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February 23, 2011

Purpose Pitches

Wainwright Go Bye?

by Christina Kahrl, Corey Dawkins and Marc Normandin

"Sproing" is the sound an elbow makes when it goes from a ready state to something that helps pay off an orthopedic surgeon's student loans, and the terror of Cardinals camp is that its echo may bring everything in this year's bid to re-win the NL Central to a dead stop. The diagnosis of a potentially devastating injury hangs over the Cardinals' hopes for 2011, and no, we're not talking Nick Punto's sports hernia. Adam Wainwright has flown back to St. Louis to see if the pain in his elbow is bad news or the worst news, and more than his two-year, $21 million nested options for 2012-13 hang in the balance.

There's no way to minimize the implication. PECOTA projected Wainwright to be the seventh-best pitcher in the league via WARP, and at this time of year nobody close to that is available or about to be made available via trade. The Cardinals may look to deal, but that's because the best internal options are far from sure things. The Cards were already in a situation where they already have Kyle Lohse to regret. Jake Westbrook was supposed to fix this problem, converting Lohse into baseball's most expensive fifth starter.

Turning to internal non-roster options like Brian Tallet or Miguel Batista and simultaneously maintaining postseason pretensions basically requires that the offense crank out runs at a clip it hasn't mastered since Jim Edmonds' heyday in the early Aughties; this team doesn't have 800 runs in it. It could ill afford Lohse limping along before, but now it needs a restoration spell the likes of which Dave Duncan hasn't had to cast since... Dave Stewart? Batista hasn't been a successful major-league starter since 2007; if he gets the 10 starts initially guessed at in our Depth Charts, in his age-40 campaign, you may as well fold up the season and devote the summer to figuring out what's the best offer to give to Albert Pujols during the post-season negotiating window. Brian Tallet's work in a rotation have been more recent, as the other former Toronto utility pitcher in 2009, and in some regards his work was roughly equivalent to Batista's 2007 season qualitatively: strikeout rates around 15-16 percent, SIERAs around 4.70. Magician or no, no mere Todd Wellemeyer-level spell of temporary redemption will do.

Beyond the graybeards, there are viable younger alternatives, and no, it wouldn't involve the power of prayer and Mitchell Boggs. Earlier this spring, there was talk of stretching out Kyle McClellan, which seems terribly convenient if this becomes a crash gear-up for rotation work. However, McClellan hasn't been a regular starter since 2004, and that was in the Florida State League. The risk there would be that this could be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul: a rotation counting on Lohse and McClellan is going to involve a lot of five-inning chuck-and-duck outings, creating the automatic need for a relief corps innings muncher... which absent McClellan, becomes a problem, because this gets us back to counting on Boggs, Tallet, Batista, and thaumaturgy. Although it's easier to find a useful reliever than starter, via trade, waivers, or perhaps awaiting discovery in camp, but that would be another element of uncertainty sure to keep John Mozeliak's cell phone humming.

However, McClellan isn't the only arrow in the quiver. Last year, the organization saw Lance Lynn bust out and start living up to the highest possible expectations for him,  looking like more than just a college-trained strike-thrower, adding mid-90s velocity on a four-seam fastball he came to rely on, and per Kevin Goldstein's rating him as the system's fifth-best prospect, even touching 97 mph at times, while also featuring a pair of good off-speed pitches. PECOTA already sees him a somebody capable of generating more than seven strikeouts per nine while posting a 4.39 ERA. It isn't Wainwright-level greatness, but it would more than do as the fourth man in a rotation behind Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Westbrook. Skeptics might fulminate over preferences for veterans from Tony La Russa on down, but I wouldn't attach much to that; the old men on the brass placed their faith in Garcia and saw it rewarded, after all, and stuff—when you find someone who has—wins converts. If the Cardinals have a good internal answer, it's Lynn.

If it isn't Lynn or a crash conversion of McClellan, the Cardinals' next-best option to round out their rotation is not yet on the roster. Among those unsigned free agents wondering what they're going to do with themselves this year. Kevin Millwood's the name that automatically comes up, but PECOTA was envisioning a season of his giving up five runs per nine with lower than league-average strikeout rates. As much confidence in Duncan's ability to work magic as anyone might reasonably possess, trusting Lynn looks like a better idea than that. Perhaps calling Pedro Martinez represents a better idea, but Martinez, unlike Millwood, doesn't have to accept any offer; he'll need wooing, but perhaps a season playing with Albert Pujols in front of baseball's best fans is an attractive enough prospect beyond any necessarily incentive-laden deal.

