Dallas Keuchel is likely to find a new home soon as the need for any team that signs him to give the Houston Astros a draft pick expires June 1. Or, could the Birds look to the ubiquitous internal options as Austin Gomber heats up in Class AAA Memphis, Carlos Martinez returns from extended spring training and Alex Reyes recovers after going a couple of rounds with the clubhouse wall after struggling with his control.
There is no doubt, as the St. Louis rotation sits around the bottom of National League pitching staffs, that the Cardinals could use a boost. The question is what they’re willing to pay to get it.
Bumgarner reportedly put the Redbirds, and several other teams expected to try to make a deal for him, on his limited no-trade list in the last week, driving up his leverage in any potential deal. He’s a legitimate ace, and one of the best post-season pitchers in recent history. But San Franscisco reportedly wants four prospects in exchange for the hurler who is going to be a free agent at the end of the season. That sounds like a prohibitive price to me. Let’s also not forget that Bumgarner has struggled the past few years with health problems that have limited him to an average of 19 games for his last two full seasons.
What kind of prospects do the Giants expect? If they think they’re going to get guys like Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks and Nolan Gorman, the answer would certainly be no if I was in charge. But what if the Cardinals made a move to sign Marcell Ozuna to a contract extension in right field and then helped the Giants to fill their need for a power bat and a fleet-footed outfielder by sending Tyler O’Neill, Dakota Hudson and a couple of lower minor league players to the Giants.
If the Birds were to try to retain Bumgarner long term, it’s going to be costly. He’s still a young man (he won’t turn 30 until August) and he’s been relatively underpaid during his hey-day. St. Louis has been reluctant to bid on the highest-priced pitchers in recent seasons, so any deal for Bumgarner would have to be regarded as a short-term rental unless he uses his leverage to force the team that tries to trade for him to sign him to an extension before he accepts the swap.
For what’s it’s worth, Bumgarner is 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in six games at Busch Stadium III. He’s allowed 35 hits, two of them home runs, in 39 innings pitched in St. Louis.
Should the St. Louis Cardinals sign Dallas Keuchel?
An article last week on fivethirtyeight.com looked into which team would benefit the most from signing Keuchel. Do I have to tell you that the Cardinals were the winner when we all already realize the team has no true ace?
Keuchel’s asking price has come down somewhat, according to reports. But, although he has reportedly had offers, none of them have been enticing enough to convince him to give up his extended vacation. If the Birds did sign Keuchel, with no spring training, how long would it take him to get into game shape? I’m sure he’s been throwing. But pitching in a non-competitive situation just isn’t the same as working to live hitters. I would fear another Greg Holland situation where the Cardinals dig deep to add a veteran and it bites them in the rear end.
On the bright side, Keuchel would only cost money. The team wouldn’t have to part with valuable building blocks of its future in order to add some temporary help right now. Keuchel could help to groom some of the young hurlers who have struggled to find their way in the big leagues and make them better more quickly than they otherwise would have gotten there.
Carlos Martinez and Austin Gomber are more likely
The most likely scenario for Cardinals fans is some shuffling of pieces already in the system.
Carlos Martinez is likely to make it back to the big league club as early as this weekend after building up his shoulder strength in Florida. The problem is that he’s tabbed for the bullpen when he arrives because Martinez isn’t stretched out. The good news is that his presence in the bullpen could free up a guy like John Gant to move from a major relief role to the starting rotation.
Another option would be to call up Austin Gomber from Class AAA Memphis where, after a poor spring, he is 4-0 with a 2.82 earned run average. They lefty has been dominating minor league hitters, racking up 44 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. Hudson could go back to Memphis to work on his command, or he could switch back to the bullpen where he was a solid contributor last season.
Daniel Ponce de Leon could also be a potential starting rotation option if the Cardinals don’t start to see some results from their pitchers soon. While I believe guys like Flaherty and Hudson will eventually be big contributors, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep throwing them out there every five days to get their butts kicked. Sometimes a refresher course in the minors takes off some of the pressure to produce and pitchers can iron out flaws away from the spotlight.
I’d love to see the big splash of getting Bumgarner or Keuchel. But I’d be shocked off this team makes such a deal because, as bad as the rotation has been, it seems committed to the guys it has in-house.