What is the Cardinals' best Starting Pitching option?

Given we are so close to the Winter Meetings, with signings happening by the minute, it's hard to write an article and keep it relevant to what is going on right now. But as I am writing this, the Cardinals have missed out, so far, on all Top-tier Starting Pitchers, and some Mid-tier as well. We know that they made a big offer for Price, which would have made him the top paid player in Cardinals' history, but we don't really know who else the Front Office as been targeting.

One thing is for sure: The prices for Starting Pitching won't be getting cheaper anytime soon.

So that puts the Cardinals in a bit of a quandary. We know they have the money to spend, which is evident by their pursuit of Price, and by the billion-dollar TV Deal that is coming in 2017. But at this point, is there any pitcher out there worth spending that kind of money on? To understand what we need, we need to understand what we lost.

Rotation Necessities:

If the season started right now, the rotation would look something like this:

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. Jaime Garcia
  4. Carlos Martinez
  5. Marco Gonzales/Tim Cooney
On the surface, that's not bad. Some teams would be ecstatic to have a rotation like that. The problem is, the Cardinals aren't like some teams. To compete in our division, and also in the National League, sporting a rotation that's 'Good', may not be enough. The problem doesn't lie in the ability of the pitchers, as 3 out of the 5 are All-Stars, and Jaime Garcia is no placeholder. However, the problem does lie in the consistency. For this rotation, consistency isn't defined in any one way, so we can break it down pitcher by pitcher:

Wainwright: No doubt the Ace, but as he goes into his age 34 season, how many more Cy Young contending years does he have left? One? Two? None? This season may hinge on wether Adam Wainwright can stay as the consistent Ace of the Cardinals, and wether or not he stays healthy throughout it.

Michael Wacha/Carlos Martinez: Both have great potential, maybe the ladder more than the former, but still, high potential. Their consistency isn't so much avoiding injury, as much as it's how long can they pitch well into the season before they run out of gas. As we saw down the stretch and into the Postseason, there is still a question as to how long they can maintain T.O.T.R stuff.

Marco Gonzales/Tim Cooney: Their consistency is not how long they can maintain quality innings, but is if they can maintain quality innings at all. Still young with room to grow, but if the Cardinals are in the middle of a division-deciding game against the Pirates or Cubs, and you have to turn to your #5 guy, it may leave you wishing that they pursued an upgrade.

Jaime Garcia: Health. Plain and simple. That's it.

Summary? More question marks than there should be for a 100 Win team, who led MLB in ERA. But that was then, and this is now. With Lackey off to Wrigley and Lynn on the shelf, there is a definite need to replace the quality innings from both of these pitchers, and the market is thinning quicker than John Mozeliak would of hoped for.

But let's stop the cynicism, and actually get to ways of fixing this problem.

1. Front End of the Rotation Starter:

While there aren't a lot of those, there are still some out there. You've got Mike Leake, who isn't an Ace by any means, but can still slide in near the top of some rotations. Same with someone Like Scott Kazmir, who has had success in the past, and with the help of Lilliquist and the coaching staff, could form into a solid 2-3 in the rotation starter. And then there's the beloved Johnny Cueto, which as I type this I hear a collective moan from readers all across the midwest. In a lot of ways, I feel, the Cardinals have missed the boat on this option. Price, Greinkie, Zimmerman, and Samardzija have all agreed or signed to contracts who's AAV is no less than 18MM a year (Samardzija) and maxes out at 34MM a year (Greinkie). What does this mean for potential suitors of Cueto, Leake and Kazmir? Better open your wallet really wide. Los Angeles Dodgers are desperate to get someone who can replace Greinkie, San Fransisco Giants are still in the market to add another mid-tier Starting Pitcher, Cubs could still be looking for a starter given they have only inked Lackey. Then add in the Yankees, Nationals and Padres who are all Wild Cards for any top available Starters on the market. The Cardinals went after Price because they thought of him as a special case, who they could make a Cornerstone, who would be a great Right-Left-One-Two Punch with him and Wainwright. He is looked at as a clubhouse guy who could be a fan favorite. Oh, and he pitches like a Cy Young, because he is one. Cardinals were willing to make a big offer, because it fits a certain criteria. Greinkie wouldn't of fit that, Samardzija didn't fit that, Leake may not fit that, and Cueto sure as heck doesn't fit that. Mozeliak likes to stay away from Panic moves, and by signing one of the top available SPs at an overpay, is the very definition of a Panic move.

