Monday, February 24, 2014

How does Jaime Garcia's injury affect the Cardinals bullpen?

With Jaime Garcia nursing a sore shoulder and already ruled out of the rotation, at least for the beginning of the season, one of either Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez will take over for him.  However, as both of those guys were slated to fill roles in the Cardinals pen, what do the Cards do to fill that hole?

Currently the bullpen consists of closer Trevor Rosenthal, setup men Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness, LOOGY Randy Choate and a bunch of question marks.

With a healthy Garcia, Martinez could have served as the 8th inning guy while Kelly could have acted as a swing-man, filling the long-relief role and making spot starts, as needed.  However, if Martinez earns a rotation spot, who will pitch the 8th or if Kelly earns the spot, who is your long-reliever/spot starter?

Jason Motte has shown good progress to date and could potentially be ready for a bullpen role at the start of the season.  But, do the Cardinals want to throw him right into the fire and make him the 8th guy?  Not likely.

Pat Neshek was signed to a minor league deal and could be a nice addition to the pen.  He has a career 3.07 ERA over 7 years, including a 3.35 ERA in 40.1 innings last year with Oakland.

Then you've got young guys like Sam Freeman and Keith Butler who could earn a spot in the pen, but are largely unproven.

My feeling is that Kelly will earn the 5th starter spot and that Martinez will serve as the 8th inning guy, at least at the start of the season.  Once Motte proves himself healthy and reliable, he can take over the 8th inning role and allow Martinez to head down to AAA to stretch himself out for the rotation.  He can then take over for Kelly down the stretch, if needed.

The benefits to this are two-fold.  One, it preserves Martinez' innings so that the Cardinals do not overtax him in his first full big league season and two it gives the team another extended look at Kelly as a starter to determine if he's really as good as his career 13-9 and 3.03 ERA record (in 31 starts) would indicate.

I still think Martinez is best used as a starter and therefore want him to get more work in AAA this season to refine his secondary pitches, thus I only see his stint in the bullpen as a temporary assignment.  However, if things don't go well, i.e. Motte is ineffective or the other rookies don't step up, Martinez may end up in the pen all year, which could be a detriment to his development.

In any case, its nice to have some pitching depth when it comes to the Cardinals starters, but it makes you wonder if the Cards have enough depth in the pen.

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