is done for the season. The man be gone, and the man ain't be comin' back. Not in 2012 for sure, and maybe not never no more.
Given this grammatically poor but factually accurate state of affairs, the Cardinals' pitching situation looks...well, it looks pretty ugly, to tell you the truth. The problem isn't the guys the Cards have; Lance Lynn has been magnificent for most of the season filling in for Carpenter, and Joe Kelly has done a nice job in a relatively small sampling since being called up to replace the injured Jaime Garcia. But given the uncertainty about Jaime and the now-certainty about Carpenter, the cavalry just isn't really coming this year. And for a team with ambitions of repeating as champions, the Cardinals just aren't lighting the league on fire this year.
And so, a move may be in the cards, so to speak. Last year the Cards made a big deal at the deadline (actually, a couple of them), sending Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays in return for Edwin Jackson and Marc Rzepczynski, as well as picking up Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers. Shortstop isn't going to be a need this season, as Furcal has solidified the position, but pitching most definitely will be.
The biggest question facing the Cardinals -- well, at first, anyway -- will be just how high to shoot. They could always go for a middling sort of replacement, just to try and stabilize the rotation for the time being, of course, or even take a shot at just a reliever. Both would represent nice low-cost options, but when you really look at the situation I think now might be the time for the Cards to aim higher. The war chest of potential trade fodder is as full as it has ever been, the need is there this year, and there are long-term openings in the rotation beyond this season. Jake Westbrook
and Kyle Lohse
are both free agents after the season, and you have to assume at least one of them, and probably both, are going to be allowed to walk. That frees up space on both the roster and the balance sheet.
In other words, I'm saying it's time to invest.
If the Cardinals are going to make a deal -- and I'm not saying they absolutely have to, only that it seems as if they're angling to do so -- I think now is the time to try to come up with something to set themselves up for the next several years. Something along the lines of the Matt Holliday trade is what I'm thinking.
With that in mind, there are definitely options. Pitchers of very high quality who are either on the market now or should be in the coming weeks. Guys you would bring in and immediately attempt to extend. (And then hope the whole thing doesn't go all Mark Mulder on you.)
Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers -- Greinke is, right now, the leading candidate on this list to be a Cardinal by the end of July. The Brewers have fallen on rather hard times this season, and while they aren't out of the race, necessarily, the NL Central does feature three teams all clearly stronger overall than the Brew Crew.
Zack Greinke is, simply, one of the best pitchers on the face of the earth. He's a former Cy Young Award winner -- and his Cy Young year was one of the all-time great examples of an easy choice -- and has consistently put up monster numbers over the last five seasons. This year he's currently pitching to a 2.38 FIP and 2.79 xFIP, posting his best walk rate since his rookie season of 2004 (when he was significantly different pitcher at 20 years old, just trying to survive), and on pace for roughly 7.0 WAR. That's the good stuff.
The bad stuff? Well, he's been a head case in the past, and might still kind of be. You would probably have to find his wife a throne to sit in at games. The really bad thing, though, is going to be the price tag. You would have to expect the Brewers to ask for the moon, and chances are they'll get it from someone.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies -- Hmm. Trading for a lefty ace, the acquisition of whom will likely require the Cardinals to include their own top pitching prospect in the package. Why does this sound so familiar to me?
Actually, that's not fair to Hamels, who is a very different pitchers than Mark Mulder ever was even at his best. Mulder was king of grounders and walking no one and using an enormous park to camouflage strikeout rates that were never particularly strong. Hamels has hovered right around a strikeout per inning the last three years, while keeping his own walk rate down near Muldoo levels.
A 3.40 FIP and 3.21 xFIP, to go along with a 3.02 and 3.05, respectively, last season, put Hamels just a tick or two behind Greinke in terms of quality right now, but very close all the same. You want to know something hard to believe? Hamels and Greinke are the exact same age, born two months apart in late 1983. The difference is Zack Greinke just seems like he's been around forever.
