If we're sticking with the theme that an arm is the best place for this team to upgrade right now, here are three guys that we haven't talked about a lot but could provide some significant impact to the rotation:
2014: 17 GS, 103.1 IP, 19.5% K-BB%, 2.92 FIP
Surprised? I was too when I started looking at his peripherals. Kennedy has always been one of those middling starters for me, a bit like Edwin Jackson, where the peripherals are always pretty good, the record is always a bit disturbing, and when you watch him pitch you just don't see it. But, other than a hiccup last season with walks and home runs, he's been a pretty good starter with steady strikeout and walk rates.
Yes, he's pitching for San Diego. Yes, they play at PetCo Park. But PetCo isn't what it used to be when you look at park factors for the last 18 months since they changed the dimensions. San Diego's offense doesn't suck because it plays in a pitchers park, it sucks because they don't have any players who can put the bat on the ball.
Kennedy is currently signed for $6.1M after avoiding arbitration in January, and has one cost controlled year remaining that will pay him in the neighborhood of $10M or so. Kennedy is 29 years old right now and will be a free agent after his age 30 season, giving him one good shot at pulling in a multi year deal. Making a qualifying offer to him after the 2015 season should net the Cardinals a draft pick and, if not, we get a $10M pitcher for another season who's likely to be pretty good.
San Diego isn't likely competing next year either given the state of their roster and their tumultuous front office situation, so they should be looking to move Kennedy this season while the pitching market is fairly light on high end talent out side of the two guys we've talked about incessantly for that last 3 weeks.
What would it cost to get him? Considerably less than David Price, and since you're likely dealing with someone inexperienced in making trades Mozeliak could be at a real advantage. I think a package of Stephen Piscotty and a B grade starting pitcher from the lower minors might get the job done.
The more I look at this situation, the more I like it for the Cardinals. The Padres also have Huston Street and a group of pretty solid late inning relievers in Joaquin Benoit (expensive) and Dale Thayer (not so expensive) so the Cardinals could conceivably kill two birds with one stone by upgrading the bullpen at the same time.
2014: 15 GS, 100.2 IP, 15.1% K-BB, 3.50 FIP
If Dave Duncan was still around, this would be the kind of pickup that we'd all be clamoring for. Veteran pitcher, stingy with the walks (just 14 BB so far this year), and doesn't get beat up too badly with the home run ball. Currently in the first year of a two year deal that pays him $9M this season and $11M next season, when he'll be, *gulp*, 42 years old.
Thing is, Colon's last four seasons have FIP's of 3.83, 3.82, 3.23, and 3.50 from 2011-2014, respectively. That's pretty astounding for a guy that really only throws two pitches, although with the way he mixes up his fastball speeds and can cut the ball in either direction you could make that case that his fastball is four pitches all by itself.
The big factor here? Cost. This is, by far, the cheapest way for the Cardinals to upgrade their current rotation as it won't cost them anything in terms of prospects if they take Colon's entire deal off the hands of the Mets. Busch III plays pretty similar to Citi Field and Oakland's home park, and Cardinal fans have seen what he can do first hand a couple of times against our own club this season already.
Not to mention: If Joe Kelly could somehow have Bartolo Colon's career (go look at their peripherals -- pretty staggering how close they are, right?), that would be a huge win for the organization, and what better way than to learn from the man himself, right?
A couple of token B/C prospects probably gets this thing done.
2014: 16 GS, 106 IP, 18.8% K-BB, 2.84 FIP
I know, I know, he's a real dark horse candidate right? But is that really true? If an extension was going to get worked out for sure it likely would have been done by now and the two sides are reportedly still pretty far apart on terms by all reports. In my heart of hearts, Lester will retire there, but I'm not sure Ben Cherington is as sentimental about stuff as I am.
The 2013 champs have already made most of their bullpen and Jake Peavy available, they have some young talent on the way up in the rotation, so it's not completely out of the realm of possibility that they gut their entire rotation to add some depth to the farm system, only to go out and sign Lester as a free agent in the offseason. It would be a very Ben Cherington thing to do actually, if he knew for a fact that Lester wants to come back next year.
The big issue is whether the Red Sox see themselves as totally out of the race just yet. They're 7 back in the loss column to the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Orioles right now and really haven't been totally healthy all season on offense. ZiPS projects them to have the best run differential in the division over the rest of the season, as well, so it's quite possible that they are buying at the trade deadline rather than selling.
If Lester is available, though, the Cardinals won't be the only suitor and he's basically a hired gun for 2+ months as well -- but that likely drives his cost down significantly to the point where he becomes an attractive commodity for a team looking to upgrade this year but not have any commitments past 2014.
With their affinity for upside and Cape Cod guys, the Cardinals should have plenty of players that the Red Sox would be interested in, and I can't see giving up much more than a B prospect and some token filler for a two month rental.