The depth the Cardinals have in the rotation is hardly a state secret. After veteran Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have six young pitchers who have yet to reach arbitration. Currently in the rotation are Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly. Carlos Martinez has shown tantalizing promise in the minors as a starter and his brief time in the majors in the bullpen with a call to the rotation expected at some point this year. Trevor Rosenthal, one of the best closers in the game, started in the minors where he used a curveball in addition to his current fastball-changeup arsenal that he uses in the ninth. While other teams have made a concerted effort to sign young pitchers to extensions, the Cardinals have been quiet on that front.
With the Tampa Bay Rays signing Chris Archer to a contract extension this past week, ten pre-arbitration pitchers have signed extensions in the past two-plus years encompassing the last three offseasons. The Cardinals have not feared to wade into these depths in the past. Just three seasons ago, the Cardinals signed the only good, young pitcher they had in Jaime Garcia. While that deal has not worked out as well as the Cardinals would have hoped, they have hardly been burned by the deal, either. Even if Garcia's rehabilitation proves fruitless and he never returns to the majors as an effective starter, the Cardinals have paid him just nine million dollars over the previous two seasons, and owe him just $17 million more during the next few seasons, less than eight percent of the Cardinals' likely outlay in 2014 and 2015. Given Garcia's upside and the minimal risk, the deal was, and still is, reasonable.
Since Garcia's contract extension, ten other players have signed similar deals. The chart below shows the date, terms, service time at the time of the extension (players are eligible for arbitration at roughly 2.125 with the number after the decimal representing days on the major league roster, not a percentage of a season), fWAR at the time of the extension, the number of free agent years bought out (including options), and the agency who represented them. These numbers were compiled from a variety of sources, including MLB Trade Rumors, Cot's, Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs.
Two teams show up twice. Both the White Sox, with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and the Tampa Bay Rays, with Matt Moore and Chris Archer, have made solid efforts to find cost stability for its rotation. Four of the players (Archer, Quintana, Bumgarner, Gonzalez), either were eligible, or very likely would have been eligible for arbitration as Super-Two players, entitling them to arbitration a year early increasing the likely cost if the team had gone year to year. Every team but one bought either two or three years of free agency with a majority of those players receiving good, but not outlandish salaries in those option years.
The closer the players were to arbitration the more money they received. Gio Gonzalez, who actually would have received arbitration received the most money, while Matt Moore, the first of this group to sign, received the lowest average annual value. The two players book-ending the group, Moore and Archer show how costs have risen in the last two years. While Archer's contract appears to show how prices have increased from Moore's original deal, Moore would have been eligible for another year of arbitration after his contract expired if not for a team option that would add in another $4.5 million to his deal. Adding in Archer's likely Super-Two status and normal inflation, the deals are not too far off. Here is a graph showing the AAV as well as fWAR of the players depending on service time.
The cost of signing players goes up depending on service time as does the players' accomplishments. The Cardinals young pitchers are represented in each of the groups.
While Wacha and Martinez are great talents and could prove to be staples for the Cardinals' rotation, they still have under a year of service time. The only team that has found mutual interest in signing pitchers this young are the Rays, and they operate at a very different level than the Cardinals. Due to the savings later on, the Rays are more likely to make a commitment early as they have virtually no shot at signing players to longer deals as they get older like David Price, and to a lesser extent James Shields. Joe Kelly pitched well over the past two seasons and has a rotation spot at the moment, no player with at least a year of service time had an fWAR lower than two. Kelly's fWAR of 1.2 comes up lower than the type of player teams tend to commit guaranteed money to.
The agencies next to all of the players are listed for a reason. None of the players signed to recent extensions were represented by Scott Boras. While he is not anti-extension as the Elvis Andrus contract shows, he is very likely to advise his players to head to free agency. Unless he is overwhelmed, Rosenthal is unlikely to receive an extension. As a closer, he will be overvalued in arbitration and a Motte-type deal could be an option down the line. If he does ever move to the rotation, Boras' general strategy suggest h will test free agency.
Lance Lynn caught a tough break this offseason, coming just shy of Super-Two status and the higher salaries that come with arbitration. Lynn is likely to play his way out of an extension by the end of the year no matter how he performs this season. If he performs as he has in the past or breaks out and does better, he will likely price himself out of an extension given impending arbitration and the Cardinals' rotation options around him. If Lynn falters or gets injured, he will not be a player the Cardinals will want to sign. Given the youth just a year or two behind him, the Cardinals are likely reluctant to extend Lynn at a salary commensurate with his performance so far. In any other organization, Lynn would be an ideal candidate. For the Cardinals, Lynn is a luxury, a good pitcher they keep plugging into the rotation with minimal financial risk, and an excellent trade chip should the Cardinals need to make move after 2014 or 2015.
That leaves just Shelby Miller. The former number one draft pick falls into the sweet spot for extension candidates. He has between one and two years of service. He pitched well last year, but not so well that his future arbitration awards would make an extension unrealistic. He may not be the fan-favorite at the moment given Wacha's postseason performance and Martinez' nasty repertoire, but he is the best candidate for an extension, assuming he is interested in one. Julio Teheran's contract provides a good template for Miller. Even if the Cardinals have to shell out a little bit more money or make the option years a little higher in value, an extension would be a solid move for the Cardinals. Outside of Tim Cooney, all of the Cardinals top major league-ready pitching prospects are in the majors. There is a gap down to Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky and others. Getting cost certainty and ensuring the Cardinals young pitchers are not all entering free agency after 2018 and 2019 (as well as Wainwright), following the trend of contract extensions in the majors will provide stability to a rotation as the Cardinals attempt to enter their next phase of contention.