Heading into the offseason, the Cardinals had a talented, but potentially fragile rotation of five players already set for next year. The rotation took quite a hit today as the organization announced on its twitter feed that Lance Lynn had Tommy John surgery and would miss all of the 2016 season. Lynn has been one of the most durable starters in the majors over the past four seasons, and consistently provided the team with innings at an above-average output. Lynn struggled down the stretch and did not end up making a start in the postseason due to his struggles. This loss is a big one for the Cardinals, and according to John Mozeliak, the injury alters postseason plans regarding adding a pitcher from outside the organization, per Derrick Goold.
Adam Wainwright returns to the Cardinals staff in 2016 as ace, but is 34 years old and missed almost all of 2015 with an achilles injury. Carlos Martinez emerged as an ace with Wainwright out, but was shut down with shoulder soreness after pitching more innings than ever before. Michael Wacha pitched well for half a season after rehabbing in 2014 for an unusual stress reaction in his shoulder, but struggled some down the stretch. Jaime Garcia pitched fantastically in 2015, but mustered less than 100 innings pitched combined in 2013 and 2014 due to various injuries. Those four make for an incredibly talented yet somewhat worrisome foursome.
The Cardinals have internal options for the fifth spot including Tyler Lyons, who is out of options, Tim Cooney, and Marco Gonzales, who had somewhat of a lost season in 2015 struggling with his own injuries. Alex Reyes, the Cardinals top pitching prospect, is out until mid- to late-May due to a suspension for marijuana use but he could be an option as the summer progresses. The Cardinals have several options on the free agent market, and could also upgrade the team via a trade depending on how the offense shakes out, which is likely still the Cardinals top priority this offseason.
Perhaps the simplest option would be to retain John Lackey. He will likely decline the Cardinals' qualifying offer on Friday in search of a longer deal. He pitched well for the Cardinals, but signing a 37-year old pitcher for multiple years is likely asking trouble. Also with the potential for trouble is David Price. He will likely command a contract close to $200 million, if not more, and that is not likely territory the Cardinals are willing to enter. Zack Greinke will command an average annual salary around $25 million, and committing to a pitcher over 30 years old seems like a departure for the Cardinals. Johnny Cueto is likely a non-starter given his history. Jordan Zimmerman is likely to get a deal far larger than his recent stuff would dictate. In any case, reacting to a one-year injury by offering more than $100 million to a pitcher seems like an overreaction.
The Cardinals could seek a mid-tier starter, not unlike Lackey, on a shorter deal. Wei-Yin Chen, Jeff Samardzija, Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, and Hisashi Iwakuma provide varying levels of production, and all would require giving up a draft pick by the Cardinals. Given these pitchers' uncertainty with production, it would not appear likely for the Cardinals to give up a draft pick to sign a player from that list.
Not requiring a draft pick and providing decent production, Scott Kazmir is available, but those combined factors could lead to a four-year contract, which would seem outside of the Cardinals' paramaters when they have internal options. J.A. Happ might fall into this category as well. The Cardinals other options are more lottery ticket types, but would still require close to $10 million for 2016: Mat Latos, Doug Fister, Trevor Cahill, Tim Lincecum, Rich Hill, Mike Pelfrey, and Bartolo Colon, with an obligatory reference to Mark Buerhle and his ties to St. Louis.
Given the options, unless John Mozeliak and the Cardinals had already intended to make a splash, either a trade, a quick deal with John Lackey, or a wait and see approach seem to be the most likely scenarios. This offseason is flush with pitchers, and the Cardinals could benefit by waiting to see which pitchers are still seeking deals when pitchers and catchers report much like they did with Kyle Lohse before the 2008 season. If there is nobody left standing at that point, the Cardinals prudent choice would be to go with internal options and try to catch the same magic that brought them excellent pitching this past season.