Our friend Derrick Goold got at least some of The Best Fans In Baseball reaching for inhalers with this teaser in Thursday’s Post-Dispatch and STLtoday: “Adam Wainwright has received several competitive offers, and one of the current offers is from the San Diego Padres.”
There were no additional details. Other than the Padres and Royals, we don’t know the identity of teams that have pitched offers to the Cardinals’ free-agent righthander. Likewise, the financial terms of any proposed contracts remain unknown.
For harmless fun, let’s assume the Padres are after Wainwright in an aggressive way. San Diego has a chance to win a lot of games and push deep into the postseason. If you put a list of contenders that have the horses to Go All The Way, the Padres would be on there.
The Padres have made starting pitching a priority this offseason, acquiring Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove via trade.The rotation includes the talented Dinelson Lamet, but there are concerns over his elbow.
The Padres made a trade for Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger last August, but elbow issues limited him to only 19 innings. Clevinger had Tommy John surgery before Thanksgiving and almost certainly will miss the entire 2021 season. The Padres can use Chris Paddack in the rotation. Talented pitching prospects, including MacKenzie Gore, are looming.
The Padres have arms. They have options. But the franchise has set the goal of winning a pennant and World Series in ‘21. And if the Padres are among the teams that decide to use a six-man rotation this season — to limit each starter’s innings after a short-schedule 2020 — it would be smart to add Wainwright.
Using a six-man setup to control innings would alleviate concerns over Wainwright’s age; he’ll be 40 on Aug. 30. And Wainwright, an admired leader, would be a valuable touchstone for young San Diego pitchers/players.
Oh, and he’s still good.
In his 10 starts last season Wainwright worked to an impressive 3.15 ERA and 4.11 FIP over 65.2 innings. He maintained his strikeout rate (21%), lowered his walk rate (5.5%) and WHIP (1.05) and improved his numbers vs LH batters (.283 wOBA.)
Since the start of the 2019 season Wainwright has a 3.91 ERA, has thrown more innings (237.1) than any Cardinals starter. And among rotation members, only Jack Flaherty (42) has started more games than Wainwright (41) over that time.
The Cardinals, their fans and the media are familiar with Wainwright’s qualities, including a champion’s pedigree. He’s a fine match for the Padres or other contenders that are browsing for pitching at a relative bargain of a price.
Those qualities still apply to the Cardinals. And the opportunity to re-sign an effective and beloved starter to a team-friendly contract should excite the Cardinals. But that raises a few questions:
1–Do the Cardinals consider themselves contenders? Well, in the dormant, salary-dumping NL Central collective … sure. But beyond that, if the Cards are being honest, the answer would be NO. Or maybe “yes, if we’re fortunate and everything goes right and we’re kissed by random postseason luck.” But that isn’t a goal, or a strategy. That’s wishful thinking. It isn’t a gameplan to hope for magic.
2–Are the Cardinals inclined to give starts and innings to younger pitchers who should be part of their future past 2021? If so, the go-young plan could impact the team’s desire to make a deal with Wainwright. Then again: is there a better starter, anywhere, to counsel young pitchers?
3–What is Wainwright’s prime motivation at this stage of his career? It’s tricky. Wainwright wants to be with the Cardinals, end his career as a Cardinal, and close the circle that opened with his MLB debut for St. Louis in 2005. And the powerful sentiment that comes with going start-to-finish as a Cardinal is alluring for the team and the veteran starter. But Wainwright will have one or perhaps two more chances to win another World Series. He was a big part of winning it for the Cardinals in 2006, but couldn’t pitch (elbow surgery) when the Cardinals won the WS in 2011. Looking at this pragmatically, the Padres (or a number of other legitimate title contenders) provide Waino with a more realistic opportunity to win a championship.
4–Wainwright isn’t the kind of man who goes through life thinking “It’s all about the money.” On multiple occasions he’s settled for less to remain with the Cardinals. But if the Cardinals essentially insult him with a lowball offer this time, where does Wainwright draw the line? At what point (if any), does he declare “enough is enough” and head elsewhere for enhanced pay — and enhanced postseason fortunes? I hope that doesn’t happen.
5–Do the Cardinals worry about alienating more fans by taking a whatever-happens-happens attitude with Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina? Ownership-management already is fretting over revenue, and keeping costs down is an obvious priority. But if the stinginess leads to Wainwright and Molina signing on with new teams, would the Cardinals endure lasting damage to their relationship with the fan base? Is it wiser to entice back Wainwright and Molina for a ceremonial, farewell-legends season to make the fans happy?
The public-relations aspect aside …
If the Cardinals are trying to straddle the line in 2021 — regroup, reassess their younger talent, but also sort-of contend — their pitching stock is damn important.
Yes it was a short, complicated season in 2020. But the Cardinals dropped to 22nd in the majors in team ERA (3.92). They slipped to No. 9 in standard rotation ERA (3.86) but fell to 17th in fielding-independent rotation ERA (4.55.)
Last season the Cardinals played 58 regular-season games, and three more in the playoffs. It’s difficult to predict how pitchers will handle the physical challenges of a full schedule — or close to a full slate — after a light load of innings in 2020.
As is, MLB’s percentage of innings from starters declined to again last season, as teams continued to shift from traditional models. And we’ll probably see a more cautious approach could be the way to go: utilize more starters, spread out the innings … use two starters in the same game in a “piggyback” system. Figuring out a way to maximize the bullpen without breaking relievers.
It’ll be tough. But it’s reasonable to assume that the trend, and the situation, means using more pitchers … not fewer pitchers. Because if teams are asking for fewer innings from starters, they’re transferring more innings to relievers. And we’ll see more starters working in relief, via “piggyback” or other methods. We’ll likely see more hybrid pitchers that will be deployed as starters and relievers. And the Cardinals have a few of them.
With no Wainwright, the Cardinals can fill a rotation Flaherty, K.K. Kim, Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon.
Or what about Alex Reyes? Genesis Cabrera? John Gant? Junior Fernandez? Do they stay in the bullpen? Can they be used as spot starters? Can they handle both roles?
The young arms that could surface include Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Zack Thompson and possibly Matthew Liberatore.
Dakota Hudson (elbow) is a scratch for most if not all of 2021.
Mikolas (torn flexor tendon surgery) may be physically cleared to go, but will he be sharp, and pitch well? Mikolas relies on precise control for maximum performance. Can the Cardinals bank on that?
Um … is it ever a bright idea to count on Carlos Martinez?
Yes. There’s room for Wainwright in St. Louis.
There’s room — and perhaps a World Series ring — for Waino in other places, too.
Thanks for reading …
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