Beyond the unemployed, there are the trade possibilities. From among that lot, the best outcome might be that they swing a deal for Joe Blanton. That wouldn't come cheaply, however, and the Cardinals' system isn't all that deep in talent. One of the misfortunes of having to deal from need with someone who has no incentive to make you happy is that yesterday's reasonable abstract proposition suddenly becomes a case of getting the screws put to you. Calling Cleveland to talk to Fausto Carmona makes sense, but they may not wish to part with him quite so soon.

On the other hand, someone like Chien-Ming Wang wouldn't cost much to acquire, and from among the Nats' numerous contenders for their fifth slot in the rotation, there's no picking a winner who might propel them to third place in the NL East, no matter how well any of them turn out. The Diamondbacks might generously part with Zach Duke or Armando Galarraga at the end of March, after the one loses to the other in the mighty contest for fifth Snake in the rotation, but there's no upside in those propositions. Get to this level of dreck, and you may as well start asking Brian Cashman when he plans to cut Freddy Garcia and/or Bartolo Colon.

So while we wait for word of Wainwright's elbow, the best solution might be standing pat. Trying to tantalize the Tribe into some cash-eating deal that brings Carmona over would be the high-stakes solution most worth pursuing, although it might entail giving up Lynn, the obvious best internal solution. You can bet that, however hot the firestorm of fear to follow, Mozeliak's best bet will be to wait and see, call and collect information. As much as the Wainwright breakdown would inspire panic, the Cards will be best served by taking the time to see if Lynn's really ready. If he isn't, they can get serious about making a deal. Either way, this thing ain't over before it starts.—Christina Kahrl

---

Many will point to the end of last season, when Wainwright skipped his final start with an injury deemed a forearm strain, as the time when his elbow began to give him trouble.

However, his elbow has been problematic since way back in 2004: that was when he was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ligament while pitching for Triple-A Memphis. His elbow was stable at the time, though, as the area scarred down to the point that he was able to resume his pitching. This can happen with very small tears if the area surrounding the elbow is strong enough to counter the effects of the partial ligament tear. Wainwright's elbow responded well to this approach over time, excepting a bout of inflammation in 2007, and he threw nearly 900 innings in the majors following the initial injury. This all changed during the last week of 2010, as he experienced soreness and inflammation around the nerve, though things still appeared to be stable upon examination in November despite the known partial tear to the ligament.

On Monday, Wainwright's elbow caused him pain while he was throwing, and the Cardinals' medical staff sent him back to St. Louis for further examination. What likely changed was the stability of his elbow from a worsening of the partial tear. Once the elbow is unstable surgery becomes an option—and usually a necessity—for pitchers. The necessary procedure is likely Tommy John surgery, and recovery from that procedure is typically 12-18 months, meaning that pitching in 2011 is out of the question, and a portion of 2012 may be in doubt as well.—Corey Dawkins and Marc Normandin

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Corey's other articles. You can contact Corey by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Lance Lynn,  Elbow,  Year Of The Injury,  Best

33 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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dianagram

I've read reports that CM Wang won't be ready for Opening Day.

I wonder if the Cards would call Cashman and ask for Joba? I mean, talk about buying low on a guy, but ...

Again ... you are right in pointing out the lack of depth in the system. I highly doubt they would part with Shelby Miller in any deal, and he is by far their best prospect.

Feb 23, 2011 10:51 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

... but then again, if they are of the thought of "we have a better chance of re-signing Albert if we win this year", then perhaps they do consider trading Miller if it brings back a real live arm?

Feb 23, 2011 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

The point with Wang is that this isn't an April issue, it's a full-season issue. There is the discomfort that the Cards' early schedule doesn't allow for a lot of fifth starter skipping, but they have to worry about where they're going to get 32 starts from, and that's as much a matter of who as when.

Feb 23, 2011 11:03 AM
 
TraderBob

Not even a mention of Ian Snell at all?

Feb 23, 2011 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

A deliberate oversight; as Eric Seidman broke him down in a couple of very good articles in 2009, I think we should have learned by now there's a difference between velocity and effective velocity. Unless he proves especially adept in the dark arts, there's less there than meets the eye.

