...that does not mean they should do it. With the unsettling, but not particularly surprising news that Lance Lynn will miss all of 2016 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, many have wondered whether or not this should lead to a change in offseason plans for the St. Louis Cardinals. When Lynn was believed to be healthy and a qualifying offer was extended to John Lackey, priority number one was very clearly re-signing 26-year-old outfielder Jason Heyward.
Now, with Lynn out for 2016, arguments have been presented that filling a #2- to #3-sized hole in the starting rotation is a bigger need than the outfield, with a reference to the small-sample-sized success from Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, and Tommy Pham. While those arguments make some sense, re-signing Heyward should remain as priority number one for the Cardinals. While the DeWitts can financially afford Heyward and David Price or Zack Greinke, I have been raised as an understanding Cardinals fan and know that this likely will not happen.
Piscotty, Grichuk, and Pham are all promising players, but none yet project to be worth 3+ fWAR (please do not simply extrapolate their 2015 data into a full season of plate appearances), let alone a 6 fWAR—a value Heyward has already put up twice in his career. Plus, Heyward still has four seasons before the 30-years-of-age plateau, so it isn't unreasonable to predict more 5-6 fWAR seasons from him. A net increase of at least three wins above replacement is not insignificant and can be the deciding factor between a divisional crown or a mere Wild Card spot.
Going into 2016, if all goes as planned the rest of the way (as we were just reminded, it rarely does), before Lackey, the Cardinals could still have seven starting pitchers for five spots (or six?): Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Lyons (if necessary). Before the news on Lynn, there were rumblings as to whether or not Lackey was actually "needed" in 2016. Sure, extend the qualifying offer to guarantee a draft pick as compensation, but would they actually "need" to discuss a contract should he decline the QO? Now, with Lynn out, it is abundantly clear that a starting pitcher is needed, and Lackey could be had at either $15.8 million (should he miraculously accept the qualifying offer) or two years, ~30-35 million—a much more reasonable figure than what both Greinke and Price will cost.
While Price and Greinke performed tremendously in 2015 and are widely considered top pitchers in all of baseball, the fact is that they are not getting any younger. Price turned 30 in August, and Greinke turned 32 last month. Since 2009, Greinke (1,436 IP) and Price (1,427.2 IP) are seventh and ninth in regular season innings pitched, respectively. Greinke has experienced a decrease in fourseam velocity virtually every season since 2007. Price saw an uptick in fastball velocity last year but is still down from the years it averaged ~96 MPH with the Tampa Bay Rays. Of course, Greinke and Price have well-polished repertoires, but at the tail-end of the long-term deals these two will eventually sign, where will their respective fastball velocities be? What impact will this change have on the rest of their pitches, and how will it affect their overall performance?
By no means am I in the predicting pitcher injury business (of note, both Price and Greinke are mechanically sound), but doesn't each pitcher's heavy workload over the last seven seasons lead to some worry about future arm health? It is definitely something teams will think about. Plus, as you may recall, Greinke has received a "precautionary" lubricating injection in his throwing elbow four spring trainings in a row now. He is either ahead of the game from a medical standpoint or is worried about whether or not his elbow will continue to hold up physically.
Yes, the Cardinals need a starting pitcher in 2015. In Derrick Goold's latest for the Post Dispatch, general manager John Mozeliak addressed the situation directly:
"When you look at internal options, I think we have them. But when you're trying to be a championship club there are times you have to go outside your comfort level."
Yet, more importantly, if the Cardinals truly want to "be a championship club" for years to come, they need a core player to build their future around. Unfortunately, Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Jhonny Peralta are all in the twilight stages of their careers. Heck, even Matt Carpenter turns 30 next month. While Price or Greinke (and their price tags) would definitely be considered a core player, I would much rather take the "safer" bet in a 26-year-old Heyward. Finally, and I know it is not the "sexy" option, but I would bring back Lackey on a two-year deal long before going after any of the tier-two free agent starting pitchers.