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C-Mart leads a Cards rotation in transition

Young arms poised to claim spots as Waino cedes ace status to Martinez
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Overhauling the rotation was not near the top of the Cardinals' winter to-do list, but the unit will have a different look in 2018.

Gone are Mike Leake and Lance Lynn, two veteran starters who accounted for more than one-third of the team's starts last season. Sliding into the rotation in their place will be Miles Mikolas, who is returning to the Majors after a three-year stint in Japan, and one of the Cardinals' young rising starters. Luke Weaver, who shined for the Cardinals late last season, is the favorite to nab that final rotation opening.

ST. LOUIS -- Overhauling the rotation was not near the top of the Cardinals' winter to-do list, but the unit will have a different look in 2018.

Gone are Mike Leake and Lance Lynn, two veteran starters who accounted for more than one-third of the team's starts last season. Sliding into the rotation in their place will be Miles Mikolas, who is returning to the Majors after a three-year stint in Japan, and one of the Cardinals' young rising starters. Luke Weaver, who shined for the Cardinals late last season, is the favorite to nab that final rotation opening.

• Ozuna adds middle-order thump to 2018 lineup

With six weeks remaining before the start of Spring Training, MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams. Here's a snapshot of the Cardinals' current plans:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Carlos Martinez, RHP
Michael Wacha, RHP
Adam Wainwright, RHP
Miles Mikolas, RHP
Luke Weaver, RHP

STRENGTH
Though Martinez didn't ascend to the level some thought he would last season, the 26-year-old is still considered among the game's elite starters. His own defensive issues hurt him, as did first-inning troubles. Eliminate both, and Martinez, who ranked second in the National League with 205 innings pitched, could take that next step toward being a formidable ace.

Video: STL@CIN: Weaver fans seven en route to his 7th win

Depth could also be an asset for the Cardinals. While Weaver has the inside track to make the rotation out of Spring Training, he'll likely feel the push from other rising starters. Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson could crack the Cardinals' rotation at some point midseason.

QUESTION MARK
There are several of them, beginning with Wainwright. Once one of the game's elite starters, Wainwright underwent another procedure to clean up his right elbow in the fall and is coming off two subpar seasons. His 4.81 ERA over the last two years ranks 59th among the 61 Major League starters with at least 300 innings pitched.

Video: Langosch on Wainwright's injury-plagued season

There are also questions about innings coverage. Lynn and Leake accounted for 37 percent of the rotation's innings last season. The Cardinals hope that Mikolas will have a smooth transition back to the Majors and help make up a chunk of those. A lot will also be asked of Weaver, who has made only 18 career Major League starts.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Though president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said recently that St. Lous is "fine" with the starting options already in place, the Cardinals haven't stepped away from the starting-pitching market just yet. A recent report connected them to free-agent Jake Arrieta, whom the Cubs also continue to pursue. The possibility that Arrieta or other still unsigned free agents are forced to reduce their contract expectations is enough to keep the Cardinals engaged.

Spring Training could also change the complexion of the rotation. While Weaver's 2017 success gives him the edge to a rotation spot, Flaherty could challenge that with a strong spring showing. The Cardinals also have to decide where Reyes, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he underwent in February '17, will fit. Current plans have him slated to start the season around the beginning of May and in the bullpen, but circumstances could always initiate a change in plans.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver