What's Next for the Cardinals Without Chris Carpenter?

For the third straight year the Cardinals will be without one of their staff aces for the season. Today, GM John Mozeliak announced that it is “very unlikely” that Chris Carpenter will pitch in 2013 due to numbness is his throwing arm. The news broke today at a 1:30 press conference, and was first leaked out by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal via Twitter:

Carpenter missed nearly all of the 2012 campaign with a similar problem. That came on the heels of Adam Wainwright sitting out the entire 2011 season after having Tommy John surgery. Bottom-line, the Cards have not had much luck when it comes to the health of their two premier hurlers.

The announcement certainly creates a lot of questions as to the team’s rotation this upcoming season. After letting go of Kyle Lohse earlier in the offseason, the rotation had already become somewhat of a question mark. Without Carp in there, the rotation has now become almost a mystery. So, what will the Cards do in 2013?

First off, this is not the end of the world Cards fans. The sky is not falling; the clouds are simply getting a bit larger. Why you ask? Simple, Adam Wainwright.

I wrote last week that Wainwright is poised for a monster season, and Carp going down does not change that. Wainwright will return to premier form in 2013, and that will certainly pick up a lot of the slack that Carpenter leaves.

After Wainwright, Jake Westbrook is another lock for the rotation. Westbrook is coming off career numbers in 2012, and there is no reason to believe he will have a significant regression in 2013. Westbrook should do just fine in 2013.

Jaime Garcia is also a lock for the rotation this season despite coming off a bad 2012. Remember the Garcia who posted a 2.70 ERA in 2010 and racked up a 26-15 record over the 2010 and 2011 seasons? The Cardinals are not giving up on this guy yet. He is definitely a candidate for a big bounce-back season because he really does have great stuff.

Beyond those three, things become a bit more unclear. 2012 all-star and 18 game winner Lance Lynn looks like a lock on paper, but he faltered down the stretch and had a rather high 3.78 ERA. Youngsters Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and Joe Kelly will also make a case for a spot in the rotation.

Maybe the Cards can find a little help by signing a free agent starter. Ken Rosenthal also reported that the Cards have an insurance policy out on Carp, so they will receive some of the $12.5 million he is due in 2013:

The problem with that idea is that the free agent market is slim this time of year. Former Cardinal Kyle Lohse is still available, but he is reportedly seeking a long term contract with big money. Since the Cardinals have so many good young players that will want bigger contracts in the future, they will probably not be willing to make that commitment to Lohse.

Outside Lohse, there are only a few decent starters left on the market. Joe Saunders has been a great pitcher in the past, posting a 33-14 record over the course of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. However, he has been an average at best since 2010. He has gone 30-43 since 2010, but looked somewhat impressive late last season in Baltimore where he went 3-3 and posted a 3.63 ERA. He could be an alright back of the rotation guy.

Chris Young has also been an alright pitcher in the past, but injuries are a big concern with him. He only started 22 games between 2009 and 2011, but was able to take the mound 20 times this past season with the Mets. In 2006 and 2007, Young was able to put up great WHIPs just a smidge over 1.0 and post a 23-12 record despite playing on less than stellar teams. It is a stretch, but Young could be a solid pitcher.

A big wild card in free agency is the former Astros ace Roy Oswalt. Oswalt has been a 20 game winner and sub 3.0 ERA guy in his career. He is coming off a couple of down seasons, but the talent is there. Oswalt could be a risk worth taking.

The common theme among Saunders, Young, and Oswalt is that they are older pitchers who are looking to resurrect their careers. The Cardinals have been one of the best teams in the leagues at helping older players have a last hoorah. Lance Berkman had an awesome 2011 after a pitiful 2010 and Carlos Beltran was amazing last year after a couple of down seasons. Can they catch lightning in a bottle again?

[caption id="attachment_54" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Carpenter will probably not pitch this season, or possibly ever again"]Chris Carpenter[/caption]

Whether the Cardinals choose to sign a veteran to help the rotation or let their young studs fill the holes in the rotation, none of them will be Chris Carpenter. Carpenter has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last 10 or so years. Unfortunately, Carpenter has probably pitched his last game in the MLB.

It will be interesting to see where the Cardinals go now that Carp is out of the picture. I wish I could give a stone-cold answer as to what they will do, but all I can conjure up is a couple of possibilities for the birds.

If it was up to me however, I would bring Saunders in on a one year deal. He is certainly a risk, but the Cards have the depth to get along if he goes down or falters as a starter. He should be a cheaper option and a good veteran presence on what will be a younger rotation.

In the end though, Cardinal Nation has to put their trust in the hands of John Mozeliak. Mo has been one of the best GMs in the business and you can rest assured that he was ready for this. Only time will tell us what him and manager Mike Matheny have planned for 2013, but expect it to work out nicely even without Chris Carpenter.

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