Hamels wouldn't be my first choice, mostly because his arm action kind of worries me. That being said, he's an elite pitcher, would look even better away from the hitter's park he currently pitches in, and is probably going to be on the market in the very near future as Philadelphia tries to figure out what the hell went wrong this season. Then again, the Phillies also have the payroll to keep him, so it's not a guarantee.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs -- So you say you like the stench of losing? Well then, have I got a pitcher for you! Matt Garza has pitched the last two seasons for the Chicago Cubs; he's literally coated in failure dust right now. (Failure dust is the opposite of Pixie Dust, that mystical substance opposing fans always bitch about the Cardinals sprinkling on all their reclamation project players. The Cubs produce it in enormous quantities.)
On the other hand, Garza did put together a 5.0 WAR, 2.95 FIP season last year in Wrigleyville, which is frankly kind of awesome. He also put up a pair of ~3.0 win seasons in 2008 and '09 for Tampa Bay while pitching in the brutal American League East, so that's something.
The problem, though, is that as talented as Garza is, his numbers for his career aren't nearly as strong as the previous two pitchers. In context, those '08 and '09 numbers are solid, pitching in that division, but his career FIP is still 4.02. Still good, considering, but not quite the level of Greinke or Hamels. This season his FIP is 4.38, which isn't anything at all to write home about. In fact, it's a little worse than league average. (His xFIP is 3.70, though, which indicates he's gotten a little unlucky on home runs. So that's a positive.)
At this point, as much as I like Matt Garza and what his talent could be, I have to view trading for him much like I would have A.J. Burnett at the same age. You could end up with the beast from 2011, but you could also end up with, well, Matt Garza. As in, the up and down pitcher he's largely been for his career. Still, he's 28 years old, so he should be smack dab in his prime. He's a good pitcher. Sometimes he's very good. And if the price tag on Zack Greinke ends up too high, he could be a very good acquisition.
Anibal Sanchez, Miami Marlins -- I still can't get used to typing 'Miami Marlins'. It's just unnatural, I tell you.
You probably think Anibal Sanchez doesn't belong on this list. And in a way, you would be right. He doesn't have the same kind of name recognition of the other pitchers on this list, at all. But, at the same time, that might not be the worst thing in the world. After all, name value equals real value when you're talking about baseball deals, and the fact Anibal Sanchez isn't recognizable the way Cole Hamels is could actually be a very good thing for a team trying to acquire him.
Also, Anibal Sanchez just happens to be one of the more underrated pitchers in all of baseball over the past couple seasons. He's not an ace, but he's a very good pitcher who could do wonders for the middle of a starting rotation. From 2010 to this year, Sanchez has put up FIPs of 3.32, 3.35, and 3.52. His strikeout rates are very good. His groundball rate this season is the best of his career. In other words, while he may not be a number one, Anibal Sanchez makes your rotation a whole lot better overall.
The real question with Sanchez, honestly, is whether or not the Marlins would be interested in moving him. Obviously, trading off assets in the middle of the season is a time-honored tradition in Marlin Land, but this season things are a little different. The offseason spending spree Miami went on has failed to bring the kind of success they were hoping for, but there's still an awful lot riding on this season for the Marlins. They just traded for Carlos Lee from the Astros to try and shore up their offense; I'm not sure if they would be willing to deal a solid starting pitcher for fear of giving the impression they're still the same old Marlins, punting the season away.
Of these four, Greinke would absolutely be my number one target. He's a home run, and would immediately change the whole complexion of the Cardinal rotation. The Cards would immediately be free to shift Joe Kelly to the bullpen, where I think he could really help stabilize things, or even consider moving Lance Lynn back to the 'pen should Jaime Garcia prove sound enough to come back. Lynn is a starter long term, but there are concerns about his workload jumping from last season to this one. Limiting his innings somewhat would help to mitigate those concerns.
Failing a Greinke splash, I would probably try to talk Miami out of Sanchez. I like both Hamels and Garza, but I think you might be able to pull a real bargain with Sanchez. He's obviously a very good pitcher, but just under the radar enough the price tag could make him a steal.
Whatever the case, it seems likely the Cardinals will at least try to make a trade to address the rotation. The one thing I'm hoping doesn't happen is to see them give up something really valuable, something they're going to need in the long term, and only end up with a moderate upgrade for the rest of this season. I would be okay with trying to trade for any of the guys on this list, because I think it could be huge for the team over the next couple seasons, but a marginal upgrade to me just probably wouldn't be worth it.
As they say, go big or go home. Or, in this case, go big or just hang on to what you've got. That's my take, anyway.