St. Louis Cardinals beat reporter Matthew Leach chatted with fans at stlcardinals.com today about the injury to ace right-hander Adam Wainwright, how it affects the club and many other subjects as the 2011 Grapefruit League season gets under way in Florida. The complete chat transcript follows.
Matthew_Leach: OK everybody, let's get rolling. With the new Gregg Allman album playing on my iPod, it's time for some questions.
HTown713: What are the Cardinals' options for replacing Wainwright in the rotation this year?
Matthew_Leach: This is obviously the big one, and there are quite a few choices. Both GM John Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa have said that the club will fill the opening internally, but there are some external options as well. Kevin Millwood is a free agent, and Joe Blanton could probably be had from the Phillies. But for now, until and unless they have to do something external, I expect they'll pick from the group of candidates that are in camp now. That starts with Kyle McClellan, who I believe is the favorite. Pitching coach Dave Duncan just told a couple of us that Brandon Dickson is a real candidate, as are Lance Lynn and P.J. Walters. That's probably the short list right now. The longer list includes a lot of names, such as Raul Valdes, Brian Tallet, Miguel Batista and Ian Snell. But if I had to pick right now, McClellan looks like the favorite.
Cardinal_Direction: With Wainwright out for the season, where do you think the Cardinals will realistically finish in the NL Central?
Matthew_Leach: They very likely go from favorites or co-favorites with the Reds to more realistically looking like the second- or third-best team. But I believe this is still a closely-packed division. I wouldn't be entirely shocked if they finished anywhere between first and fourth. Others are more pessimistic than I am, but my read is that each of the three (or four) contending team has weaknesses that could be exposed.
uagain: Do you think that the injury could send the cardinals into a complete rebuild? (Don't re-sign Pujols, let Wainwright go to free agency and trade Carpenter if not in playoff race)
Matthew_Leach: In short, no. Could they lose Pujols after the year? Sure, it's possible. But a total rebuild? Extremely unlikely. And even if they did, Wainwright would presumably be one of the core pieces of it.
STLfan1: Would there ever be a chance of picking up someone like Jeff Suppan?
Matthew_Leach: Suppan is not currently available. He's in camp with the Giants. As I said above, I wouldn't completely rule out an external addition, but I think it's unlikely.
cardinal70: Do you think it would take a Garcia-like spring for anyone to take the slot away from McClellan or is it more fluid than that?
Matthew_Leach: It's not that cut and dried. I do view McClellan as the favorite, but it's not a certainty. For one thing, they could -- again -- decide they weren't comfortable taking him out of the bullpen.
kfeqmike: Dr. Paletta seems well versed in Tommy John surgery. How many has he performed?
Matthew_Leach: I honestly don't know the exact number, but I'm glad you asked this question because some people do seem worked up about the fact that Dr. Paletta will perform the surgery. His record with Tommy John is very good, and includes Chris Carpenter, Kyle McClellan and Jaime Garcia.
cards2012: Do you think with Adam Wainwright out for the year the Cardinals can still win the division and possibly the World Series?
Matthew_Leach: Can they? Sure. But the odds got a good bit longer. The margin of error is an awful lot smaller than it was a week ago.
jay18283: Do you think the Cardinals will re-sign Wainwright after this season?
Matthew_Leach: My best guess is that they will either pick up the option or attempt to re-work it into a new deal. I expect he will be on the Cardinals roster in 2012.
WhoIsJohnGalt: Are there any starting pitcher prospects that could possibly step into the rotation this season?
Matthew_Leach: The prospects to watch for this season are Lance Lynn, Brandon Dickson and P.J. Walters (if you still consider Walters a prospect). I wouldn't completely rule out one of them winning a job in the Major League bullpen, even if none makes the rotation.
cardinal70: Who will make the final call on the fifth starter--La Russa, Duncan, Mozeliak?
Matthew_Leach: It will be collective, I'm sure, and will include other voices behind those three. But put it this way: if those three people all told me different things about this _particular_ issue, I'd probably guess Duncan's assessment ends up being the one closest to what actually happens.
cardinal70: Was Wainwright's contract insured, do you know?
Matthew_Leach: I was told yesterday that at least some of it is insured, yes.
HTown713: How do you think Lance Berkman will handle the outfield?
Matthew_Leach: I'll repeat what I've said in other places: I have less worry about how WELL he'll play the outfield than I do about how OFTEN he can play the outfield. That's my bigger concern.
dhubiee: Who should the Cardinals go after -- if anyone -- to fill in that fifth spot? I like McClellan more in the bullpen rather than a fifth-day starter.
Matthew_Leach: If they were to go external, I actually like Millwood quite a bit. His peripherals looked good last year. But I think a quality starter has more value than nearly any reliever.
jay18283: With Wainwright out for the season, are the Cardinals less likely to trade Carpenter, or will they give in if a team like the Yankees gives them a great package in return?
Matthew_Leach: I would be absolutely shocked if that happened.
kfeqmike: What is the expectation Adam has for the recovery?
Matthew_Leach: I have not spoken with him yet. He is expected to talk to reporters sometime next week.
kfeqmike: What's the team like this week after the confirmation?
Matthew_Leach: I'm assuming you mean in the clubhouse? Honestly, about the same as it was last week. There's work to do. I think fans, in general, would be surprised at how little the clubhouse changes from day to day.
