The Cardinals took a significant hit this week with the news that Alex Reyes will require Tommy John surgery, but the team doesn’t expect to pursue remaining free-agent arms to replace the touted 22-year-old, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com offers a similar take, noting that the organization will utilize Spring Training to evaluate right-handers Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver and Trevor Rosenthal (formerly the team’s closer, though Seung-hwan Oh now owns that title) as options.
Certainly, the free-agent market still bears a number of alternatives, though the majority of arms that are still available at this juncture of the offseason come with perhaps as many questions as any of St. Louis’ internal candidates. Doug Fister, Colby Lewis, Jake Peavy and Jered Weaver are among the top right-handed names left on the market, while Jorge De La Rosa and Jon Niese are the two available lefties that have most recently enjoyed big league success. None of the names in that group enjoyed a fully productive or healthy 2016 campaign. The trade market, of course, bears a far more appealing name in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, but the asking price on the excellent southpaw remains extremely high.
Per Langosch, Wacha appears to be the early front-runner to join Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Mike Leake in what will be an all-right-handed rotation. Still just 25 years of age, Wacha has been plagued by shoulder injuries in recent seasons and posted a disheartening 5.09 ERA in 138 innings last year. However, his strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates all remained fairly consistent relative to his more successful 2013-15 seasons, and his average fastball (93.2 mph) was the same as it was in a very solid 2014 campaign.
ERA alternatives pegged Wacha for a mark much closer to 4.00 than his 5.09 mark, with FIP leading the charge at a solid 3.91. Wacha did experience a stark increase in BABIP last season, as his average on balls in play rose from .272 in 2015 to .334 last year. Also working against him was a strand rate (64.7 percent) that sat six percent below his career mark. Wacha logged a 3.21 ERA in 353 innings from 2013-15, so it’s certainly plausible that he can return to form if his shoulder holds up.
As for Weaver (Luke, not Jered), the young right-hander was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has received some Top 100 prospect fanfare from pundits around the game. He posted a sensational 1.30 ERA in 83 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, averaging 10.0 K/9 against 1.3 BB/9 before struggling in his MLB debut. The 23-year-old was charged with 23 earned runs on the strength of 46 hits and a dozen walks in 36 1/3 big league innings, resulting in a dismal 5.70 ERA. Weaver threw just six innings in Triple-A last season — his only experience at that level — so it’d hardly be a surprise if the preference among St. Louis decision-makers was for him to get a bit more minor league seasoning.
Rosenthal was at one point a vaunted starting pitching prospect broke but into the league as a reliever in 2012 and never looked back. He posted a 2.78 ERA with a 25-to-7 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings of relief as a rookie and was entrenched in the ninth inning less than two calendar years later. Rosenthal, though, saw his control dissipate in 2016 (6.5 BB/9) and surrendered considerably more hits (on a rate basis) than he ever has in his career. A .425 average on balls in play against him assuredly didn’t help his cause, but throwing strikes and commanding the ball within the zone were both obvious issues for the former All-Star in 2016. Beyond that, his season was shortened by shoulder inflammation. In his absence, the newly signed Oh (who formerly starred as one of the best closers in KBO and NPB history) seized hold of the Cardinals’ closer role.
Looking past that trio, the Redbirds have options in the form of southpaws Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales as well as right-hander John Gant (who came over to the Cards in the Jaime Garcia trade). While the addition of depth on minor league deals should probably never be ruled out for any club, the Cards do seemingly possess enough depth to weather the loss of Reyes. Should further injuries arise in camp, the team could always look to external options, but significant additions don’t seem likely at this point.