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On Cardinals Mulder, Garcia and Lynn

It is too bad that Twitter did not exist in 2007. If it had, we could just recycle all the upset fan comments about the contract of an injured St. Louis Cardinals left-handed pitcher from that era, Mark Mulder, and just change the subject’s name to today’s subject of angst, Jaime Garcia.

Coming off the 2006 World Championship, the Cardinals’ signing of the oft-injured Mulder to a two-year contract was a surprise to many. Mulder had first joined the Cards in a controversial trade with the Oakland A’s in December 2004 that cost St. Louis three players, including Dan Haren.

Though a 20-game winner and two-time all-star with Oakland, Mulder managed just one full season with St. Louis, logging 18 wins in 2005. He missed about half the 2006 campaign as shoulder problems mounted and when he did pitch, the results were bad. Mulder went 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA. After rotator cuff surgery, he did not appear in the post-season and became a free agent immediately after.

Doubling down on his original decision to acquire Mulder, then-general manager Walt Jocketty brought the rehabbing hurler back for 2007 and 2008 at a cost of $13 million. The deal, announced in January 2007, completely backfired. A second, clean-up shoulder surgery was required in 2007, but Mulder was almost immediately injured again in 2008.

The Cardinals received just 12 2/3 innings of 12.08 ERA pitching in return for their increased investment over those two seasons. Mulder’s 2007-2008 bWAR was a negative 0.8. He then retired, admitting his shoulder could no longer enable him to pitch.

Whether the Jaime Garcia story ends that way remains to be seen.

Instead of being a top pitching prospect dealt away like Haren, Garcia remained in the organization. The left-hander missed 2009 due to Tommy John surgery but was ready to assume a full-time rotation spot early in 2010.

Garcia, who turns 28 this week, had made a total of 60 starts over his first two full seasons among St. Louis’ starting five, winning 26 games and logging a 3.17 ERA. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 2010 and was said by some to have the nastiest stuff on the staff.

With Garcia’s first arbitration year looming that fall and the lefty leading the staff in wins at the 2011 break, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak offered him a four-year contract extension with club options for two more seasons. The pitcher was guaranteed $27 million.

In return, the Cardinals have received considerably more from Garcia than from Mulder, but also committed over twice as much money. In the 2 ½ seasons to date on his extension, Garcia has shouldered just over one season of aggregate workload, making 36 starts and throwing 220 2/3 innings. He went 15-10 with a 3.87 ERA and a total of 1.2 bWAR.

It could be that Garcia will be able to return from his proposed thoracic outlet syndrome-relieving surgery before his contract ends following the 2015 season. Even if not, it seems likely that the club will pay the final $1 million of the $27 million commitment to relieve the obligation to keep Garcia around for 2016 and 2017.

In hindsight, clearly the Cardinals would have been better served to go the annual arbitration route with Garcia. While his shoulder problems perhaps could not have been anticipated, the risks of offering a long-term deal to any pitcher is increased.

In this case, the extension would not have been required to keep Garcia under contract from 2012-2014. With the injury problems, the club would have needed to spend less than $27 million in the three arbitration years.

Perhaps the Cardinals have learned a lesson. Their next test case is Lance Lynn, almost exactly at the same point in his career today as was Garcia when the extension was signed and with comparable mound success to date.

With a good pitching pipeline and the Garcia negative experience still very fresh, committing more money now to keep Lynn longer four or five years down the line seems only slightly less risky than when it was unsuccessfully attempted with Garcia.

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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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22 Responses to “On Cardinals Mulder, Garcia and Lynn”

  1. blingboy says:

    Given that Lance has been a horse and has been among the league leaders in wins since he joined the rotation seems to make him an ideal candidate to be one of those core guys to be locked up. Mo has professed this to be the direction he and BDW are going with the team.

    Perhaps Jaime will cause a re-think of the master plan. Perhaps Craig will. I would expect us to hear something about it if that is the case.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Once he came back from TJS, Garcia had been a workhorse, too. He was leading the team in wins when he received his extension.

      My point is that pitchers have to be considered differently from position players, IMO. That is why I did not bring up Craig, Carpenter, Molina, etc… There is a reason guys like Pujols get 10 years (seven in his pre-arb deal) and the best pitchers get far fewer. More inherent risk.

      When the team direction was professed, was a distinction made between pitchers and position players?

      P.S. When I started writing the above post, I was focused on the Mulder-Garcia parallel. I only was reminded of Lynn as I was finishing it.

      • blingboy says:

        I guess I don’t disagree with you. So what do they do? Go year to year with these guys through the arb years? At some point looking for an opportunity to get value before FA? Given attrition due to injury/performance, that would require the development side to keep pumping them out. But then, I suppose that is what Mo is hoping to do.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Re-signing Mulder did not make a lot of sense, but Walt wanted to retain the asset for which he overpaid with Haren.

    A team can get a lot of baseball out of players in 6 years. I did not love the Craig and Carpenter extensions, on this basis. Pay as you go, year to year.

