Some Saturdays, I have a lot of work to get done. Whether running errands, doing work around the house, or writing, my tasks can seem onerous, at least to me after a full workweek. Sometimes, I will make myself a list of things to do to keep me on track and remember my goals for the day, often called a To Do List. Often, I will abandon the list at some point, leaving tasks until the next day or never. If I work very hard and get everything done on the list, I feel good about taking a break, relaxing, and enjoying my weekend. John Mozeliak appears to operate on a different level. He finishes his To Do List when most people are sleeping and starts work on another list before the mid-morning Premier League games are finished.
Despite filling all of his offseason needs before the calendar turned, with a full lineup, a rebuilt bench and bullpen, and a rotation with depth, Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal are reporting that the Cardinals are pursuing David Price, Cole Hamels, and Max Scherzer.
The St. Louis Cardinals say they like their starting rotation. But that is not preventing them from pursuing a major upgrade.
The team is exploring trades for left-handers Cole Hamels and David Price and the possibility of signing free-agent right-hander Max Scherzer, according to major-league sources.
This report differs from the James Shields "guess where he's going" speculation. These are informed reports of the Cardinals' pursuit. As the Fox Sports piece indicates, this pursuit shows some worry in the Cardinals' organization about the health of their rotation at the top. Lance Lynn has been extremely durable, but Wainwright is coming off a minor arm procedure, if such a thing exists. John Lackey saw his velocity fluctuate last season, and Michael Wacha has an unusual shoulder condition that bears close monitoring. This feels like the trade deadline all over again when the Cardinals had some questions about their rotation, and before the team traded for Justin Masterson and John Lackey, we wrote about potentially acquiring David Price or going after Cole Hamels.
The Cardinals have depth in their rotation with Carlos Martinez on schedule to be the fifth starter with Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, and maybe Jaime Garcia prepared to assume some innings should the need arise. However, losing the high quality innings at the top of the rotation would be a burden difficult for the rest of the team to compensate for. Given the depth, the Cardinals look far from desperate. From the same report:
No deal appears close on any front, and it's possible that the Cardinals will simply decide that the acquisition cost in each case is too high.
There's the rub. The cost of acquiring David Price, Max Scherzer, or Cole Hamels is very high. David Price's cost is likely the lowest, just a year away from free agency, but the Cardinals making another Heyward-like trade to go all-in in 2015 has not been the Cardinals' approach over the last decade. Having to give up Martinez or Gonzales in a trade for Price would potentially leave a big hole in the rotation in 2016 as Lackey will also be a free agent. In under a two-year period beginning at this past trade deadline, the Cardinals could lose Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, John Lackey, Carlos Martinez/Marco Gonzales, and David Price. That would leave their future rotation a little thin.
Presumably David Price would only be available if the Tigers choose to sign Max Scherzer, the Cardinals' other target, who is seeking $200 million. Scherzer rumors simply will not go away, no matter how unlikely the Cardinals are to sign him. The Cardinals would be wise to avoid the risk of tying up that much money in a single starting pitcher given the risks involved. Keeping tabs on Scherzer on Price in case they become available at a decent cost is the prudent path to take, but this prudent path is not likely to yield either player. There are other teams with money, too, and they are probably more desperate than the Cardinals.
The Cardinals might be waiting for a price that will never drop to their levels, but they should not be dismissed entirely according to Bernie Miklasz.
More national media speculation about Cardinals looking at starting-pitching options. Pick a name. Scherzer, Price, Hamels, Shields. (1/2)— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) January 8, 2015
Been saying all along - Mozeliak laying in the weeds, waiting for something to materialize after initial frenzy. We'll see (2/2)— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) January 8, 2015
And the follow-up:
Just so we understand each other - I'm not predicting Mozeliak will make a big move on a pitcher. But I've never dismissed possibility.— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) January 8, 2015
Which brings us to Cole Hamels. Of the three targets, Hamels has the friendliest contract at 4 years, $96 million guaranteed (That figure includes a $6 million buyout of a $20 million option that could be guaranteed at $24 million if Hamels pitches 200 innings in 2018 and 400 innings between 2017-2018, and does not finish 2018 on the disabled list. Hamels could receive 4/96, 5/110 or 5/114.). The issue with Hamels' is not his contract. It is similar to Wainwright's and less than the speculated James Shields' contract. Here are the numbers (from Fangraphs) for Wainwright, Hamels and Shields from 2012-2014.
Hamels has been pitching in homer-friendly Philadelphia while Shields has pitched in pitcher (and defense) friendly Kansas City over the past two seasons. Hamels is also two years younger, having just turned 31. If you read Derrick Goold in the Post-Dispatch or read his chats, he always provides the friendly reminder that Hamels' cost is more than just money. To get Hamels, the Cardinals would have to trade good, young players away. From the same Rosenthal and Morosi piece:
To secure Hamels, the Cardinals likely would need to part with Martinez or Gonzales as well as an outfielder such as Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty (the Phillies have long coveted Peter Bourjos as well, sources say).
If the Cardinals could trade Gonzales and Grichuk for Hamels, that would be a win for the Cardinals. However, those are just a couple of the possibilities mentioned. Martinez and Piscotty likely have higher trade value than the former duo, and we do not know if the demand may include some higher upside arms further away from the majors. The Hamels trade would not damage the Cardinals future rotation even if a young starter is traded away. Four, potentially five years of control, albeit at somewhat high price, would solidify the Cardinals rotation for the future as opposed to weakening it.
The Cardinals have a full roster ready to compete for the division in a few months. They are already in a good position, and it does not hurt to check around the prices for potential upgrades to the team. That does not make a deal likely, but it does indicate the Cardinals are still willing to make a move to improve the team under parameters that help the team in 2015 without taking a major step back beyond next season. The Cardinals do not have to make a move, but it is nice of them to give Cardinals' fans something to talk about when it's January and I cannot even look outside my window to wait for spring because below zero temperatures have frosted over the glass.