If the St. Louis Cardinals were to make only one more move this offseason, what should it be?
While I think the team could use another bat in the lineup and a closer in the bullpen, if I was the general manager and I had only one financial bullet to shoot, I would spend it on adding a solid starter to to the rotation.
I believe that the Birds didn’t have a true number three hitter or cleanup man in the batting order. While Miami Marlins import Marcell Ozuna can’t fill both of those roles, he is a significant upgrade in the lineup. If Tommy Pham hits like he did last season, I’d bat Pham third and Ozuna fourth in the St. Louis lineup. Then you could have Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler setting the table at the top of the batting order and Jedd Gyorko, Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina driving in runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh slots.
I don’t see a bullpen that lost its closer and its setup man from last season as being improved because of the addition of 34-year-old reliever Luke Gregerson to the mix. Again, he’s only one guy. He can’t do two jobs at the same time. If top prospect Alex Reyes eases his way back from Tommy John surgery by pitching in the relief corps, that might help fill the void. But that means he can help out in the rotation. So, a starting pitcher could free Reyes up to work from the back end of the bullpen and St. Louis could kill two birds with one stone.
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If that’s the route the Cardinals plan to take, which starting pitcher should the team pursue?
Bringing back Lance Lynn would make a lot of sense. He’s a known quantity: A guy who racks up innings by always taking the ball when it’s his turn and who gives his team a better than average chance to win every time out. However, it doesn’t seem like the Redbirds, who could have signed Lynn before he even hit the open market if they tried, are interested in a reunion.
Yu Darvish, formerly of the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers, is the belle of the ball when it comes to free agent hurlers who are available. He’s probably got the most upside and the most miles left in his arm. But that ability is going to come at a price the St. Louis front office is unlikely to pay.
However, if things break just right, the number two hurler on the market might be left standing at a price the Birds find to be much more palatable.
The Chicago Cubs have pursued Darvish and former Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb this off-season. But they seem to be lukewarm about the idea of bringing back their own free agent righty Jake Arietta.
If the Cubs signed Darvish or Cobb, attractive landing spots for Arietta might be scarce. The Dodgers and New York Yankees don’t seem inclined to spend big on a starter. The Boston Red Sox don’t have room for another guy in their rotation. The San Francisco Giants seem to be intent on trying to spend every available dollar they have on 30 something position players.
The Milwaukee Brewers were sniffing around Arietta at one point. But they shouldn’t be able to out-bid the Cardinals. And St. Louis shouldn’t let itself be outbid by a small market division rival. Arietta would not only be the co-ace the Cardinals have missed since Adam Wainwright started to show signs of wearing down. He’d be the guy who could start big games of a series to give the home team a formidable one-two punch. He’d be a good mentor for young guys like Reyes, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson to learn from. Plus, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a star pitcher with a chip on his shoulder playing several times a season against the team that slammed the door behind him.
How low would Arietta have to fall before the Cardinals would jump in? It’s hard to say. But I’d hope they’d take a flier if he could be had on a four-year contract or less. St. Louis has plenty in the war chest to spend this year. And it has $19.5 million per season coming off the books when Wainwright’s contract is up next year. A player of Arrieta’s ilk is arguably the most-needed thing when it comes to the St. Louis roster, especially if he can be had for $85 million as opposed to the kind of money David Price, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw can command.