    The Garcia deal made some sense, in case Jaime pitched with excellence beyond 6 years. Pitching is risky to health, so we gave him financial security in hopes he could contribute for more years. His injury woes were probably not reliably predictable. His contract was not an evident mistake, just a roll of the dice that did not turn out well. Mo has no grounds to complain about how it is turning out.

    We once had a terrific reliever in Kyle McClellan. Duncan moved him to starter during 2011, IIRC. McClellan had pitches, but his shoulder could not take the innings. He has not been able to bounce back. Fans focus on current performance and do not want a pitcher after he fades. At least Jaime got financial security far beyond many other players. Good for him.

  3. Bw52 says:

    Can`t wait to be shed of the albatross Jaime Garcia.I will be shocked if he ever contributes anything major to the Cards again.Hindsight says major bad move by front office.In all fairness if you hand out several long term deals you will end up with a stinker or two.

  4. CariocaCardinal says:

    Sorry, i dont see the relationship between Mulder, Garcia, and Lynn other than they involve extensions.

    Mulder had shoulder injury and hadn’t pitched well in recent performance.

    Garcia had a previous elbow injury and was pitching well.

    (Note: I consider shoulders and elbows nothing alike in terms of contract risk)

    Lynn hasn’t had any serious injury to date.

    Cast a net wide enough and anyone can fall under it.

  5. blingboy says:

    The high socks have brought out the best in Adams. Probably gave Wong a jolt as well. Maybe some of the cuff draggers will get the idea. ‘

    Its a shame the pen didn’t keep it close.

  6. Lou Schuler says:

    Russell Carleton analyzed pitcher injuries for BP a couple years ago:

    (Not sure if it’ll be visible to non-subscribers.)

    The best predictor of injury is previous injury. That’s probably true in every sport, but it seems especially important for pitchers. And it’s not just shoulder or elbow injuries. Any time on the DL in the past 2 years shows a higher risk.

    Interestingly, pitchers throwing more innings isn’t correlated with injuries. But throwing more pitches is. One sign of impending trouble: a pitcher who gets a lot of foul balls on 2-strike pitches. If that’s true, then the Cards should probably be worried about Trevor Rosenthal. (And Matheny was nuts for sending him out there on Saturday after he threw all those pitches Friday.)

    • Brian Walton says:

      Thanks, Lou. I will check it out. And I agree with you about Rosenthal’s use. Puzzling to say the least.

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      I’m light years more worried about Rosenthal wearing down this year than I am about the Cards offense.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        The Cards got lucky with Rosenthal, former SS, throwing few innings at Cowley JC as a freshman. A first or second round talent, found at a bargain round.

        In recent years, the team has tried tandem starters and this year has 6 man rotations at the A level. And elite picks now are given few innings after signing. There is emphasis on protecting arms. It turns out, however, Matheny has not read the memo about protecting pitchers. It must sicken and baffle scouts and minor league coaches for the Cards, to see Mike clueless about protecting a valuable arm like Rosenthal’s.

        Last year, he burnt up Mujica, giving him two inning assignments. The year before, nobody but Motte collected a save. Its a now too well established pattern of over-reliance on one reliever.

        • Lou Schuler says:

          I think that’s a really good point.

          And it wasn’t just Motte in 2012. It was also Boggs pitching almost every 8th inning in close games. Motte ended up injured, but Boggs was equally wrung out.

          I get that MLB pitchers like to have their designated roles. But you have to think Matheny also likes having predictable buttons to push. We’ve seen that this year when he brings in Rosenthal when it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

          • blingboy says:

            I might also fault Mike for stubbornly refusing to back off Boggs when he struggled in the closer role. Few managers have ever destroyed a guy that thoroughly.

  7. Bw52 says:

    Looks like AW will have to throw a shutout just to keep even.Cards offense looks like a bunch of little leaguers.Pathetic.Sure glad Taveras getting a chance to see if he can help the offense (sarcasm)

  8. Bw52 says:

    And who really expected anything but a GIDP from Holliday?

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      Even with the win, who really expected anything other than negativity from Bw52?

      • Bw52 says:

        A win is always nice.But a win with only 3 hits facing a average pitcher still tells me that there are still problems.You mentioned Rosenthal as a concern……………..How you going to spin it when more pitchers break down because of thinking they have to throw a shutout to even have a chance? What then?

  9. JumboShrimp says:

    I ike the Peavey rumor.
    Peavy earns $14.5MM this season. The Red Sox are in last place, Peavy is 1-7, a complete turnoff for fans. the Sox have a payroll of $156MM, a big load for a last place team, so they will welcome salary relief, if the Cards drag away Peavy.

    From our point of view, we can use a big brother, given all our young pitchers. Peavy can give us 6 innings. Even though he is not great, we need innings. Peavy will not cost serious talent, because the Sox benefit from salary relief.

  10. Bw52 says:

    John Gast no-hitter 2 outs in 6th.Rain delay .Leading 2-0

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