For those of us wondering what the Cardinals' front office is wondering, Mo gave us a few choice quotes today on where this offseason is going. Here is what he shared with Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch:
"It’s clear now this offseason is not going to have that dynamic signing that we tried to do with Price and Heyward," Mozeliak explains. "There isn’t anything now that we’re chasing with a nine-figure contract. We can take the time to see what we have in the players we control. Obviously, we’re always open to adjusting."
As far as Mo-speak goes, it seems pretty clear to me. Don't expect any big dollar contracts for the last remaining good options on the market. Johnny Cueto (who I just saw signed as I was writing this), Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Alex Gordon are not likely to be Cardinals at this point. And really, I've always been fine with that even if we did miss out on Heyward and Price. For one, all of those hitters besides Cespedes will come with draft pick compensation. The Cardinals really value each and every pick they can get there hands on, and now that they have three in the top ~40 of next years' draft they'll probably want to hold on to such an opportunity. Cespedes will probably end up paid based on an amazing walk year in 2015 that probably isn't quite the new norm for him.
I wouldn't however rule out mid-rotation options Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir. We do have room in the rotation and either of them would be a nice addition in the short term. Leake should age a little better than the average free agent pitcher given his relatively young age (next year will be his age 28 season), so while he may command five years, it will at least mean he's only signed through his age 32 season. Kazmir is older and will be 32 by opening day next year, but is also most likely only going to sign for 3 years so there's at least a limit to the risk. But at the same time, the idea of committing to either pitcher for several years is kind of a bummer, even if that's the reality of the market.
There is another option of course, in one Clifton Lee. Lee is currently looking for one year deal according to the rumors:
clifff lee looking for 1 year MLB deal. since upside great, he probably gets more than you'd think. main goal to win tho.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 8, 2015
While he missed all of 2015 do to an elbow injury, when healthy Cliff Lee has been a dominant force even in recent years. From 2008 to now his highest FIP for a single season has been 3.13 in 2012. He also provided more than 200 innings in each of those seasons except for 2014 when Lee sustained his injury. VEB's own Nick Lampe was on this before me and covered the possibility of signing Lee just a week and half ago so I won't rehash much. But in light of recent events, and the non-elite pitchers remaining who are going to be able to demand multiple years, giving Lee a single one-year high AAV deal seems like a nice high-upside play. Citing Nick's article, from 2008 to now he's amassed a 2.85 FIP, and even with only throwing just 81 innings in 2014 he managed to average 200 innings over that time frame. That comes out to a better than 5 WAR/year average.
A deal for Lee has the possibility of being nothing, and the distinct possibility that we get a 3-5 WAR season for way less than the usual cost on the market. After whiffing on the preferred options and still being under budget, this seems like a great play the more I think about it.