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The Best Remaining Fits on The Pitching Market

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The Cardinals have yet to make any moves that substantially address their issues with the current roster. What sort of starting rotation options might still represent an interesting fit?

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

You know, I have to say, the relatively constant stream of stories coming off the front page of the Cardinals' official website proclaiming the Redbirds to be poised to make a splash at the Winter Meetings, or ready to shake things up in the free agent market, or possessing unprecedented spending power/payroll muscle/financial flexibility/whatever other euphemism you like is starting to piss me off. It's one thing to shop at Goodwill; it's another to shop at Goodwill while loudly proclaiming you could buy this whole shitty store with what you make in a month, then haggle over whether that quesadilla maker with the non-working ON indicator light is really worth six dollars, or only $4.50.

So far, the Cardinals have whiffed in the free agent market, seemingly designating David Price as their number one priority (rightly so, to my mind), then refusing to even approach the offer the Red Sox tossed his way. They've been linked at least in terms of interest to a handful of other players, but have either watched those players sign elsewhere, as in the case of Jeff Samadzija (which, thank god; I can't imagine having to spell that name weekly for the next 5-4 years), or have just plain bowed out, as with the Ben Zobrist sweepstakes.

I can understand all the potential pitfalls and concerns related to pretty much every player on the market, and there are certainly reasons to be leery of any signing. However, at some point in time you're just flat out refusing to do anything, because the absolute perfect thing isn't coming along.

So as we head into the Winter Meetings, we have a constant background chorus of anticipation, a hum of a coming something from the Cardinals, because they have so much financial firepower and a willingness, even an eagerness, to use it, juxtaposed with the actual moves the Cardinals have made this offseason, which amount to some backup catcher shuffling and those ever-present headlines, all while the market is beginning to thin out at the impact level pretty quickly.

All the same, the fact remains that El Birdos have a need in the starting rotation, thanks to the uncertainty of their young options, the volatility of Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright, and the reality of Lance Lynn being gone for the 2016 campaign. There are innings that need to be filled, and while the Cards still have admirable, enviable depth to fill in at the back of the rotation, counting on those options to be of a caliber suiting a team with championship aspirations is risky, to say the least.

With all that being said, let's take a look at a few of the remaining options on the pitching market, and how they might fit into the Cardinals' offseason plans, if at all.

Cliff Lee

Lee was covered here yesterday, so I won't go into too great a depth. Personally, I actually like the idea of bringing in Lee on a one year deal; the potential upside if he's healthy could be huge, and the commitment remains modest. I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect him to hold up for a full season, unfortunately, but it could be worth the gamble.

Pros: He's still Cliff Lee, if healthy; short-term commitment.

Cons: As risky as it gets in terms of health right now.

Mike Leake

The former Red has been remarkably durable so far in his career, and fits the profile of a Cardinal starter, rolling up groundball rates that would warm Dave Duncan's crusty old heart. Of course, the Cards are a slightly less grounder-obsessed organisation in general now, but they still like those early-count efficient outs on the ground. Leake combines better than league average ERAs with worse than league average FIPs, and has done so three seasons in a row, giving some thought to the notion he's an honest to god FIP outperformer, at least for now.

Pros: Has thrown at least 190 innings three seasons in a row, and has posted ERA- figures of 88, 99, and 96 in those seasons. Will pitch all of 2016 at 28 years old, and I personally like the arm action a lot. Grounder-heavy approach should benefit from a solid infield defense in St. Louis, especially up the middle. Would not cost a draft pick, which is kind of a big deal to the Cardinals.

Cons: He's going to command probably a five year deal, or maybe even longer, precisely because of his relative youth and track record of durability. He won't be cheap over those years, either. Outperforms his FIPs for now, but it's always a gamble if that's going to continue forward. If he doesn't continue doing that, you have a 4.00+ FIP pitcher on an expensive deal.

Hisashi Iwakuma

Iwakuma has quietly been one of the better pitchers in all of baseball the past few seasons, largely due to performing in near-anonymity in Seattle. He's been possibly the most consistent performer of any Japanese import, without yet hitting the injury issues that derailed Yu Darvish or falling off a cliff like Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's done so by being utterly disdainful of walks, as well as taking advantage of the Safeco haven.

Pros: Has walked less than 5% of the hitters he's faced the last three seasons, while maintaining solid strikeout and groundball rates. Could end up underpaid due to still being under the radar a bit. Has been an FIP beast in general, and could see even further improvement coming to the NL and facing pitchers.

Cons: Will cost a draft pick, due to being QO'd. Is also 34, and will still likely require a three year deal to bring in. Hasn't been particularly durable the last couple years, including missing substantial time with a lat strain this past season. The innings concerns alone put me on high alert in terms of Iwakuma, in spite of how much I like him as a pitcher.

Mark Buehrle

We all know Mark Buehrle, and the story.

Pros: No draft pick lost. Still ridiculously durable, even at 37, nearly topping 200 innings for the fifteenth consecutive season this year, falling less than two innings shy. Also managed to maintain an ERA above league average again this year, in spite of fielding-independent numbers that are more worrisome. Could get a bump coming to the NL, helping to offset another year of age-related decline.

Cons: Strikes out literally no one at this point, and relies entirely on weak contact and limiting walks to keep the bases empty. Still durable at 37, but also just still 37, so, you know. There may be a point when he simply can't keep it going anymore. The velocity is approaching full Jamie Moyer levels.

Doug Fister

A few years ago, Doug Fister was pretty awesome. He threw groundballs, avoided walks, and just generally did a bunch of really good things with a heavy sinking fastball and one of the more impressive curves in the game. The last couple seasons have been less kind, as Fister has shown worrying signs of breaking down.

Pros: Could be a good candidate for a one year pillow contract, trying to reestablish his value after a couple down years. That's about it on the positives.

Cons: Has missed substantial time with injuries the last couple seasons, and has been awful when on the field. A 4.55 FIP in 2015 is very, very bad. His peripherals are all trending bad, with the groundball rate, strikeout rate, walk rate, and HR/FB% all pointing down currently. In other words, I don't think Doug Fister is a very good bet. At all.

Johnny Cueto

No.

Just no.

And hell no.

Author's Note: I apologise for the tardiness of this post; I'm currently fighting a really nasty stomach flu, and am really rather useless at the moment. Talk to you all again soon.