The St. Louis Cardinals reportedly will pick up the $12 million club option in the contract of starting pitcher Jaime Garcia for 2017.
Garcia reached the 30-start mark for just the second time in 2016, but his other numbers fell well below his usual standards. The 30-year-old righty went 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.37 WHIP across 171.2 innings, the second-highest total in his career.
His struggles led to a September where he pitched more than four innings just once. The Cardinals kept him on a short leash when he started and also moved him into the bullpen at times as they tried to find other rotation options that could help them reach the playoffs, a quest that ultimately fell short.
Mark Saxon of ESPN.com passed along comments from Garcia in mid-September about the lackluster performance and his efforts to get back on track:
I'm trying to figure out what's going on, whether it's push things a little more or back off. I'm doing everything that's in my power to be the best I can for the team, and unfortunately, I've let my team down. I've been through tough times before, and I'm going to continue to do what I can to fight and be there for the team.
The lack of quality starts was made more frustrating by the fact he pitched well in 2015. He made just 20 starts due to injury during that campaign, but he finished with career-best totals in both ERA (2.43) and WHIP (1.05).
While the drop-off wasn't as extreme as the baseline numbers make it seem—his xFIP went up only 0.41 compared to an ERA jump of 2.24, per FanGraphs—the dip in production combined with the fact the Cardinals couldn't count on him down the stretch made the option decision tougher.
Ultimately, the Cardinals have optioned to keep Garcia in the fold. Even though he didn't live up to expectations last season, his prior success earned him enough leeway with the organization to get another chance to prove himself as a valuable piece of the staff in 2017.
He'll likely need to pitch well during spring training to guarantee himself a spot in the rotation, though. St. Louis already has Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Mike Leake, while promising prospect Alex Reyes is pushing for a full-time role.
Garcia's salary likely gives him the inside track, but Reyes' rise and the return of Lance Lynn from Tommy John surgery will create a logjam. The Cardinals may hope he gets off to a strong start and then try to flip him for another asset during the season.