Believe it or not, the Cardinals’ pitchers and catchers will report to the team’s training complex in Jupiter, Florida in about a month to begin their preparations for a 2016 season that’s sure to be climatic. The group of backstops and starting pitchers the Cardinals were rolling with at this point last year has been manipulated quite a bit by free agency, trade, and the inevitable occurrence of injury.
It’s been said by some that a pitcher’s success depends heavily on his catcher. That statement is certainly valid when speaking of the Cardinals and their catcher, Yadier Molina. Nonetheless, Molina, 33, has had more than his fair share of injuries over the last few seasons, including knee problems in 2013 and some thumb ligament trouble in the seasons to follow.
Molina has undergone two thumb procedures this offseason alone to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, the third such surgery he has underwent in the last two years, one being for the torn right thumb ligament he suffered back in July of 2014 and the recent two on the left. He is planning to get his cast removed in the middle of February, which jeopardizes much of his Spring Training. Tony Cruz, a backup to the seven-time All-Star since 2011, did not provide the Cardinals with what they were looking for offensive wise when he replaced Molina. And with Molina still on the mend, an all-around solid backup catcher was needed. So, the Cardinals signed former Cincinnati Red, Kansas City Royal, and Atlanta Brave Brayan Pena to a two-year, $5 million deal and traded Tony Cruz to the Royals. Pena, a 5’9″, 240, switch-hitting backstop, batted .263 with forty-four RBI in his two most recent seasons. Pena, 33, gives the Cardinals a reliable catcher with a sturdier bat.
This offseason, the Cardinals have subtracted two of the starting pitchers that they relied on oh-so-much in 2015. In November, Lance Lynn underwent surgery to repair his right ulnar collateral ligament and will miss the entire 2016 season. Free agent righty John Lackey, the Cardinal hurler that tossed 218 innings last season, signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. After subtracting Lackey’s 200-plus innings and Lance Lynn’s 175, a sizable amount of the starting staff’s presumed innings were left vacated. Adam Wainwright’s return to the rotation will munch up some innings, a total likely to fall in or very near the 200 mark. Even with Wainwright, the Cardinals still found themselves a durable starting pitcher short of what they needed.
To revamp their thinned rotation, the Cardinals signed Mike Leake to a five-year, $80 million deal, one that features a full no-trade clause. Leake, 28, is coming off of his sixth season, all but half of one coming with the Cincinnati Reds. The half-season came with the San Francisco Giants, where the righthander was traded in late July. In his 30 total starts in 2015, which summed 192 innings, Leake held opposing batters to a .243 batting average and managed a 1.16 WHIP. Worth noting is that Leake has racked up at least 192 innings every season since 2013.
Along with Leake, the Cardinals’ starting rotation will feature Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez. This season, Wainwright will be taking the mound as a starting pitcher for the first time since undergoing surgery about nine months ago to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Garcia will be looking to translate his stellar 2015 performance — a 2.43 earned run average and 1.05 WHIP in twenty starts — into comparable 2016 numbers that are based on more starts. Wacha will look to carry his recent success over and keep his throwing shoulder, which tarnished his 2014 season via a stress fracture, healthy. Martinez, whose season was cut a bit short by a right shoulder sprain, recently started a throwing program. In his first season of starting regularly, Carlos posted a 3.01 ERA in 179 2/3 innings and allowed just 48 extra-base hits.
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