In the weeks leading up to the annual St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up, the MLB Hot Stove rumor mill had churned out a lot of speculation regarding the Cards and free-agent ace Max Scherzer. During the Winter Meetings, Jon Heyman of CBS pondered whether the Cardinals might sign Scherzer. A couple weeks back, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi breathed new life into the Scherzer-to-Cardinals gossip, reporting that St. Louis had explored signing the righty. Then Morosi set forth a speculative scenario in which Scherzer could get market value and still wind up inking with the Cards, concluding with:
It’s important to note that, at this point, I don’t know if the Cardinals have made Scherzer an offer. No source has told me that. But I won’t be surprised if St. Louis is where he ends up.
It was against this backdrop that general manager John Mozeliak took to the podium for a media question-and-answer session at the annual January Cardinals cattle call in St. Louis. When asked whether the Redbirds were targeting a big-name starter, Mozeliak bluntly said, "No." He then observed that this fact had not prevented a lot of writers speculating about such a move. Mozeliak's denial was coupled with an annoyed air. Just watch the video St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold posted:
It was fitting that the Scherzer rumors would come to a close in the closing hours of Winter Warm-Up weekend, and not with Mozeliak signing the former American League Cy Young winner. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reported Sunday that the Nationals were close to a seven-year deal with Scherzer. The Nats and Scherzer finalized an agreement Sunday night, according to Heyman, that is for "more than" $180 million, per Rosenthal.
The reported parameters of the Scherzer-Nationals contract are not what anyone would describe as "opportunistic," the adjective Mozeliak has consistently used this winter to describe the Cardinals' approach to free-agent pitching. Nor are they in the same ballpark as the $120 million limit the Cardinals articulated to free-agent lefty Jon Lester, who ultimately signed a six-year contract with the Chicago Cubs worth $155 million. It's not at all surprising to learn, from ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, that the Cardinals were never in on the Scherzer bidding:
For what it's worth, #stlcards have not been involved in a Max Scherzer pursuit. Washington scribes now saying it's the #nats.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) January 19, 2015
Signing Scherzer, who is entering his age-30 season, to such a deal would have been out of character for the Cardinals, who have never signed a pitcher to a contract worth more than Adam Wainwright's $97.5 million extension or a position player for more than Matt Holliday's $120 million salary. Given the negative overall trends for starting pitcher performance and the heightened injury risk for hurlers, not being obligated to pay Scherzer over $180 million through the end of his age-36 season isn't a bad thing.