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Eight Reasons Why the St. Louis Cardinals Could Want More Pitching

On the surface, one has to question why the St. Louis Cardinals would be looking to add another front-line starting pitcher. After all, the club has eight pitchers coming to camp with starting pitching experience in the Majors.

They include Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales, Jaime Garcia and Tyler Lyons. Yet, six of the eight have question marks surrounding them.

All along, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has said he will remain “opportunistic” in terms of possibilities to improve his team. As a result, it should not be surprising that FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi report the club has explored signing free agent Max Scherzer and trading for Detroit’s David Price and Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.

It should be remembered that the two reporters made it very clear that no deals are imminent and that the Cardinals very well could stand pat. One should also take note that the big Cardinals “rumor” from all of two days ago, free agent James Shields, was not even mentioned.

Having said that, against the tide of overreaction, here are my eight reasons why the Cardinals could at least be considering a starting pitching upgrade.

1. Current pitching uncertainty

To summarize, here is where six of the eight potential starters stand currently. This includes three of the five projected rotation members. If you are reading this, you almost certainly already know the back stories for each pitcher.

Injury questions: Wainwright, Wacha, Garcia

Inexperience: Martinez, Gonzales, Lyons

Only Lynn and Lackey stand above the concerns, but the latter is 36 years old and has just one season remaining on his current contract.

2. More competitive Central Division

The Cubs are coming. Everyone has seen the increased spending and push to win from the Windy City. Milwaukee led the Central Division for five months last season and Pittsburgh has reached the post-season in each of the last two years.

3. Aging star core

The three top run-producers in the Cardinals lineup, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta, along with the team’s pitching ace, Wainwright, are all on the wrong side of 30. The club is running out of chances with this formidable core group to win another World Series.

4. Revenue increases coming

One has seen across baseball the tremendous impact of larger local television contracts being translated into higher player payrolls. The Cardinals are still a few years away from this benefit kicking in, but other revenues are up, too.

As such, the club can likely take on another big contract and still handle a considerable number of in-house increases on the horizon for younger players.

5. Trade chips available

Right now, the Cardinals are blessed with a quantity of good players already at or very close to the Majors. If they can leverage two or three of them into one true star, they have enough depth to not be damaged overall.

For example, Rosenthal and Morosi suggest it might take Martinez/Gonzales and Stephen Piscotty/Randal Grichuk to land Hamels. If the Cardinals wanted to make such a deal, it could immediately improve the club overall and not carry too much downstream risk. That would especially be the case, in my opinion, if Gonzales rather than Martinez was the one to go.

Of course, there could literally be dozens of other player possibilities, each with their own pros and cons. The big point is that the Cardinals have options.

6. Challenges in adding more offense

Many people standing from afar might think the Cardinals should make an offensive upgrade a greater priority than adding pitching. Even with the rotation concerns highlighted above, I might place myself among them.

However, realities make the addition of a big bat much more difficult than it may first appear.

The hitting market has dried up and the hurdles to acquire a top pitcher look to be lower right now. In addition, the Cardinals really do not have a lineup opening for another position player starter, unless they trade away one of their current starting eight to upgrade a position. Even then, there does not seem many options – centerfield, perhaps.

7. A replacement rotation lefty

To present a more balanced attack, Major League clubs like to have at least one left-hander in their rotation. Before his injuries, Garcia was that man for the Cardinals. As of now, however, the projected 2015 rotation consists of five right-handers.

Two other lefties are among the final contenders in Gonzales and Lyons, but acquiring a proven left-hander in Hamels or Price could bear immediate benefit.

8. Leverage in negotiations

One might think the Cardinals would be upset about these rumors hitting the general public. I think it is just the opposite. If I was Mozeliak, I would want the agents/other clubs to know I have various viable options to consider.

Agent Scott Boras is likely going to work his magic with free agent Scherzer, whether with the Cardinals or some other club. Some reports suggest the Tigers could not afford both Scherzer and Price. If that is true, the Tigers could come out with both prospects/inexpensive youngsters from trading Price plus a re-signed Scherzer. You can bet Boras is pitching that very scenario hard to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski.

My quick take on the three options

#3. Scherzer

The reason Scherzer would be third on my priority list for the Cardinals is not only that his cost in money and years will be highest, but the Cardinals would also lose their first-round draft pick and associated pool money for 2015. On the positive side, they would not give up depth.

#2. Price

Given the Cardinals already have acquired one major impending free agent question in Jason Heyward, adding another in Price would be a risky proposition. I get all the feel-good reasons why Price could sign an extension once with St. Louis, but he also might turn into a very expensive one-year rental.

#1 Hamels

The Phillies do not have to trade Hamels and with four years remaining on his contract (and fifth year or a buyout), Hamels would be the best choice for the Cardinals, in my opinion. Of course, the Phils may know that too and could be asking for the moon from St. Louis.