2. Back End of the Rotation Starter:

I would like to refrain from using the term 'Bargain Bin', because if this were next offseason, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo and Mat Latos would all be considered 'Front-end' starters. But because of the deep SP class, they do fit more of the backend starters, at least at this point in their career. These are the players who still seek a multi-year deal, but (hopefully) won't come close to what Cueto will get. Cardinals could, and probably should, be looking at these pitchers, just for the sake of saving money for bigger, more long-term holes. Once Lynn comes back next year, he'll need a spot, and signing a pitcher with an AAV of 15MM or more, will A). Be forced to into the rotation (You won't bench or put a 15MM+ player in the bullpen) B). Hard to trade given the age and probable performance. These players should get less, to the point that it wouldn't be super hard to eat it, or stick with the commitment, and also shouldn't be longer than 3 or 4 year deals. If the Cardinals sign one of these pitchers, I think it would a safer, more strategic move, in order to move money around to other areas that need to be fixed.

3. The 'Wild-Cards'

I call them this because I see these pitchers as more of a 1 year deal type of contract. These include Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Doug Fister. Either because of age, injury or performance, these players have a high-risk factor attached to them. And I don't see any team giving them the type of multi-year deal they want. So a one year deal would be in their best interest. Either to try to contend one last time (Cliff Lee), show he is still a legitimate Starter in baseball (Tim Lincecum), or to rebuild his value from a down year (Doug Fister). In a way, this may be the safest route for the Cardinals to take on the Free Agent market. If it doesn't work out, it's a one year deal, in which they can release the player and only have to worry about the money for the rest of that year. And if it pays off, you may have just found your 2nd or 3rd in the rotation starter.

4. The Trade Market

Though the Cardinals don't have as many Blue-Chip prospect as they did a few years ago, this route is still an interesting one to examine. At this point, there aren't many 'Impact' Free Agent starters out there, and virtually none that fit the Cardinals' need or style. But the trade market offers something different, and I think it also still allows you to dip into the Free Agent market it as well. Lets look at a hypothetical situation:

Lets say Cardinals did sign Price, and he is now our #2 in the rotation. That probably doesn't leave us much extra money to either retain Heyward, or add any offensive thump to the 2016 lineup. Yes, you could make the argument that Pitching is a bigger need at this point, and we already have too many Outfielders. That argument would have held true a month ago, but now? All sure-fire replacements for Lynn and Lackey are off the board, and the money would be better spent elsewhere. Where you may ask? Double down on offense.

Basically, what this would require is the Cardinals to sign a Free Agent position player, and trade one from it's own depth. If you sign Davis, you trade Adams, or Moss, with prospects for some kind of Starting Pitcher. If you resign Heyward, you look into Jay, Grichuk, or Piscotty as a centerpiece for a Starter. Or if you sign Ian Desmond, you look into what Peralta and prospects can get for a Starting pitcher.

Obviously, each scenario is different, and the package the Cardinals offer would change the quality of SP they get back in a trade. You can't expect to get Jose Fernandez, or Matt Harvey for spare parts (Holliday, Moss, Jay). Those players alone, or bundled together, have no value for a team offering high-quality starting pitching. But if you add in top prospects like Jack Flaherty, or Magneruris Sierra with a MLB piece, you can get something better. And obviously, as much as it would hurt, making Piscotty or Grichuk a centerpiece would be the key to getting an Ace. But like I said, we don't need an Ace, we just need someone to replace the quality innings left from Lynn and Lackey. Names out there on the trade market range from Tyson Ross (SD), Carlos Carrasco (CLE), Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller (ATL), Matt Moore (TB), and numerous other players. If the Cardinals choose to sign Heyward, Upton, Davis, Desmond or Zobrist, they can trade from the position in order to get a solid starting pitcher. Which in the case of Jason Heyward, I would be ok with. If you trade Jon Jay or Matt Adams and prospects, you could probably get a low-mid rotation pitcher, who could give you good innings of decent quality, but like I said, adding a better piece like Piscotty or Grichuk, you may be able to pry a top-notch Starter from a team who's looking for young offense.


All of these options are viable, and like we've seen in the past, no one can predict which route the F.O could take. Personally, my approach would be either sign a back end starter like Gallardo or a one-year deal guy like Fister, then resign Heyward or beef up the offense somehow, because there aren't any top-dollar starters that really make sense for the Cardinals at the moment. As far as the trade market goes, I could see Adams or Jay plus a top prospect netting the Cardinals a quality innings eater, but certainly not an Ace. And then only pitchers I think the Cardinals should give up Grichuk or Piscotty for are Ace-caliber players like Matt Harvey (NYM) or Jose Fernandez (MIA), but likely it would be too rich for the Cardinals' blood, and the opposing team would feel as if it isn't enough.

Time will tell, in fact in the next few weeks, we will probably know what route the Cardinals go for sure. But given the 'Payroll Muscle' the Cardinals have, and the smart Front Office they have, they will make decisions that lead to long-term success rather than immediate gratification.