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March 7, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Cardinals' Rotation Prepping for Takeoff

by Daniel Rathman

Most teams with open roster spots or starting jobs let their players compete for the duration of Cactus or Grapefruit League play. The Cardinals, though, appear determined to finalize their rotation plans long before their players pack for the return trip from Jupiter, Florida, to St. Louis. 

Cardinals nearing decision on fifth starter
Manager Mike Matheny told B.J. Rains, a host for 1380 AM sports radio in St. Louis, that he is “getting close” to picking the final member of his rotation, in which Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia (if his shoulder is healthy enough) are guaranteed spots. The race is between three right-handers, all of which would be well qualified to take the ball every fifth day for most teams, but whose presence in the same clubhouse has given Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak the best kind of problem.

Shelby Miller, the most highly regarded member of the triumvirate, might have been the favorite for the gig entering the spring, but he dealt with shoulder tightness late last month and is a bit behind his competitors, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal. Our prospect team ranked the 22-year-old Miller as the second-best talent in the Cardinals farm system, and after amassing a 70-to-7 K:BB for Triple-A Memphis during the second half of the 2012 campaign, he seems ready for an extended look in the majors. Miller’s next audition for the number-five spot is scheduled to come on Friday; he struck out three batters over two innings of one-run ball in his spring debut last week.

Kelly, who is penciled into Jason Martinez’s projected Opening Day rotation, held his own in 16 starts for the big-league club last year, after entering 2012 as Kevin Goldstein’s 16th-ranked Cardinals prospect. The 24-year-old sinkerballer made full use of that offering, inducing grounders on 51.7 percent of the balls put in play against him, but his lack of a put-away off-speed pitch kept his strikeout rate at a middling 16.4 percent. Of the three pitchers in the mix, Kelly may have both the lowest ceiling and the highest floor. The 25-year-old tossed two hitless (and scoreless) innings in his first trip to the mound, but he also issued two walks and did not strike out a batter. He’ll try to improve on that effort later today.

The third and final competitor, Rosenthal—who blew hitters away with high-90s heat during the postseason, recording 15 strikeouts over 8 2/3 scoreless innings, while allowing only two hits—has struggled so far this spring, though he did toss a couple of scoreless frames on Wednesday. Despite his impressive playoff credentials, Rosenthal is the least refined member of the trio, and his fastball-reliant profile may fit better in the bullpen, at least in the short run. Since he was used for three innings his first time out and only two in his second, it’s possible that the Cardinals are grooming him for a set-up role. Rosenthal may not be ready to assume a full-season rotation role, but his gas seems likely to prove too tantalizing for the Cardinals to send him back to Memphis, where he fanned 21 batters in 17 innings last year.

Given Matheny’s apparent urgency, the next two days could be critical. Kelly is scheduled to take on the Yankees this afternoon, and Miller will get a date with the Nationals on Friday, with a decision possibly coming by the end of the weekend. The Cardinals, according to their second-year skipper, would like to develop a plan soon, in order to manage their staff appropriately during the weeks leading up to Opening Day. And, since they have ample depth, it’s hard to quibble with that logic.

Kyle Lohse will not be joining the Rangers
Were it not for the aforementioned depth, the injury concerns surrounding Garcia and Chris Carpenter might have paved the way for Lohse to return to St. Louis. But that won’t happen. And, now, it appears that Scott Boras can officially scratch Arlington off his list of prospective destinations, too.

MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan spoke with a Rangers source on Tuesday, and—for the first time this offseason—obtained a direct rejection of the notion that the 34-year-old Lohse might land with the team.

“We are not going to sign Kyle Lohse. I can’t be clearer than that.”

Indeed. Sullivan’s report comes just a few days after Fort Worth Star-Telegram beat writer Jeff Wilson heard that a minority camp in the Rangers front office was still pushing for general manager Jon Daniels to add Lohse to the team’s rotation. Daniels was skittish of the price tag—both in terms of dollars and the draft-pick cost, which would force the Rangers to surrender the 24th overall pick in the June draft—then, and, if Sullivan’s source has accurately gauged the organization’s thinking, he has since put his foot down to end the debate.

Meanwhile, Daniels is nearing a minor-league agreement with Derek Lowe, according to Dallas Morning News columnist Evan Grant. The 39-year-old northpaw is expected to make the team as a long reliever, as his struggles with the Indians last year indicate that he would not be able to hold down a starting job for long. The Rangers’ solid defensive infield should benefit Lowe, who logged a 59.2 percent ground-ball rate last year, but even with little internal depth, Daniels and manager Ron Washington are likely to find a more reliable placeholder to hold down the back end of the rotation until Colby Lewis and Martin Perez are ready to return.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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