The recent news of Alex Reyes’ impending Tommy John surgery has sent shock waves through the Cardinals organization this week.  Aside from who’s going to take Reyes’ spot in the rotation, it’s troubling to think about what Reyes’ absence in 2017 means for the long-term future of the ballclub.

The St. Louis Cardinals, as currently constructed, strike a very delicate balance of veterans, players in their prime, and untested prospects not quite ready to contribute. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, and Luke Weaver are examples of players who fall into each category, respectively.

It’s important to keep in mind the recently redefined MLB aging curve when taking a look at the state of an organization. Gone are the days in the PED era when a player’s peak was 28-31, and they could consistently sustain a high level of performance deep into their thirties. These days more so than ever, we’re seeing players’ peaks earlier (think 25-27), and subsequent declines more rapid.

That being said, a cursory glance over the 40-man roster reveals a bleak outlook for a St. Louis squad that may have just seen their window of contention slam shut with the injury to Alex Reyes. Allow for me to make a couple of broad statements:

  1. The Cardinals have a lot of good veteran players
  2. The Cardinals have a promising group of prospects almost ready to play at the MLB level
  3. The Cardinals can’t remain competitive without one of those groups producing at an unexpected time

What this third point means to say is that either the veterans are going to have to stick around long enough for the prospects to blossom into big leaguers, or the prospects are going to have to hurry it up and start contributing before the veterans start to break down. In fact, we’ve already begun to see what this “breaking down” looks like, and it sure isn’t pretty.

Adam Wainwright, former ace, former top 10 (5?) pitcher in the game, barely kept his ERA under 5.00 in 2016. He’s a big question mark this year. Yadier Molina caught a career high in games last season at the age of 34. That’s great and all, but can we really count on him to do that for three or four more years? Even Matt Carpenter, who by the way is 31 years old, had his worst season by WAR since he was a rookie in 2012.

When it comes to players in their prime, well, it’s not exactly a huge group. Let’s say for now that Carlos Martinez and Stephen Piscotty are unquestionably in their prime.

Beyond that, it’s tough to say. Cardinals fans would hope that Kolten Wong, despite being 26, has more room to grow. We can’t definitely say that we’ve seen the best of Aledmys Diaz through 400 ABs, either.

That brings us to the farm system, the next wave of hopefully generational talent surging through the Cardinals organization, hopefully led by Alex Reyes.

The issue is that depending on who you ask, the Cardinals don’t currently have an endless pipeline of young guns ready to step in at a moment’s notice. Keith Law of ESPN ranks the Cardinals’ farm system 19th. The Cardinals haven’t been 19th at anything in decades!

The farm system rankings should have, and could have been a moot point had Alex Reyes remained healthy. Had the UCL in Reyes’ right elbow held on just a season longer, we would have gotten a glimpse of the past, present, and future all together at the same time for at least one full season.

But now, without our lovable, flame-throwing 22-year-old Dominican starter, it’s all too easy to envision a frustrating few seasons of Cardinals baseball upcoming.

First, 2017: we’ve got the whole band together! Except Reyes, of course, but he’ll be back. But, as we said before, can this group of fragile vets carry a lackluster core and an underwhelming prospects?

Then comes 2018: Reyes is back! He’ll unite with all of the other players that took steps forward and we’ll surely be the talk of baseball again. Hold on, though. Reyes was already set to be on a strict innings count, and if you think it’s going to be Tommy John surgery that sets him free, then think again.

In 2018, Reyes will be monitored closer than ever, and if past performance of other Tommy John recipients is any indicator, he’ll likely struggle with his command (which is already a well-documented issue for the guy).

“2019, then?” question the Cardinals’ faithful. Unfortunately not, I must declare. By now, even though Reyes is at full strength with buddies Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver at his sides, the ship has sailed on the days of Waino, Yadi, and even Matt Carpenter as franchise cornerstones. It’s all up to Reyes and the new guys, and they, on their own, don’t have nearly enough to get the job done.