Here is the premise if you missed part one. There are a lot of starting pitchers on the free agent market, not necessarily a lot you might want, but certainly a lot of options. And within this market, there will inevitably be starting pitchers who are overvalued and starting pitchers who are undervalued. This will happen no matter how crazy the starting pitcher market might get.
What I attempted to do in part one and will continue for this post is identify the starting pitchers and try and guess who will be undervalued by the market and who won’t be. And within this framework, we can surmise that these pitchers will make sense to spend money on or won’t. If the Cardinals spend money on three pitchers, which is a possibility, they will have to spend it somewhat wisely, even if they have a bigger budget than we think. And to spend it wisely, you identify the undervalued players according to the free agent market. I already covered some players in part one, a lot of the interesting ones in fact, and this will comprise the rest.
Remember also, these answers are based on relative to the market. If the market is likely to overvalue them, in theory you don’t sign. That’s the premise.
Marcus Stroman (maybe)
Makes sense to sign? No
I’m torn on Stroman. On the one hand, I don’t actually think his price will be bad. He’s coming off two injury-shortened seasons, he will be 33, and at the same time, his advanced stats are more or less the same as they’ve always been. I suspect he’ll get a roughly market value contract. But also re-read the reasons he’ll be affordable. It’s the same reason to not sign him.
Which I don’t really think makes sense for the Cards. Not avoiding signing market value contracts. But signing pitchers like Stroman to market value contracts. He’s basically Mikolas 2.0. It’s good to have a Mikolas in your rotation. You don’t need two of them at market value. And also one of them at 2 years, $35 million is good, but you’ll probably have to give Stroman 4 years.
(And yes, I’ll think Stroman is opting out)
Makes sense to sign? I don’t think so
Giolito sure seems toast. He’ll sign one of two deals this offseason and given the resources the Cardinals will have, I don’t think either makes sense. He’ll sign a one-year, make good deal, but given Mike Clevinger got 1 year, $12 million, I think Giolito would be looking at something closer to $20 million. Cardinals have plenty of money to spend, but spending that on a reclamation project doesn’t seem like the best use.
Or he’ll sign a multi-year deal and I want no part of that either. If you believe in Giolito, the mutli-year deal makes sense. He’s still young, he clearly won’t get paid like he once would have, so it would most likely turn into a good deal. Just feels like a huge risk.
Makes sense to sign? I think so
I’m injecting a little bias here. What’s the difference between Flaherty and Giolito? There’s a narrative to Flaherty’s stats that leaves you with optimism. Would I have this narrative if I wasn’t a Cardinals fan and a Flaherty fan? Probably not. But this season is Flaherty shaking off the rust. His first two starts, from an advanced stat perspective, were unbelievably bad. And despite that, if he were to make 32 starts, he’d be a league average pitcher.
Also, he may be fading down the stretch due to throwing the most innings he’s thrown since 2019. By a lot. Does all of this require a lot more excuses than you’d like? You bet. But Flaherty is still just 28-years-old. He could either be what he’s been the last few years, and his paycheck will reflect that, or this past season could have been him shaking off the rust and he’s going to be a better pitcher for the next few years than his upcoming contract would suggest.
Makes sense to sign? Yeah
Wood is not without risk and if you look at his 2023 stats, you may wonder why he’s a yes. But you can probably have him for one year, and he’s already bounced back from what looked like the end of his career once. In 2019 and 2020, he threw a combined 48 bad innings with the Reds and Dodgers after being a solid pitcher for pretty much his entire career before that. Then he signed 1 year, $3 million deal, parlayed that into a two-year deal, and in the last year of that deal he pitched 92 bad innings.
Now I don’t think you can get him for 1 year, $3 million this time around, but a one year deal seems likely. He’d be a good 5th starter who at least would have a little upside. (I’m kind of biased though, Alex Wood always seems to be on my fantasy team)
A couple of assumptions for why I’m not covering the following players. Ross Stripling and Andrew Heaney have player options that I think they’ll accept. Alex Cobb has a $10 million club option that seems extremely reasonable. Zack Greinke feels like a guy who will either retire or keep signing one-year deals with the Royals. And besides, we don’t want another Wainwright situation.
Makes sense to sign? Yes
I don’t really intend to talk specific numbers, but would a semi-complicated mutual option after a one-year deal interest you? Say 1 year, $15 million, player option to opt into a 2 year, $20 million and if says no, the team gets a crack at you for 2 years, $50 million. Something like that. He was a back-to-back 5 WAR pitchers before injuries got in the way! And only 30.
Anyway, apparently I like the idea of the 5th starter having some (small) likelihood of having upside even though that will be difficult-ish to achieve because they will likely have a modestly high salary, even if it’s just one year. Would be harder to imagine three starting pitchers coming from free agency in that scenario.
(There is a possibility he’s offered the qualified offer and he’d probably accept, though I don’t think they will want him at that price)
Makes sense to sign? Yes
I’m not entirely sure what Yoshinobu Yamamota will cost, and I had to sort of guess whether or not his market would be reasonable. I kind of don’t think it will be, but at the same time, it’s a worthy risk. Imanaga on the other hand, feels like a guy that will fly more under the radar. He’s 31 next year, so he’s more of a typical free agent age (as opposed to 25). Even Kodai Senga was one year younger. His contract is fine.
Makes sense to sign? Kind of
Here is the flipside of the coin to Severino and Wood. You want upside in your 5th starter? Gibson isn’t giving you that. Do you want 160-180 innings of competent, acceptable pitching? It’s boring as hell and we probably won’t really enjoy watching him pitch that often, but he does clear the bar of having a higher floor than any of the internal 5th starter options.
I will say his fWAR is misleading. His ERA for his career is worse than his career FIP and it’s not a small difference! It’s about a 30 point difference. So has he been a 2.3 fWAR pitcher this year? Not really. But for one year, you should be able to get somebody who will be between a 1-2 WAR pitcher.
Makes sense to sign? .... Probably not?
My natural instinct is to assume Montgomery would be undervalued in the free agent market and that may be true, but why is that my initial assumption? He’s having a 4.2 fWAR season, will throw close to 190 innings over a full season, and will be 31. The profile of a player like Montgomery is.... he’ll get a contract based on his career year, not the pitcher he is. And that’s a player you should avoid.
That’s also, you know, basically been every big money free agent the Cardinals have signed lately: Willson Contreras, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas (first extension so not technically free agency), Dexter Fowler. I like Jordan Montgomery and my natural instinct is to sign him, but he feels awfully familiar in a bad way.
Makes sense to sign? No
I do very much like the idea of James Paxton being signed, but he showed enough health that he’ll get a legit deal, not a one-year one. He’ll be 35, so he’ll want as many years as possible and somebody will dream on him. You also really couldn’t count on him for many innings, he should be the type of signing where you count on precisely zero innings and anything he gives you is a bonus. That’s basically what the Red Sox did for his 2 year, $10 million deal.
He isn’t getting that deal this time and it’ll be too much money for a pitcher who you pencil in for zero innings to be as prepared as possible.
Makes sense to- No
I don’t need to explain this.
Makes sense to sign? No
This season feels pretty much like his best case scenario and he had 1.6 fWAR in 149 innings. I just feel like he doesn’t have the track record nor the upside to justify the contract he might get.
Makes sense to sign? Again, I think so
Basically, if anyone was a good pitcher in 2022, but not one in 2023, and also would likely get a one-year, prove it deal, I probably think they make sense to give a chance. Obviously, it partially depends on how much budget the Cardinals have to work with, but one-year deals are not really risky.
Makes sense to sign? Eh
He is maybe a few seasons to removed from actually being good for me to think he has actual upside, although he’s not a bad arm to throw into the pile and he might go for very, very cheap. Obviously, he’s the third pitcher in the offseason.
I think I’ll stop there. There are more free agents I could cover, but they wouldn’t be a part of a three-pitcher plan. They might be the fourth pitcher just to add a ton of depth. That’s how cheap they would be.