Feb 23, 2011 12:47 PM
 
heyblue
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The Dodgers have a surplus of starting pitchers and could use a power-hitting first baseman. I hear the Cards have a first-baseman in his walk year. Why not get something of value for him? Please tell me if this sounds ridiculous, but how about Ted Lilly and Dee Gordon for Pujols?

Feb 23, 2011 13:14 PM
rating: -6
 
rionwood

That would be a rip off even in a roto league!
The Best player in baseball for a decent starter and a middling prospect with a suspect bat? I would think not.

Feb 23, 2011 13:20 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Yeah, that's ridiculous. The only reason to acquire a replacement for Wainwright in trade is to contend; dealing Pujols would be a matter of opting out of contention altogether.

Feb 23, 2011 13:20 PM
 
heyblue

Wishful thinking, I guess.

Feb 23, 2011 13:37 PM
rating: 1
 
qwik3457bb

Make it Kershaw, Loney and Gordon, and the Cards might consider it for awhile. Before rejecting.

Feb 24, 2011 12:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Greg Ioannou

The Jays would probably willingly part with the likes of Jesse Litsch or Jo-Jo Reyes, but do the Cards have enticing enough prospects to do the deal?

Feb 23, 2011 13:40 PM
rating: 1
 
pobothecat

Dave Duncan plus Jo Jo Reyes. LOVE the idea.

Feb 23, 2011 14:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Jo-Jo or Litsch would be interesting, but we'll see if there's a match to be made at the end of March.

Feb 23, 2011 14:57 PM
 
ddrezner

Would Kevin Millwood be viable/feasible?

Feb 23, 2011 14:07 PM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

As a Reds fan, I am chortling inside.

Feb 23, 2011 14:15 PM
rating: -6
 
Nate W.

You're laughing at someone else's misfortune? Or are you laughing that you are now likely rooting for the 2nd best team in the NL central instead of 3rd?

Feb 23, 2011 15:01 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Ouch! I was wondering when a Brewers fan was going to pipe up.

Feb 23, 2011 15:02 PM
 
chris in illinois

Don't get too happy, you guys haven't had to pay "Dusty's Due" yet...let's see how long your young arms survive the Mangler. Don't believe me, ask Mr. Prior.

Feb 23, 2011 15:11 PM
rating: 0
 
Joe D.

Ask Mr. Harang.

Feb 23, 2011 20:54 PM
rating: 2
 
drmorris

"...converting Lohse into baseball's most expensive fifth starter."

I think you forgot a certain Barry Zito of San Francisco, CA, who has a death-grip on this dubious honor.

Feb 23, 2011 14:42 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Argh, shame on me, you're quite right. Although at least last year Zito didn't *open* the year as a fifth starter, but this year, he's clearly down a peg.

Feb 23, 2011 14:47 PM
 
ddrezner

Don't forget Daisuke Matsuzaka too!

Feb 23, 2011 14:47 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

His 2011 compensation is a mere $10 million, where Lohse's making almost $12 million.

Feb 23, 2011 14:56 PM
 
BillJohnson

Can't forget the posting fee, though. Matsuzaka may not have seen a dime of it, but it was still expense that the team had to bear to sign him.

Feb 23, 2011 15:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Didn't forget it, but I do think it's not directly comparable; if Dice-K had been traded, for example, that expense wouldn't be spent by his employer.

Feb 23, 2011 15:25 PM
 
Richie

I agree with Bill and dd; posting fee counts. OK, everyone vote!

Feb 23, 2011 16:21 PM
rating: 0
 
soBC

Now the big question...if the Cardinals are out of it in July, do they trade Pujols?

Feb 23, 2011 17:12 PM
rating: 1
 
saigonsam

bigger question, will Pujols agree to a trade (10/5)

Feb 23, 2011 20:51 PM
rating: 1
 
SC

If so, Pujols for Liriano is a ridiculous if intriguing option (see Jaffe), at least before the season.

Feb 23, 2011 22:20 PM
rating: -1
 
Christopher Miller
(88)

just another brewers fan piping up.

Feb 24, 2011 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
qwik3457bb

Liriano and Morneau, maybe. Plus a good prospect, like Revere.

Feb 24, 2011 12:58 PM
rating: -1
 
John Carter

Speaking of the Twins, did they panic last year when they lost Joe Nathan for the season roughly this time last year? No, they successfully defended their division.

Feb 26, 2011 21:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Not to mention, they eventually addressed their needs at a time when buyers can find deals; Capps didn't cost them much in terms of talent.

Feb 27, 2011 19:30 PM
 
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