Pitching suddenly in need for Cardinals
Loss of Lynn creates big hole in uncertain St. Louis rotation
The St. Louis Cardinals had the best record in baseball in 2015, largely as a result of having the best pitching in baseball.
But now, even the Cardinals will face some pitching challenges. They are one of the few organizations in the game that has demonstrated an ability to stare down adversity on a regular basis. But circumstances will make repeating a 100-victory season, and a 2.94 team ERA, even more difficult than usual.
The Cardinals announced Tuesday that starting pitcher Lance Lynn had undergone Tommy John surgery because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He will miss all of the 2016 season.
Whatever else is said about Lynn, he has been a reliable source of competitive starts for the Cards. He has 60 wins in 126 starts for St. Louis over the past four seasons.
Lynn had apparently been feeling elbow discomfort since midseason, but he tried to pitch through it.
Replacing a regular contributor in the rotation is never automatic, but Lynn was the Cardinals' second pitching setback in two days. On Monday, it was announced that the Cards' top prospect, Alex Reyes, had been suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for a second positive test for "a drug of abuse," in this case, marijuana.
Reyes, a power right-hander, has a fastball that can hit three digits on a regular basis. He pitched successfully in high Class A and Double-A this season. Reyes will miss more than a month of the 2016 Minor League season.
"This is definitely a setback," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "It's definitely going to slow him down.
"At every level, you understand the repercussions, and clearly he made a bad decision. I think I've stated before that I did think he would likely contribute at the Major League level this next year. That's still a possibility."
The Cards' postseason chances were damaged when Carlos Martinez, just beginning to consistently realize his immense potential, was shut down in September with a shoulder strain. There was no indication of a long-term injury, but this episode did a raise a question about Martinez's durability.
On the plus side, the Cardinals will have Adam Wainwright returning, after missing most of the season with an Achilles injury. Beyond that, their rotation would have substantial performers in Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia and a presumably healthy Martinez. But none of these pitchers has been free of health issues.
The Cards have also extended a qualifying offer to John Lackey, who had a big season for St. Louis and has until Friday to decide whether to accept the one-year, $15.8 million deal. Lackey had one of the finest seasons in his career, but he's 37. The extent of his open-market value is open to question.
The Cardinals were expected to go into this offseason in search for help on offense. The central question was whether the Cards could re-sign right fielder Jason Heyward, a multi-dimensional player who just won a Gold Glove Award for the third time in the past four seasons.
But with the loss of Lynn added to other legitimate questions regarding the rotation, the Cardinals may have to diversify their shopping list to include pitching help.
As Mozeliak said Tuesday, Lynn's surgery had one positive attached to it. The timing, Mozeliak said, gave the organization time to respond to the situation.
The Cardinals had injury after injury this past season, but they responded by winning 100 games. This latest injury presents an entirely new set of challenges, but the Cards have a history of rising to meet those.