Inbox: Will Cards move to improve rotation?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers fans' questions

Inbox: Will Cards move to improve rotation?

ST. LOUIS -- With 41 days left before the Cardinals' first official workout of Spring Training, let's take a dive into another batch of your questions about the year ahead.

I am still concerned about starting pitching. Is Adam Wainwright on the tail end of his career? Does Lance Lynn make a full recovery? Will Alex Reyes progress? Will Michael Wacha show enough consistency? Is there any chance the Cards make a move in this area?
-- Jack T., Baton Rouge, La.

Lots of good questions there, Jack, many of which we won't know the answer to for some time. I'll start with the last one first: No, I don't anticipate a move coming to add another starting pitcher this winter. It's no secret that there's a dearth of quality starters on the free-agent market. Furthermore, the Cardinals say they are comfortable with their depth. That does not, however, mean that those internal options don't come with uncertainty.

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Wainwright is coming off the most trying season of his career, and it's fair to question how high his ceiling is as he enters his age-35 season. Lynn will be working to regain durability and command after missing 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Reyes will face the challenge of teams becoming more familiar with him. And Wacha has to prove that his shoulder is capable of carrying a starter's workload. These are all valid concerns.

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I've been frustrated by the Cardinals' decision to not re-sign Brandon Moss. They need a backup first baseman, and he can fill in as an outfielder. And most of all, he is a giant bat off the bench. I say sign Moss and trade Matt Adams for some up-and-coming Minor League talent. What say you?
-- Scott J., Belle, Mo.

There are several layers here, but we'll start with the fact that the Cardinals do currently have a backup first baseman in Adams. I wondered, too, if the Cardinals might explore trading him this winter, and maybe they still will. But you also have to be realistic in what sort of return he'd bring. Adams has yet to prove he's an everyday player who can hit left-handed pitching, and he's coming off a season in which he slashed .249/.309/.471 in 118 games. Other teams aren't going to give up top talent for that.

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Moss is a fascinating study within a complex free-agent market. He's clearly been hurt by the glut of slugging first basemen available and even more so by his disastrous finish. Dreams of a lucrative multi-year deal fizzled when he ended the year in a 10-for-106 skid. If interest in Moss is so scarce that he'd take a modest one-year contract laced with incentives, perhaps that would interest St. Louis. He'd offer power off the bench, but it's also questionable how he'd fit the team's new athletic look.

With Dexter Fowler expected to bat leadoff, where does the rest of the Cardinals' lineup stand? I am assuming that Matheny would try a number of combinations in the two, three and four spots with Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz, and Matt Carpenter.
-- John B., St. Louis

Matheny remains coy about his lineup plans and likely won't finalize much until late in Spring Training. We'll get an idea of what the batting order could look like once Grapefruit League play begins, but until then, we're left with educated conjecture.

With the way Diaz performed out of the two-hole last season, I'd guess the Cardinals are content to leave him there. Slotting Carpenter in as the three-hole hitter would then seem a natural fit and allow for a right-left-right look from Diaz to Carpenter to Piscotty. Given Piscotty's run-production potential, I would expect he'll open the year hitting cleanup.

Piscotty's four-hit game

Behind him could be Randal Grichuk -- that is, of course, assuming that Grichuk can avoid the continual ups-and-downs that impeded his production last year. Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta/Jedd Gyorko, in some order, would follow, leaving Kolten Wong to bat eighth. That's my best guess at the moment, but this will be a storyline to watch throughout spring.

It seems many teams are flirting with using long-range middle relievers. The starters go four-to-five innings, middle relievers cover four-to-five innings, and then the closer comes in. Could this be a wave of the future? Is the large number of starters on the Cardinals' roster a sign that long relief is becoming the norm?
-- David I., Jackson, Mo.

It is interesting to note that starters across baseball threw fewer innings last season (27,412 2/3) than in any since 1997. However, I also think the way relievers were used in the postseason (particularly Cleveland's Andrew Miller) may have some fans expecting a greater shift in innings distribution than what is really coming. Teams have often found success in turning to their bullpen early in October -- the Cardinals' 2011 run comes to mind -- and that's largely because the number of off-days during postseason series offer built-in rest for relievers. To expect that formula to work over the course of a 162-game season is unrealistic.

Rosenthal candidate for rotation

That's not to say, though, that clubs aren't looking at different ways to cover nine innings. One of the reasons the Cardinals will stretch out Trevor Rosenthal this spring is to allow for additional flexibility in how he's used. I could envision either Rosenthal and/or Michael Wacha fitting into some sort of long-relief, middle reliever role that would allow for them to bridge games from the starter to set-up men.

Regardless, that won't keep the Cardinals from still trying to build a rotation with enough efficiency and effectiveness to get starts of six-plus innings with regularity.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.