AlbertPujols1fan: Unlike most baseball fans and "experts", do you still consider the Cardinals a threat to the Reds for a postseason spot?
Matthew_Leach: Less of a threat than before, but still a contender. Again, others may well be right and I could be wrong. But I just don't see any super-teams in this division.
Marinersfan94: If a trade is possibly made for an option outside of the club, who is the most likely candidate?
Matthew_Leach: It would probably not take a lot to get Joe Blanton, though his salary is pretty hefty. But, again, I expect they won't do anything imminently. They'll take a long look at what they have here in camp.
yougo1000: Do you think there will be any effects to Wainwright's pitching when he returns?
Matthew_Leach: Typically a pitcher's command is somewhat shaky in his first year back from TJ. If the procedure goes well, the second year he's normal and back to full strength.
AlbertPujols1fan: Will Tyler Greene be used primarily as a center fielder in Spring Training or will he just get playing time there occasionally?
Matthew_Leach: With Nick Punto's injury, Greene looks much more like an infielder right now. He'll see plenty of time at shortstop, second base and third, and sometime in the outfield.
14cards14: Do you think the Cardinals will pick up Wainwright and Carpenter's options?
Matthew_Leach: I think the best guess is that in each case they will at least explore a third alternative, rather than exercising or declining them.
AlbertPujols1fan: Personally, I don't think that Wainwright's injury will have any effect on Albert's contract negotiations after the season. What are your thoughts?
Matthew_Leach: Short answer: I agree.
stlfanatic81: How large of an impact do you see Wainwright's injury having on our chances of re-signing Pujols?
Matthew_Leach: See above: very little, one way or the other.
briank242: If Lynn was seen as the "sixth starter" before the Wainwright injury, why is he not leading the pack to replace him?
Matthew_Leach: I'm not sure the club ever saw him exactly as such. Some within the organization did, I'm sure, but I don't think it was that cut and dried. I think the other issue is that discussions of "sixth starter" usually assume that it's something happening at midseason. The fact that it's the beginning of Spring Training definitely changes the equation in quite a few ways. One, it means that a guy like Lynn doesn't have the extra month or two or three of seasoning that some in the org. would like him to get. Two, it's much easier to move McClellan now that it would be in, say, July.
ubeddie: What is the likelihood of a post-All-Star break callup for Shelby Miller?
Matthew_Leach: As close to zero as it can be without actually saying zero. 2012 is highly optimistic for Miller. 2013 is reasonable. 2011 is all but impossible.
d0cta_ew_2: Realistically, how much can we expect from Kyle Lohse now that he has to sort of ... "step up"? His arm injury has been a consistent excuse for his poor pitching, but he has shown hints of being able to put it together.
Matthew_Leach: I've been really impressed with what I've seen from Lohse so far, although it's admittedly VERY early in camp. I think the health thing is legit, though. He was compromised for more than a year, and even when he came back, his strength wasn't all the way back. I don't think it's wise to expect Lohse to repeat '08, but neither do I think he'll struggle anything near how he has since May of 09.
mabry: What role will Jim Edmonds play this year?
Matthew_Leach: Edmonds has retired.
penguin5: It's been reported Wainwright reported some elbow tightness late last season. Was this on the radar at all coming into Spring or a total surprise?
Matthew_Leach: It had to be in the back of people's minds at least a little bit. But this is another one that I'm glad got asked. There have been some concerns about the handling, but everyone I have talked to has said basically the same thing: they did the only thing that made sense. There was absolutely no reason to do anything pre-emptively. Wainwright has had some sort of elbow issue going back as far as at least 2004. The right thing to do, if the pitcher can pitch effectively, is to keep pitching him.
AlbertPujols1fan: Do you agree with the decision to give Votto the MVP Award even though Albert won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove?
Matthew_Leach: Yes. Very close call, but Votto would have gotten my vote if I had one.
Author: How has Lance Berkman looked in camp so far, and will his knee make him a total liability in right field?
Matthew_Leach: I honestly have not seen him enough to have a read. But, again, I think he can probably be passable. I'm more worried about how he holds up than I am about how he plays defense.
tjgila: I'd set the odds at 50 percent that McClellan is the fifth starter. Is that high or low in your opinion?
Matthew_Leach: I think that's a pretty good number. All right, folks, just one or two more. This has been fun. Thanks for the questions.
d0cta_ew_2: Why is Baseball Tonight talking about Carpenter being on the trade block?
Matthew_Leach: I can't speak for them. But he's not. Carpenter was asked yesterday, that IF things really spiraled out of hand, and IF they decided to trade him, would he veto a deal? And he told FOXSports.com that he would not. But he also told them he wanted to stay. He does. They don't want to move him.
Cardinal_Direction: Realistically, how far in to next season can we expect Wainwright to be ready to pitch for the Cardinals?
Matthew_Leach: On the active roster in the first half of the season, maybe the first third of the season. But it won't be shocking if it's 2013 before he's all the way back to full effectiveness.
jay18283: Was it foolish to allow Wainwright to pitch as many innings as he did the last two years? (I know, I know, hindsight is 20/20)
Matthew_Leach: In my opinion, no it was not. He's an efficient pitcher and as I watched him on a weekly basis, I saw virtually no evidence that he was abused or pushed too hard.
Matthew_Leach: OK, y'all, I have to get back to writing today's stuff for Cardinals.com. Thanks again for participating. Something tells me this won't be the last time we do this. See ya ...