Late last night, there were borderline specific rumors swirling around the Twittersphere stating that the St. Louis Cardinals are "thought of as [the] favorite" to sign free agent starting pitcher Mike Leake, who, as reported last night just before 10 PM central time, "will sign very soon." Before we get into meaningful discussion on how Leake may plug a hole in the back of the Cardinals rotation, let's first talk about the craziness that is a baseball-related rumor, particularly in the age of social media.
John Mozeliak and the Cardinals have been active, yet plainly unsuccessful during the hot stove season. Sure, they signed Brayan Pena (who will likely now have a larger role than we originally thought) and traded for Jedd Gyorko, but they have reportedly finished second in both the David Price and Jason Heyward sweepstakes—tasks number one and two for the 2015-2016 offseason.
Despite having league-minimum, likely already league-average depth (Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzales) ready to fill in for the absence of Lance Lynn (elbow), the Cardinals continue to be linked to free agent (and even non-free agent) starting pitchers. Why? I suppose the Cardinals could indeed be having serious talks with agents/teams about said pitchers, but I propose the idea that many of these reports are largely based on the Cardinals previously-reported willingness to spend, coupled with what some view as a starting pitching need (for the record, I am not one who believes there is a starting pitching need).
Plus, in general, it is not Mozeliak's modus operandi to quash Cardinals-related rumors (admittedly, he did so with the overstated Chris Davis rumors earlier this offseason) because being endlessly linked to players is not necessarily something that will negatively affect his process or decision-making as general manager. Because of this, if the Cardinals are ever in as little as the same sentence as an available player, whether it originated from within the organization (at probably a considerably lower level than Mozeliak) or was fabricated by an agent serving his client, reports will immediately surface that the Cardinals—cough, the St. Louis Cardinals—are interested. Honestly, for writers looking to break news, it is not that bad of a plan, either. It cannot be denied that the Cardinals do indeed have money to spend, points can be made that they also have a need, and there is a good chance no one from within the organization will dispute such reports.
Please remember, the discussion above was merely an idea (opinion is probably the better word to use here) I personally share on the abundance of trade rumors we read about each offseason. The Cardinals could very well be in serious contract talks with Leake's agents at Beverly Hills Sports Council right now. He could sign as soon as today or as late as the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Last-minute, pre-publishing edit/addition:
One thing I am fairly certain about, though, is at the role of fifth starter, the Cardinals will not be interested in signing a two-win (by fWAR) pitcher to a five-year contract at $15 million average annual value (AAV). I understand that the cost of a win continues to rise, but when comparable, league-minimum options are already available internally, the equation becomes much murkier than a simple "one win costs $7-8 million on the open market."
That being said, with this being the second (or third?) time the Cardinals have been reportedly "in" on Leake, it has me wondering about the state of the rotation, both short- and long-term. Despite workout videos being regularly posted on Instagram, are they concerned with the rehabilitation status of Carlos Martinez? Is Michael Wacha's declined performance actually associated with a shoulder health issue instead of merely fatigue? Do they really trust a coin flip as to whether or not Jaime Garcia can be healthy for the entirety of 2016? I have no concern about Adam Wainwright's surgically-repaired Achilles, but how soon can we forget that he had an yet another offseason operation on his throwing arm after the 2014 season?
If the Cardinals do indeed sign Leake for a contract anywhere close to the deal he's been reportedly asking for, frankly, I view it as an overpay, so Leake will likely be considered much more than a "fifth" starter. While Leake has been average to slightly above average up to this point in his career, his ability to "eat innings" is undeniable. There is unquestionable value in "eating innings, especially if the organization is keeping deeper health questions under wraps.
P.S. Much of this post was written well before Ken Rosenthal's latest tweet (embedded above). It appears that the Cardinals will finally make a medium-sized free agent splash. What are your thoughts on the possible addition? Include them below.