We took our kids to the local Renaissance Fair over the weekend, the highlight of which was the joust. Festival attendees packed the stands and a sort-of MC for the event divided us, the left side instructed to cheer for Sir Daniel, the right side for Sir Joseph.
For the next half-hour, my family and everyone sitting around us were devoted fans of Sir Daniel. When the event was over, we all dispersed and went about our day with little thought about our assigned champion.
That's more or less where we're headed with Lance Lynn. And as I see growing calls for the team to try to extend or at least re-sign Lynn as a free agent, I think it's important to keep in mind where we are on that continuum.
Right now, Lynn is a St. Louis Cardinal. As someone who has assigned themselves as a fan of that team and watched Lynn take the ball every fifth day for the better part of the last six years, I feel a lot of affection for him.
The Cardinals have made it a priority to extend many players before they reach free agency, typically locking-in a below-market value, but also saving we fans from the emotional stress of watching a Tsunami or a Yadi or a Wonger or a... MoMo ever leave our side.
It's seemed clear from reading the tea leaves for some time that the Cardinals would not be offering such an extension to Lance Lynn, and he recently confirmed that there have been no talks whatsoever between him and the team.
Now, if you look in the comments of that P-D article (actually, don't do that to yourself, just let me sum up for you), you'll find plenty of fans who feel like the Cardinals are "letting Lynn go," and clamoring for the kind of extension they've signed with others.
First of all, signing an extension with a player approaching free agency is extremely difficult. In the cases of players still under team control, like Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong or Stephen Piscotty, the extension provides an early and large guaranteed pay day the player would not have been assured through the year-to-year arbitration process. To extend a player approaching free agency, the team has to essentially negotiate against itself, and the deal only works if the team and player agree as to what the market is likely to be and where the player fits into that market. (Or if the player is willing to take a sweetheart deal to stay local.)
Lance Lynn was always on a trajectory toward free agency. Right now, he's one of our guys, and I get that it feels like we are going to "lose him." But five days after the World Series, he will be just one of the many free agent pitchers the Cardinals could sign to a guaranteed, multi-year contract.
Once you set aside that ingroup psychology, it's hard for me to imagine Lynn will be worth what it would take to sign him.
Ben Markham estimated Lynn might get something like 5 years / $75 million on the free agent market, which is nearly identical to the Mike Leake contract the team just dumped and will still be paying a portion of for the next three years. Zach Gifford at The Intrepid STL and others have guessed that figure might actually touch $100 million.
In a world where every 1.0 WAR is worth around $9 million, Lance Lynn could be worth a contract like that. But this isn't just a question of whether or not Lynn is worth that money. It's a question of whether Lance Lynn at that money is better than all of the Cardinals other options.
This is Lance Lynn vs. The Field.
As the free agent market goes, Lynn is outside the top tier. MLB Trade Rumors has him outside their Top 10 players, and at least below pitchers Darvish, Arrieta, Tanaka and Cueto. Over the last three years, Lynn's overall line is closer to a guy like fellow 30-year-old free-agent-to-be Andrew Cashner, and I doubt I will see any Cards fans clamoring that the team simply must sign Andrew Cashner this offseason.
But the range of possible alternatives to Lynn also includes the Cardinals perennial favorite player: Internal Options. In the case of starting pitching, however, the team is legitimately stacked.
As The Red Baron detailed recently, the team has three pretty strong rotation candidates with MLB experience in Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and the returning Alex Reyes. Not far behind, you've got your Dakota Hudsons, your Sandy Alcantaras and Austin Gombers, and on-and-on. All of those guys may come with some limitation on innings, either because of youth or injury or both, but that's still a pretty deep pool to fish from. And the innings limitations on those guys will also decrease as the years go on.
The old adage is true: You can always use more pitching. But that's an argument for a warm body, it's not an argument for Lance Lynn - or any one pitcher - in particular.
To me, Lance Lynn looks like the ideal qualifying offer candidate. If he accepts it, you get one year at $18 million, without having to promise you will still be paying him $18-$20 million five years from now. If he declines - and let's be real here, he would decline - you get a draft pick. But honestly, I'd be happy with either of those options.
In the short term, I can see the Cardinals with a need for some of the things Lance Lynn provides. But I just think there are better ways for them to fill those needs than in the specific package that is Lance Lynn.