St. Louis Cardinals

Lance Lynn makes more sense for the Cardinals than Jake Arrieta

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn talks about the 2017 season

St. Louis Cardinals MLB pitcher Lance Lynn will make his first start in a Major League Baseball MLB game on April 5 against the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs in a baseball game played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO near southern
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St. Louis Cardinals MLB pitcher Lance Lynn will make his first start in a Major League Baseball MLB game on April 5 against the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs in a baseball game played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO near southern

Word out of the nation’s capital is that the Washington Nationals are interested in adding Lance Lynn to their already stout pitching staff.

The big right-hander would join the ranks of pitchers Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, whose 15 wins and 2.96 ERA were both just third on the rotation.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals, who extended Lynn only a qualifying offer after his six seasons in St. Louis, are reportedly courting free agent Jake Arrieta.

Wrestling him away from the Cubs would give the Cardinals the upper hand in what has quickly become a roster rivalry born when John Lackey and Jason Heyward joined the Northsiders for their drought-ending World Series run.

Beyond that, you wonder why the Cardinals weren’t better off extending Lynn six months ago while they still had him in their clubhouse every day.

Signing Arrieta to replace him means having to negotiate with agent Scott Boras, who with the inevitable “mystery team” always lurking in the periphery, is well-known for bringing top dollar for his free-agent clients.

So how much for Arrieta? Boras suggested during the season that $180 million over six years for the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner wouldn’t be out of line. Of course it is. ESPN baseball writer David Schoenfield estimates something closer to four years and $105 million is more like it.

That’s still $26.7 million per year until Arrieta is 35 years old.

The market for Lynn is harder to peg. He said in October he was after a five-year contract at $22 million annually, similar to what the Detroit Tigers ruefully afforded Jordan Zimmermann the year before last.

Most projections put Lynn anywhere between $14 million and $17 million per season for four to five years.

The point is that Lynn isn’t going to get Arrieta money, but he can produce Arrieta numbers.

Let’s compare.

Here are Arrieta’s 162-game averages over his eight-year career:

▪ 203 IP

▪ 15-10

▪ 3.57 ERA

▪ 188 K

▪ 71 BB

▪ 1.169 WHIP

▪ 1.9 WAR

Here are Lynn’s surprisingly similar career averages:

▪ 193 IP

▪ 14-9

▪ 3.38 ERA

▪ 182 K

▪ 73 BB

▪ 1.288 WHIP

▪ 2.8 WAR

The sabermetric guys don’t like Lynn’s fielding independent ERA of 4.82 in 2017, suggesting that there was some luck in his success. A red flag? Maybe. But I tend to afford Lynn some benefit of the doubt since he was coming off Tommy John surgery and his WHIP (the number of base runners he allows per inning) was the lowest of his career.

To be clear, none of this is a knock on Arrieta, who would no doubt fill a vital role in a young and unproven Cardinals rotation. It’s just that, for the money, he’s not a significant enough upgrade over Lynn, who is also a year younger.

With the additions of slugger Marcell Ozuna and pitchers Miles Mikolas and Luke Gregerson, John Mozeliak and General Manager Mike Girsch have done good work in an an otherwise slow-to-develop offseason.

But there remain some unfulfilled needs if they want to catch the Cubs, namely a reliable closer. Free agent Greg Holland and his National League-leading 41 saves comes to mind. Another middle-of-the-order bat may also be in the works. Neither will come cheap.

Much has been said and written about the Cardinals’ new television revenue, their wealth of prospects and their willingness to move boldly this winter. Historically, though, this is an organization that has shied away from long-term free agent contracts (with the occasional exception of their own) and spoken openly about keeping their “powder dry.”

Signing a known quantity like Lance Lynn achieves both. He fills a need and, compared to brand names like Arrieta, provides better dollar-for-dollar value.

Why it doesn’t appear to be an option is a puzzle.

Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

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