In closing, I want to be clear that my money is on nothing happening with any of these three (or four if you include Shields), but I certainly understand why the Cardinals are continuing to look for an “opportunity.”

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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14 Responses to “Eight Reasons Why the St. Louis Cardinals Could Want More Pitching”

  1. crdswmn says:

    The control would be the only reason to get Hamels. Price is younger, better, and has less injury history.

    I would rather have Price.

    • Brian Walton says:

      What is your assumption in terms of money and years it will take to sign Price to an extension?

      • crdswmn says:

        I have no idea. But frankly, I have a hunch that he would be easier to sign to an extension than Heyward.

        It may be the Cardinals think so too. Derrick Goold said this morning the Cardinals are more interested in Price, so maybe they do have an idea.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Heyward isn’t relevant in discussing pitching alternatives. Here are some contract points of comparison.

        AAVs
        Kershaw $30.7 MM/7 years
        Scherzer $?? MM/? years
        Lester $25.8 MM/6 years
        Verlander $25.7 MM/7 years
        Felix $25 MM/7 years
        Greinke $24.5 MM/6 years
        CC $24.4 MM/5 years
        Lee $24 MM/5 years
        Hamels $24 MM/4 years or $22 MM/5 years (remaining)

        Perhaps the Cards can try to talk down Price’s acquisition cost from Detroit due to the uncertain nature of his future.

        • crdswmn says:

          I wasn’t talking in terms of pitching contract comps. I was talking strictly in total money available. If they can’t afford to sign both Heyward and Price to extensions, then I believe Price would be more amenable to a deal than Heyward. I am not sure Heyward is going to find St. Louis all that appealing.

          If the Cardinals are more interested in Price than Hamels, they must have a reason. Perhaps dealing with Ruben Amaro and his overpriced demands is not on their wish list.

          I really don’t think they are going to sign any of those pitchers, if you want to know the truth.

          • Brian Walton says:

            I agree with you on the bottom line. I would be careful hanging your hat on any rumor about who may favor whom, however. Motivations can be murky sometimes and situations change.

            If the Cardinals didn’t think they could sign Heyward, shame on them acquiring him in the first place. Same with one of these pitchers. I don’t get the “either or” line of thinking. I see Heyward and a pitching acquisition being separate matters.

            My bottom line is that I feel the Price scenarios carry much more risk than the Hamels scenarios. That is why I ranked them the way I did. I accept that you disagree.

            • crdswmn says:

              I wasn’t hanging my hat on anything. I just tend to trust what Goold says more so than most.

              I wasn’t suggesting Price was a fallback. It’s not like another starter is a must have (unless they know more about Waino/Wacha than they are letting on), so exploring doesn’t hurt and they aren’t committing to anything. Hamels has the control, but he also has his own set of downsides, like some past elbow and shoulder problems, and degenerative disc disease in his lower back, which is something that doesn’t go away. And as I said, they probably would have to give up more than they want to get him.

              As for Heyward, perhaps they took the risk because they didn’t have someone ready to step in for Taveras and they needed to give Grichuk and/or Piscotty more development time.

  2. Bw52 says:

    Cards have several cheaper options available -LHP Paul Maholm 32 can start or bullpen,Joe Saunders 33 LHP-coming off a very bad year,why not a make good deal for Spring training?,Scott Baker 33 RHP- stil looking for team,Franklin Morales LHP 29-bad season 2014,looking to bounce back.Kyle Kendrick 30 RHP-has been no-name SP in Philly,none are stars,some have been good ,most adequate, all looking for work.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Yes, getting someone like that who could pitch in long relief or start in Memphis is the default path, I imagine.

      Update: Having that pitcher could also make it less tempting to keep Gonzales in the bullpen and instead let him start at Memphis to be ready for an opening that will invariably come. If he isn’t included in a trade, that is…

  3. blingboy says:

    Lynn will probably be interested to see how much moolah the Cards lay on somebody whose ERA was higer than his last year. Maybe they should get him signed up first.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Technically, Lynn was already tendered a contract last month. The only questions are whether it will be the default one year, whether it goes to an arbitration hearing to set the amount or if they do a multi-year deal.

      I could see this one taking awhile, maybe even heading toward a hearing.

    • crdswmn says:

      David Price’s ERA matters about as much as it matters whether he wears boxers or tightie whities.

      Price pitched for a team who had one of the worst defenses in the majors. Lynn pitched for a team with one of the best. A good portion of ERA is defense dependent.

      Price was a 6 WAR pitcher last season. Lynn was a 3 WAR pitcher. Prices’s K rate was better, and his walk rate was better. Price is a better pitcher than Lynn.

      So if the Cardinals do trade for Price (which I doubt) the only think Lynn should be interested in is how much better than rotation is going to be.

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