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WHEELER: Where Do Cards Go Now That Waino May Be Lost

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On Wednesday morning the Cardinals announced that Adam Wainwright was heading back to St. Louis to have his right elbow checked out by team doctors. Wainwright experienced discomfort in the elbow after his live BP session on Monday and had an MRI performed here in Florida yesterday.

The result of that MRI led the team to send him back to St. Louis for further evaluation and while the results of that evaluation are not yet known, the vibe here in Jupiter is that Wainwright will need Tommy John surgery and thus miss the entire 2011 season.

That is not a known fact that this point, it is important to point that out, but with John Mozeliak and Tony LaRussa both acknowledging that things don’t look good it is difficult to come to any other conclusion at this stage.

To hear what Mozeliak and LaRussa had to say this morning you can go here.

The simple fact that Mozeliak was even willing to discuss Tommy John is all I need to know. Teams don’t often talk about worst-case scenarios this early on in the process, that is unless they already have information that leads them in that direction.

For the moment let’s continue to hope for the best while planning for the worst…

Where do the Cardinals go from here? Who are the candidates to take Wainwright’s spot in the rotation? Tony LaRussa wasn’t willing to speculate about the candidates at this point but there are some obvious possibilities and maybe a darkhorse or two. LaRussa also stated very clearly that the replacement will come from within the organization.

Let’s discuss:

Kyle McClellan – McClellan nearly won a rotation spot last Spring and he has the repertoire of a starting pitcher, plus a lot of Major League experience to build on. Moving him into the rotation would weaken the bullpen a bit but the Cardinals do have several candidates to step into the bullpen of McClellan (Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and maybe even Adam Reifer) becomes as starter.

I’d call McClellan the favorite to take the vacant rotation spot if LaRussa and Dave Duncan feel the bullpen can get by without him.

Miguel Batista – Like McClellan, Batista is working on a starter’s program here in Jupiter. Unlike McClellan, Batista has 238 Major League starts under his belt. The problem is that he’s only made one start in the last two years and at 40 years-old I think it’s fair to wonder if he can last a whole season as a starter.

The last time he worked mostly as a starter, things didn’t go well (2008 in Seattle he went 4-14 with a 6.26 ERA). If he pitches well he is definitely a candidate, especially if the team wants to keep McClellan in a setup role, but I’d favor McClellan.

Ian Snell – Snell is in camp on a minor league deal and the team can keep him in Memphis until June 1st if they want. It’s too early to tell whether or not he’s gotten his command back in order but he’s just 29 years-old and has had success as a starter in the National League. In fact, in 2009 he was 5-2 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts for the Mariners after they acquired him from Pittsburgh. Last year was a disaster in Seattle as control problems continued to plague him.

The good news is that his velocity was still good, meaning that his problems weren’t related to a physical decline of some sort but rather involved his delivery and/or approach. If Duncan can work a little magic I wouldn’t be shocked to see Snell emerge as a candidate, though I think it would be unfair to expect much.

I may be the only one who thinks this but I see him as an interesting project here in Spring Training. We won’t know enough to judge him until we see him in Grapefruit League action but he wouldn’t be the first guy to “get right” under Duncan.

Lance Lynn – He started off slowly at Memphis last year but finished strong and was dominant in the post-season for the Redbirds. He’s still fairly young but he’s been viewed as a potential innings-eater since he was drafted and that could be to his advantage.

He’ll have to perform well in Grapefruit League action, as will the others, but he has to be viewed as a legit contender. When he’s right he has pretty good stuff and he’s still enough of an unknown that there may be previously unrevealed upside. You know more of what you’re getting with McClellan, Batista and Snell because of their big league track records and that’s why I list Lynn fourth but he’s as good a candidate as anyone else at this point.

If the staff prefers experience for that rotation spot to open the season then Lynn will be on the outside looking in but if they’re open to adding a young arm to the mix, with Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse providing veteran stability and Jaime Garcia showing maturity beyond his years, then we could see Lynn win a spot with a strong showing.

(note: I initially left Adam Ottavino out of this analysis. That was a mistake, he should be considered.)

Adam Ottavino – Ottavino has always had good stuff and he has had a little big league time so you have to throw him into the discussion.

He will have to show better command than he did last season if he’s going to factor in here. There is plenty to like about Ottavino but consistency is a concern. The Cards need someone who can at least log some innings in this spot.

It won’t shock me if he emerges but I’m not sure I’d call him a favorite at this point.

P.J. Walters – P.J. has made some appearances with the Cardinals and is well-liked in the clubhouse. He’s put in his time and could earn a shot with a strong Spring.

The problem with Walters is stuff. He has a small margin for error and if he’s not hitting his spots it is difficult for him to get Major Leaguers out. That said, he’s not someone we should totaly discount. If he can really command the fastball and be consistent with his offspeed stuff he could be in the mix.

It’s easy to root for the guy but I think he’s more of a longshot than the first four guys based on stuff alone.

Shelby Miller – Forget about it.

Look, I know that nothing is impossible. There have been cases of young phenom pitchers making the jump to the big leagues much earlier than expected (Rick Porcello comes to mind recently) but I just don’t see it happening with Shelby.

He has the most raw abililty of any Cardinals pitcher not named Wainwright, Carpenter or Garcia but the key word there is “raw.” The team isn’t likely to rush a kid straight from limited innings in Low-A to the big leagues.

He still has stuff to work on.

More to come in the weeks ahead…

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