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Pitchers potentially available in January for the Cardinals

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The Cardinals appear to be content with their roster at the time, but the team could be opportunistic if there are still pitchers without teams in another month.

low-throwing fruit?
low-throwing fruit?
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals exit the Winter Meetings with very few questions regarding the composition of the Opening Day roster. The Jason Heyward trade and declaration of Jon Jay as starting centerfielder nailed down the lineup. Trading Shelby Miller and putting public support behind Carlos Martinez leaves little to be solved with the rotation. Bringing in Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle, keeping Randy Choate and optimism surrounding Kevin Siegrist leaves little drama for the bullpen. Getting Dean Anna, jettisoning Daniel Descalso and finally signing Mark Reynolds gives everyone a pretty good idea about the composition of the bench. There is nothing the Cardinals have to do before the season starts, but they might have a few options after a majority of the free agent signings have finished.

Any major news from the Cardinals before spring will likely have to do with a player under contract. Lance Lynn or John Lackey could reach extensions with the Cardinals, but there are a few under the radar moves that could benefit the team. Last season the Cardinals brought in Pat Neshek, and many people did not figure that Neshek, who had pitched less than 100 innings over the previous five seasons, would even make the team. Neshek played a key role on the Cardinals in 2014, and earned a two-year contract worth more than $12 million with the Astros. On the other side of the coin, the Cardinals also brought in David Aardsma. He never made the big league roster, and has been largely forgotten.

The Cardinals will probably bring in a few more players to compete for roster spots. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals could be waiting for a potential fifth starter/swingman type.

On the most recent Viva El Birdos podcast, Ben and I discussed this possibility. Given the multi-year deals given to Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy and the nearly ten million dollar guarantee given to Justin Masterson, we agreed that the pitching market would likely be very thin once the big name players were off the board. The likelihood that the Cardinals would want to guarantee money to any player left appears slim.

Looking at the starting pitchers left in the free agent market and see who might be available should provide the names the Cardinals could end up targeting. Using MLB Trade Rumors Free Agent Tracker, we can look at the players currently remaining and whittle down the list. Given the Cardinals already have three lefties in the bullpen in Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist, and Marco Gonzales, I limited my search to unsigned right-handed starting pitchers. If the pitcher is needed for a long reliever role, it appears unlikely the Cardinals would add another lefty. Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Hiroki Kuroda are easily eliminated from the bargain rack. Jake Peavy, Edinson Volquez, and even Aaron Harang are likely to get guaranteed deals for real money somewhere.

That leaves 15 players. Four of those pitchers, Josh Johnson, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Chad Billingsley, did not pitch in the majors in 2014. While those are interesting names with decent pasts, it is tough to think that those players would consider the Cardinals to try and re-establish value when there is not a clear path to the rotation. Likewise, the Cardinals might not be interested in bringing in players they are not sure will be able to compete for a spot in Spring Training. Despite their injuries, Johnson, Medlen, and Beachy may end up getting major league contracts, anyway, preventing a good fit with the Cardinals.

The remaining twelve players are a mixed bag. Some may already be relievers. Some of these players will be getting contracts before the Cardinals can swoop in. Here are the remaining eleven pitchers' numbers in 2014 (Numbers from Fangraphs).

Name Team G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Ryan Vogelsong Giants 32 32 184.2 7.36 2.83 0.88 0.294 4.00 3.85 1
Gavin Floyd Braves 9 9 54.1 7.45 2.15 0.99 0.302 2.65 3.79 0.5
Anthony Swarzak Twins 50 4 86 4.92 2.93 0.52 0.319 4.60 3.77 0.5
Kyle Kendrick Phillies 32 32 199 5.47 2.58 1.13 0.29 4.61 4.57 0.4
Brandon Morrow Blue Jays 13 6 33.1 8.1 4.86 0.54 0.357 5.67 3.73 0.4
Scott Carroll White Sox 26 19 129.1 4.45 3.13 0.9 0.305 4.80 4.77 0.3
Kevin Correia - - - 32 26 154 4.62 2.34 1.17 0.315 5.44 4.67 0.2
Chris Young Mariners 30 29 165 5.89 3.27 1.42 0.238 3.65 5.02 0.2
Kevin Slowey Marlins 17 2 37.1 5.79 2.17 0.72 0.382 5.30 3.78 0.1
Roberto Hernandez - - - 32 29 164.2 5.74 3.99 1.04 0.266 4.10 4.85 -0.5
Felipe Paulino White Sox 4 4 18.1 6.87 5.89 2.95 0.414 11.29 7.99 -0.5

Looking at these number, none of the players were particularly good in 2014. Vogelsong pitched a lot of innings, and he is likely to be signed by some team to be a fifth starter. Floyd was solid before breaking his leg elbow. Brandon Morrow struck out a lot of guys between the bullpen and rotation, but was BABIP'd all over the field leading to a 5.67 ERA. He apparently has an offer from the Padres and would prefer to start. Most of the these players had dreadful seasons in 2014, which is why they could be available when the Cardinals look to add someone for depth. For a little context, here are these pitchers' numbers over the past three seasons (Again from Fangraphs).

Name Team G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Kyle Kendrick Phillies 99 87 540.1 5.78 2.55 1.05 0.292 4.43 4.31 3.1
Brandon Morrow Blue Jays 44 37 212.1 7.63 3.26 1.1 0.283 4.07 4.12 2.8
Ryan Vogelsong Giants 82 82 478 7.08 2.97 0.94 0.296 4.12 4.02 2.7
Gavin Floyd - - - 43 43 246.2 7.81 3.21 1.17 0.303 4.01 4.33 2.7
Kevin Correia - - - 95 85 510.1 4.74 2.31 1.13 0.301 4.57 4.49 2.2
Anthony Swarzak Twins 142 9 278.2 5.75 2.62 0.87 0.301 4.17 3.95 1.1
Chris Young - - - 50 49 280 6.04 3.09 1.35 0.259 3.86 4.81 1
Kevin Slowey Marlins 37 16 129.1 6.96 1.88 1.04 0.346 4.45 3.80 0.9
Felipe Paulino - - - 11 11 56 8.52 4.34 1.45 0.337 4.82 4.80 0.3
Scott Carroll White Sox 26 19 129.1 4.45 3.13 0.9 0.305 4.80 4.77 0.3
Roberto Hernandez - - - 67 56 330 6 3.11 1.28 0.283 4.61 4.86 -0.6

The players in the top half of that chart are going to be the most interesting. The guys in the bottom half are going to be the most available. The only guy in the bottom half of the list who has shown the ability to strike anyone out is Felipe Paulino. He has also major control issues. He could be a pitcher the Cardinals sign to a minor league contract, and give a chance to start in spring. His most likely destination is Memphis, where he could work on his pitches as a potential starter or come up if there was a need for a long reliever.

The market still needs to shake out before the Cardinals make their move. "Low-hanging fruit" becomes a lot more palatable when the active roster is set and expected to be the favorites for the division. When they do sign someone, keep in mind the player is not likely to be exciting, he is not likely to pan out, but these moves are necessary and occasionally the Cardinals find a keeper.