The fifth starter “competition”

Entering this spring, the Cardinals made it out like there was a competition to be had in their starting rotation with Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, and Carlos Martinez. Those six pitchers were battling it out for four spots. That was the narrative at Winter Warm-Up anyway. One that I dismissed at the time.

Adam Wainwright is locked in. Shelby Miller? How do you tell a top-3 Rookie of the Year finisher that he’s being demoted to the bullpen. Michael Wacha? The guy took two no-hitters into the ninth inning last year and outdueled the $30 million man twice in the same playoff series. Lance Lynn? He’s only the winningest starting pitcher in the NL since the beginning of the 2012 season. Jaime Garcia? Well, you’re paying him like a starter. He better be a starter.

The rotation was set. Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez were looking at the St. Louis bullpen or the Memphis rotation if everyone stayed healthy.

Except Garcia went down early in Spring Training with the same arm troubles that have plagued him. So now the competition was really on, or so the team claimed.

Carlos Martinez looked every bit the prized prospect this spring as he posted a 1.76 ERA and a 0.72 WHIP over his 15.1 innings. It’s easy to think that he did everything he needed to do to win the rotation spot over Joe Kelly. Kelly wasn’t nearly as impressive this spring with his 6.28 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 14.1 innings.

But the news came yesterday that Kelly was named the fifth starter while Martinez would be assigned to the bullpen as the set guy, “for now.”

I get the point that the team wants players to come to spring training and earn their place on the roster every year. That’s what the fans want to hear from the players as we learned last year when Lance Lynn said that he felt he had to do a lot of things wrong to lose his spot. Once he said that, it didn’t matter that he lost 40 pounds over the offseason as he radically changed his lifestyle to be a better player, he was branded lazy and unmotivated by fans.

However, it really isn’t true. You can use common sense to determine who will be on the team and who doesn’t.

The team was honest with Mark Ellis about his position with the team as they were planning to start Kolten Wong at second base and that Ellis’ role with the team would be defined based on Wong’s successes and failures. However, it doesn’t seem like Carlos Martinez was afforded that same honesty.

One of the suggestions that fans have made is related to the innings limits both Kelly and Martinez are bound to be under this season. Kelly would start the season, Martinez spends a month in the bullpen before heading to Memphis to start, and then, based on performance, will get an opportunity to take Kelly’s rotation spot. If the organization planned to do that, it would have made more sense to lay out the game plan with each player before the spring started.

I don’t understand the problem with letting players come to camp knowing that they have spot on the team. Because that isn’t the problem. The problem is when players act like they have their spot on the team wrapped up. You’d think it’d be a great way to see if the players were capable of motivating themselves to be better without the need of competition.

But instead of getting the players on board with their plan (if there even was a plan), they decided to call it a competition. Except Martinez won it and Kelly lost, and lost bad. It’s hard to imagine what more Martinez could have done to win the rotation spot, so you have to believe that he never had a chance of winning it to begin with. And at that case, why call it a competition?

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