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How the Cardinals Should Replace Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha With Trainer

Michael Wacha was on his way to a potential All-Star Game appearance this season before suffering a left oblique injury on June 20th. The initial reports sound like Wacha will miss a few weeks at the very least. We’ve seen in the past how pesky those oblique injuries can be. I don’t think we should be counting on him only missing a few starts. It’s a massive blow to a rotation that has been a stabilizing force for the Cardinals all season.

So what do they do now? Replacing Michael Wacha will be no easy task. With Adam Wainwright still dealing with elbow issues and Alex Reyes being shut down for the season after lat surgery, the options seem thin. There have been three main options mentioned in the past couple of days so I’ll run through each one individually.

Dakota Hudson

The Cardinals top remaining pitching prospect in the minor leagues, Hudson has been on a tear in Memphis lately. In his last three starts he’s thrown 20 innings while allowing just one run. In addition to that recent three start stretch he has a minuscule 2.13 ERA for the season. On the surface, he looks like a prime candidate to take those starts.

Hudson has even been mentioned by most reporters as an option. I personally don’t believe he is being considered. The main issue here is that Hudson is not currently on the 40 man roster. He could be added fairly easily by moving Alex Reyes or Ryan Sherriff to the 60-day DL. The kicker though, is that Hudson does not have to be added to the 40-man roster in the offseason in order to be protected from the rule-5 draft. This is a problem nearly every offseason. The Cardinals have a 40-man logjam and are forced to make a trade to clear space or leave a potentially valuable player unprotected at the risk of losing them.

I don’t expect the Cardinals to add him to the 40-man this season unless they are forced to. Whether that be by need or by Hudson’s performance. Despite his sterling ERA in triple-A this season, he’s not exactly forcing the Cardinal’s hand with his performance. In his 80.1 innings pitched he has just a 17.9 k% to go along with a 9.0 BB%. That adds up to simply not enough strikeouts and too many walks. He does have an exceptional groundball rate which could get him by for a little bit in the big leagues, but ultimately I believe he’s going to have to either miss more bats or cut down on the free passes in order to truly succeed at this level. I believe he is capable of doing this in the future, given his pedigree and excellent slider, but the rotation spot needs filled right now.

John Gant

Before I get into this one, I completely understand how boring of a pitcher John Gant is. He doesn’t throw particularly hard or have electric stuff. What he is, though, is solid. When you’ve gotten to the 7th starter on your depth chart I don’t know how you can ask for much more than that.

In his 26.2 major league innings this year he owns a 4.39 ERA. The peripherals for Gant are strong though. He has a 2.60 FIP and a .306 xwOBA against, which is about league average. In Memphis this season, Gant has been stellar. His 1.65 ERA in 49 innings is dominant. He doesn’t seem to have anything left to prove at that level.

The issue here is that Gant was called up on Thursday to provide an extra arm in the bullpen and he threw 2 innings in relief. Starting Monday would put him on short rest, but after only throwing two innings I don’t think it’s a big issue.

Daniel Poncedeleon

You’ve probably heard all about Poncedeleon’s story by now. If not, check out this article by Joe Trezza of detailing just how significant his major league call-up was.

Poncedeleon threw a shortened start last night in Memphis in case he is needed to make the start for the Cardinals on Monday. This season in Memphis he has a 2.45 ERA to go along with an excellent 27.1 K%. Unfortunately he’s had control issues because he’s walked 12.9% of the batters he’s faced. I think there is enough here to think he could have some success in the big leagues though. Especially if it comes in the form of an occasional spot start.

My Expectations

I think the Cardinals will, and should, roll with John Gant in the rotation. He may be needed out of the bullpen over the weekend though, and if that happens I expect Daniel Poncedeleon to make the start on Monday with Gant taking over the following time through the rotation.

As I said before, despite Hudson being the most exciting of the bunch and having the most upside, I don’t think he’ll get a shot unless something forces the Cardinal’s hand. If Gant struggles, there will be a need for him. Or if Gant just treads water in the rotation and Hudson begins to miss bats and dominate, I think that’s a move that will be made.

I personally would like to see them go the route that the Tampa Bay Rays have gone. When the 5th spot in the rotation comes up the Cardinals could start the game with someone like Jordan Hicks or Austin Gomber for two innings to get through the heart of the opposing teams order. Then have John Gant act as a long man with a 4-5 inning appearance before turning it back over to the bullpen. That may be asking for too much though.

Ultimately, they may need to address this from outside the organization via trade if Wacha misses multiple months. The Cardinals love their internal options though. As we’ve seen time and time again, they’ll exhaust all of their own options before looking outside the organization.

Thanks for reading!

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