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Cardinals rotation: 2012 question marks

What was yesterday a strength for the St. Louis Cardinals, their rotation, has now become a source of concern.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, second-guessers are already noting that it would have been best for the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright if the pitcher had proceeded with ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, otherwise known as Tommy John surgery, last fall.

The standard procedure in such cases is to try the rehab route first. That is what was chosen for what was diagnosed as a partial tear. Wainwright was optimistic coming into camp, but the reality is that his elbow didn’t last through two weeks of practice.

If Tommy John surgery is required, Wainwright would have missed the entire 2011 season either way, but October 2010 surgery would have given him an important five-month head start on his 12-month minimum rehab.

As it is, one would have to assume that Wainwright may not be fully ready to step back into a full workload in the rotation to begin the 2012 season.

From this come some interesting contract considerations. This winter, the Cardinals will have to decide what to do with Chris Carpenter’s $15 million option for the 2012 season, with the alternative of paying a $1 million buyout.

Would the club head into the Albert Pujols’ negotiations this fall and the 2012 campaign with neither of their co-aces on the mound? Do they believe they can they afford all three stars? Will that be viewed as enough?

Before the acquisition and re-signing of Matt Holliday, Pujols’ mantra was all about having a competitive team around him, and that it was not about the money. Might the Wainwright injury and future plans for Carpenter affect the Pujols negotiations? FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is among those already fearing the worst.

Wainwright will make $6.5 million this season. Assuming TJS is in the offing, he will be on the disabled list the entire year. There is also a $21 million, two-year option in place for 2012 and 2013, with conditions. The options were triggered by Wainwright’s top five Cy Young Award finish last season, but hinge on him finishing 2011 off the disabled list. The possibility of the latter now seems out the window.

The timing of his surgery is probably irrelevant in the financial context, however. Given the high success rate from TJS, it seems likely the Cardinals will pick up the below-market value options on Wainwright’s 2012 and 2013 seasons.

The remainder of the rotation stacks up as follows.

Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse are under contract for 2012 and there is a mutual 2013 option for Westbrook as well. Jaime Garcia will remain under team control through 2014 before becoming eligible for free agency.

Of the big five, only Lohse will not be a TJS survivor assuming Wainwright proceeds as expected. Carpenter had the surgery in 2007 with Westbrook and Garcia having undergone the procedure the next year.

What should the Cardinals do for 2012?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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