Bernie Bits: More Carlos Martinez Drama, Cards Have Pitching Depth, Blues Odds Improving

Bernie Bits for Tuesday,  Feb. 19…

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, Carlos Martinez has been shut down for two weeks to work on strengthening his right shoulder.

Here we go again.

The drama has resumed with No. 18.

Five quick questions:

1. How serious is this? The Cardinals, per standard team custom, are downplaying the severity of Martinez’s setback. The team is “encouraged” that an MRI came back clean. No signs of structural damage. I’ll translate: you should be concerned. When the Cardinals tell you that an injury-related matter is no big deal, then expect a lengthy absence. Last season Michael Wacha left a June 20 start at Philadelphia with a strained left oblique muscle. Cardinals’ management put him on the 10-day injured list but optimistically suggested that Wacha would only miss a couple of starts. Of course, he missed the remainder of the season.

2. What does this say about Martinez? After experiencing the adversity of a strained right shoulder last season — which included a fear of letting his pitches fly at full velocity after returning from the DL — Martinez should have been in maximum condition coming into camp. Did he put in the necessary training work, or just coast through the offseason? Or did he experience a physical setback and decline to inform the front office? At this point you just have to wonder if it will ever be possible for the Cardinals to trust Martinez, rely on Martinez. And if you are wondering why the Cardinals were unable to market Martinez as a trade piece this past offseason, there’s your answer. His off-field escapades, injuries, and a pattern of tardy arrivals to the ballpark triggered plenty of alarms for interested general managers. This is a high-risk player.

3. If Martinez makes it back anytime soon, then what? Short answer: bullpen. Just like last year, when he had a 1.47 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of late-season relief.

4. What will the Cardinals do? I’d like to say “pursue free-agent starter Dallas Keuchel” but I live in the real world and realize that ownership-management put a hold on spending after signing free-agent reliever Andrew Miller a few days before Christmas. Perhaps the Cardinals will be aggressive and surprise us by expanding the payroll in pursuit of a World Series … but don’t count on it. Until we see DeWallet open, we have to assume that DeWallet is closed.

5. OK, seriously: if Martinez is out for more than a few weeks, how will the Cardinals cover his rotation spot? The answer: take your pick. The Cardinals have cultivated strong depth for their rotation.

We saw that insurance pay off last season when the Cardinals entered the 2018 campaign with a designated five-man rotation of Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Luke Weaver and Miles Mikolas.

Mikolas made a full season’s worth of starting assignments (32) but the others fell short. Weaver made 25 starts, pitched poorly, and was yanked from the rotation. Martinez, Wacha and Wainwright combined for only 41 starts. Add it up and Weaver, Martinez, Wacha and Wainwright combined to make only 66 of a potential 128 starts.

And the Cardinals survived — and thrived — by promoting Jack Flaherty, John Gant, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon from Triple A Memphis. That foursome combined to make 62 starts — 28 by Flaherty. The Cardinals also used Tyson Ross for one start. Alex Reyes made a single start (May 30 at Milwaukee) and suffered a calamitous season-ending lat injury.

Despite all of the attrition and chaos, the Cardinals plugged in enough talent from within the organization to assemble a very good rotation. The Cardinals’ 3.52 starting-pitching ERA ranked third in the National League and fifth overall.

The list of available starting options to replace Martinez includes — in alphabetical order — the following candidates:

Gant.

Gomber.

Dakota Hudson.

Ponce de Leon.

Alex Reyes (if healthy.)

Other possibilities (in the event of a crisis) would include Ryan Helsley, Jake Woodford and Evan Kruczynski.

Now, having said all of this …

If Wainwright can’t pitch effectively or stay physically viable, the Cardinals would be down another starter, with thinning depth. A third injury to a starting pitcher would be troublesome. An an organization can only fill so many vacancies with good pitchers; at some point even the best equipped teams reach a breaking point. So while the Cardinals are in good shape with their starting-pitching expanse, the layers can erode quickly.

And I’m not ruling Martinez out … but to repeat a line I’ve used before … I can’t rule him in, either. The Martinez Tilt-a-Whirl makes it impossible to have calm and order. And it’s a damned shame, because I have to believe Martinez could have avoided his latest impediment.

“Regardless of the amount of work he did, he wasn’t quite to where we would have liked to be, nor he would have liked it to be,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Tuesday, speaking to reporters in Jupiter. “So his strength and his ability to move forward – looking at the longer view of our season – we’re going to back him off for two weeks. He’ll be no-throw, and he’ll be in strength mode. We have to make sure some of the little muscles continued to be strengthen to allow the workload and the capacity so that we don’t have an interruption like we did last year. So we’re getting ahead of it.”

That would be a reasonable, sensible expectation.

But this is not a reasonable, sensiible situation.

It’s the exact opposite of that.

Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk here. I’m not jumping into an instant overreaction mode. But because of the histories involved here, it’s difficult for me to have much (if any) confidence in the Martinez’s stability or the Cardinals’ medical forecasts.

READING TIME FIVE MINUTES: 

From ESPN Stats & Info, via hockey writer Emily Kaplan, here’s a fun look at how the Blues’ fortunes have changed based on their odds of winning the Stanley Cup:

Jan. 7: 300 to 1
Jan. 14: 300-1
Jan. 21: 100-1
Jan. 28: 100-1
Feb. 4: 100-1
Feb. 11: 40-1
Feb: 18: 10-1*

(* That 6-1 is the sixth-best odds among NHL teams.)

Monitoring the NL Central: The Brewers did well to bring back third baseman Mike Moustakas on a one-year deal worth $10 million. He slugged .441 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 54 games with the Crew after being acquired from Kansas City in late July. And Moustakas (small sample) powered up at Miller Park, with six homers and a .473 slug in 98 at-bats. After landing Moustakas the Brewers moved third baseman Travis Shaw to second base; in 268 innings at the new spot Shaw was a slightly below average defender who lacked range moving to his left. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offers a bit of interesting info, tweeting that the Brewers plan to utilize upcoming exhibition games to see if “Moose” can play second base. If so, they’d keep Shaw at third. And that makes sense; last season Shaw ranked No. 3 among MLB third basemen with 9 Defensive Runs Saved. Over his past three seasons Shaw has 22 DRS at third. Moustakas had 2 DRS last at third base last season but was terrible defensively (minus 8 DRS) for the Royals in 2017. But we do have a question: if the Brewers wanted to find a second baseman, plenty were available on the free-agent market. The most likely answer: the Brewers coveted Moose’s power; over the past two seasons he’s averaged 33 homers, 28 doubles, 90 RBIs and slugged .489. Offensively, Moustakas makes the Brewers more formidable. Defensively, we’ll have to wait to see what manager Craig Counsell decides to do positionally with Moustakas and Shaw. But a weakened infield defense is possible.

This Day in Sports History: Drowning their sorrows after getting eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic, members of the underachieving U.S. men’s hockey team trashed their rooms at the Olympics village in Nagano, Japan. The festivities occurred around 4 a.m. Nagano time. According to news reports chairs were broken, two apartments were damaged by activated fire extinguishers, and one fire extinguisher was thrown from the fifth floor into the common area. Team USA General Manager Lou Lamoriello said the players “should be ashamed of themselves,” and added: “I’m upset. I’m appalled to hear something like that,” he said. “I don’t condone it. I can’t accept it.”

Happy Birthday: Former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers is 78. Powers led the Tigers to a 46-33-3 record and five bowl-game appearances during his seven seasons (1978-1984.) Powers, living with dementia, has done an admirable job of raising awareness of the disease in an effort to help others … St. Louisan Jahidi White is 43. The power forward-center starred locally at Cardinal Ritter, had an impressive collegiate career at Georgetown, and was chosen 43rd overall by Washington in the 1998 NBA Draft. White played five-plus seasons for Washington before completing his NBA career with stops in Phoenix and Chicago. His final NBA season was 2004-2005. … NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is 60. I forgot to send him a card, damn it.

Good ESPN insider piece (subscription only) by Jeff Sullivan, who touted the the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty as a candidate to earn his ‘Ace Card’  in 2019. “I’m not sure how it is that Flaherty got so lost in award consideration,” Sullivan wrote. “As Ronald Acuna Jr. ran away with the National League Rookie of the Year, Flaherty finished fifth, with just two points. That despite a 30 percent strikeout rate and a 3.34 ERA. Flaherty might not be the world’s most consistent strike thrower, but over six individual months last season, his worst strikeout rate was 26 percent. Flaherty can punch out both lefties and righties, and all that’s really missing is an improvement with runners on base. Add some consistency there, and the Cardinals will have a boost as they push for the NL Central title.”

Born on this day in 1956: Kicker-punter Steve Little, drafted 15th overall by the St. Louis football Cardinals in 1978. Little’s unfortunate NFL career turned tragic after his release by the Cardinals during the 1980 season. Hours after a losing a kicking competition to Neil O’Donoghue at Cardinals’ practice and getting cut by the team, Little broke his neck in a high-speed single car accident. Little died in 1999 at age 43 after living as a quadriplegic in a hospice near his brother and family in Little Rock, Ark.

Trending Up: Kentucky basketball. The Wildcats have to be the biggest threat to Duke, right? Mizzou will have to deal with serious matchup problems tonight when Kentucky invades Mizzou Arena with its mad-rebounding, mad-turnover forcing menace of a team that just whacked No. 1 Tennessee by 17 points.

Trending Down: Collusion accusations against MLB owners. Manny Machado got 10 years at a guaranteed $300 million — from the San Diego Padres and with a chance to opt out after five seasons. So, it took extra time to work out. Not exactly a case for Amnesty International.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie