ST. LOUIS– The Cardinals got just what the doctor ordered from John Gant on the mound Tuesday night in Los Angeles after doctors told them what they didn’t want to hear earlier in the day, that pitcher Jack Flaherty would be headed for the injured list with an oblique injury.
“It’s not a minimal situation,” Manager Mike Shildt told reporters in making the announcement that Flaherty would be out for an undetermined amount of time.
With Flaherty down, and Miles Mikolas at least two months away from coming back from rehab on his right flexor tendon, a team that has already taxed its bullpen heavily before Flag Day should find itself in the market for at least one addition to the starting rotation before the July trade deadline, if not much sooner.
We can identify a handful of starters who would potentially be available, but there are some important caveats to note. Entering play Wednesday, only three teams are more than 13 games out of first place, and only one of the pitchers we’ll outline below plays for one of them. What does that mean? It means only a handful of teams are obvious sellers and that the Cardinals probably don’t find themselves in a buyer’s market at the moment. Whatever Johan Oviedo and potentially Daniel Ponce de Leon and Jake Woodford can do to help bridge the gap in the near term, even for just a few turns through the rotation, could help the front office navigate through some choppy trade waters and lower the cost.
MAX SCHERZER, WASHINGTON
It makes for a great script…the Chesterfield native turned Missouri Tiger returns to play for his hometown team, reunited with his former pitching coach in DC. A recognition that the Cardinals should have signed him as a free agent years ago when he was on the open market. He’s in the final year of his deal with the Nationals. Washington is 22-29 entering Wednesday, in last place in the NL East. But they’re only six games out of first, in a division that has been ravaged by injuries. And there’s murky situation with what happens to the deferred money in Scherzer’s contract. Starting next year, he’s owed $15 million annually for 7 years. Who would be on the hook to pay that? The answer will speak to the quality of the return Washington can expect.
JA HAPP, MINNESOTA
Happ, 38, is one of three Twins pitchers who could be on the move. Minnesota is last in the Central (10.5 games out), and Happ is on a 1 year, $8 million deal. The lefty is 3-2 with a 5.24 ERA. In 9 starts he has 16 walks, 18 fewer than the amount allowed by Gant, who has had 10 starts.
MICHAEL PINEDA, MINNESOTA
Pineda, 32, is in the final year of a 2-year deal, and would be owed the remainder of this year’s $10 million salary. He was suspended 39 games in 2020 for violating baseball’s PED rules but is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 9 starts (12 walks).
JOSE BERRIOS, MINNESOTA
Of the three potential Twins, and probably more than any candidate in this group, Berrios would cost the most in treasure. The right-hander just turned 27, and is under team control through next season. With a career record of 53-40, Berrios is 5-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 2021.
MATT HARVEY, BALTIMORE
The Orioles are well out of contention (16.5 games back) in the American League East. The former hotshot prospect for the Mets has pitched for five teams since 2018. He’s 3-6 with a 6.84 ERA with a ton of earned runs surrendered (27) in 11 starts, but Harvey, 32, is only on the hook for the rest of this year’s $1 million in salary and would be where one might turn if the Cardinals didn’t want to fish in the Berrios/Scherzer waters to eat innings and didn’t want to start the clock on Matthew Liberatore or Zack Thompson.
MIKE FOLTYNEWICZ, TEXAS
The former Braves hurler would also fall in that category of potential innings-eater-to-try before breaking glass and promoting prospects into the rotation. Foltynewicz, 29, won 13 games in Atlanta in 2018, then slipped to 8-6 in 2019 and had a single thee inning start for the Braves in 2020 that led to his exit. With the Rangers, he’s 1-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 11 starts. Texas is 9.5 games back in the AL West. Is Dave Duncan available for a consult? Foltynewicz profiles as the kind of pitcher who the former Cardinals pitching coach could mold back into winning form.