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Should the St. Louis Cardinals wait to add another starting pitcher?

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Come July, the Cardinals' need for a starter might be better defined. There also may be more options to fill it.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, I looked at the St. Louis Cardinals' projected innings gap and why it makes sense for the front office to explore adding quality innings from an ace-caliber innings-eater. That being said, the Cardinals don't have to make a deal this offseason. In their report that the Cards have explored signing Max Scherzer and trading for David Price and Cole Hamels, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi made a point of stating that no deal was on the near horizon and one may not materialize at all:

No deal appears close on any front, and it’s possible that the Cardinals will simply decide that the acquisition cost in each case is too high.

This is important to keep in mind as the Hot Stove rumor mill gives us something to discuss in the baseball-less dead of winter: The Cardinals might not make a move. If the Cardinals can find a deal on the free-agent market or via trade with a price tag to their liking, they should pull the trigger. However, St. Louis doesn't have to make a deal before spring training. It's probably in their best interest to wait. If healthy, the 2015 Cardinals rotation will be good if not great. The following chart contains the 2015 ZiPS projections for the top seven.

2015 ZiPS Projections

Pitcher

G

GS

IP

K%

BB%

ERA

ERA-

FIP

FIP-

zWAR

Adam Wainwright

30

30

203.7

21.0

5.0

2.92

79

2.90

79

5.0

Lance Lynn

33

31

192.7

22.4

8.4

3.27

89

3.36

91

3.8

John Lackey

28

27

175.7

19.4

5.2

3.64

99

3.75

102

2.6

Michael Wacha

25

23

129.3

22.0

7.0

3.27

89

3.39

92

2.5

Carlos Martinez

28

28

150.0

19.8

7.9

3.66

100

3.22

88

2.2

Marco Gonzales

22

18

108.3

20.0

7.8

3.74

102

3.84

104

1.5

Tyler Lyons

26

22

132.3

18.3

6.4

3.94

107

3.92

107

1.4

That's not a bad top seven to open a season with. There are injury concerns, though, especially with Wainwright, the staff ace for whom there is no replacing, and Wacha, who looked en route to surpassing Waino as staff ace as early as this year before a rare shoulder condition landed him on the disabled list for almost three months last year. To open the season with this group is, to an extent, to bet on Wainwright and Wacha's health. The Cardinals don't seem comfortable placing such a wager, so they're exploring their options, in the free-agent and trade markets.

On Thursday, I put together a poll question regarding the remaining starters on the free-agent market that represent a clear upgrade for the Cardinals: Scherzer and James Shields. In looking at what the two pitchers seem likely to get in a contract, the either-or proposition becomes a Sophie's Choice. Signing Scherzer for, say, seven years and $210 million is a horrible idea. Shields on a five-year, $110 million contract seems only slightly better but still bad. But that's the price for top-line starters in free agency nowadays.

Then there's the two lefties the Cards have pursued: Hamels and Price. It sounds like Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro is still in the delusional phase in setting the price tag for Hamels. On Twitter last week, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold shared just how steep it is:

There's little information available at present on how much (if any) of Hamels's salary the Phillies are willing to eat in a trade. Based on the information reported so far, tt appears that the Phillies want the Cardinals to trade top talent to them for the obligation to pay Hamels $96 million over the next four years.

The Phillies' demands appear to make Price a better target. Like November trade acquisition Jason Heyward, Price is only under contract for 2015. This would seem to make the Tigers' asking price for their ace lefty lower than Phillies are seeking for their No. 1 southpaw. On Thursday of last week, Eric delved into what it might cost to pry Price away from the win-now Tigers. But any trade of Price is likely premised on Detroit signing Scherzer. It takes two tango and at least two to make a baseball trade. The Tigers, who are perhaps in a higher win-now mode than even the Cardinals, would have to be willing to part with Price. St. Louis would have to find their demands acceptable. This seems to make a trade with Detroit for Price this winter about as likely as one with Philly for Hamels.

It's a good thing the Cardinals aren't in the desperate position of needing to add a top-ling starter before spring training.

The Cardinals aren't required to finish the season with the same group of starters they have on opening day. Entering the season with Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, Wacha, Martinez, Gonzales, and Lyons is fine. Right now, it appears that the driving concern is the health of Wainwright. Where will ace-caliber innings come from if he goes down? Based on what we know about Wainwright's elbow, this concern seems legitimate, but not pressing. The Cards can go into 2015 with the starters they have and see what need manifests itself. They can reactive instead of proactive in bolstering the rotation—much like they were in 2011 and 2014. And why not? Have a look at the list of pitchers, from MLB Trade Rumors, that might be free agents after 2015:

  • Clay Buchholz (31) – $13MM club option with a $245K buyout
  • Mark Buehrle (37)
  • A.J. Burnett (39)
  • Trevor Cahill (28) – $13MM club option with a $300K buyout
  • Jhoulys Chacin (28)
  • Wei-Yin Chen (30)
  • Bartolo Colon (43)
  • Johnny Cueto (30)
  • Ross Detwiler (30)
  • R.A. Dickey (41) – $12MM club option with a $1MM buyout
  • Marco Estrada (32)
  • Doug Fister (32)
  • Yovani Gallardo (30)
  • Zack Greinke (32) – can opt out of remaining three years/$71MM
  • Jeremy Guthrie (37) – $10MM mutual option with a $3.2MM buyout
  • J.A. Happ (33)
  • Aaron Harang (38)
  • Dan Haren (35)
  • Tim Hudson (40)
  • Hisashi Iwakuma (35)
  • Scott Kazmir (32)
  • Ian Kennedy (31)
  • Mat Latos (28)
  • Mike Leake (28)
  • Tim Lincecum (32)
  • Kyle Lohse (37)
  • Corey Luebke (31) – $7.5MM club option with a $1.75MM buyout
  • Justin Masterson (31)
  • Brandon Morrow (31)
  • Bud Norris (31)
  • Mike Pelfrey (32)
  • Rick Porcello (27)
  • David Price (30)
  • Ricky Romero (31) – $13.1MM club option with a $600K buyout
  • Jeff Samardzija (31)
  • Alfredo Simon (35)
  • Jerome Williams (34)
  • Jordan Zimmermann (30)

To be sure, all of the pitchers on this list will not be on the trade block come July. But a fair number of them will be. Presumably Hamels will once again be available in July just as he is this winter, so we can add him to the list. There will likely be other pitchers with more than a couple months left on their contracts that might also be acquired. (Last January, I'd have never included Lackey or Jon Lester on a list of pitchers likely to be available at the trade deadline.) It's a diverse list, from aces to back-end stopgaps. So it might very well behoove the Cardinals to wait and see what they need (if anything) to bolster their rotation come July: an ace, a middle-of-the-rotation sort, or a back-end innings-eater. Then they can acquire a pitcher that best fits their need.