Cheap Seats

With all this talk about sluggers, what if the St. Louis Cardinals prioritized starting pitching?

There has been a lot of speculation about the St. Louis Cardinals acquiring a slugger this off-season to try to fix their (lack of) playoff blues.

But picking up a big bat from the trade market will likely force the club to part with some of its young pitching. So, what if the club decided to wade into the deep end of the pool of free agent starting pitchers by trying to sign former Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish.

Darvish was only 6-9 with a 4.01 earned run average for Texas last season before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. After that, he was 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA. With the Rangers, Darvish pitched at one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball. He might be just the ace the Redbirds are lacking pitching at more neutral Busch Stadium.

Carlos Martinez has world class stuff. But he just doesn’t seem to do very well in the high-pressure situations that aces are supposed to handle. Martinez might do well to play second banana to Darvish, still serving as a top of the rotation starter. But it would be nice if he didn’t have to be the leader of the pack. Especially since the Cardinals will lose former ace Adam Wainwright when his contract expires at the end of the 2018 season and Michael Wacha is a constant injury concern. With the expected loss of Lance Lynn this off-season, the remainder of the St. Louis starting pitching will be very green.

Darvish is a guy who strikes out four times as many people as he walks, he consistently allows less hits than innings pitched and, considering where he played his home games the last five years, he does an admirable job of keeping the ball in the park.

If the Cardinals snuck in and snatched up Darvish, they would have a lot of options to find the much more-readily available commodity of a power hitter. They could trade for Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna or Josh Donaldson. Or they could ink Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer or even Jay Bruce to a free agent contract, to name a few options. Any of those moves would represent an improvement to the middle of the St. Louis order over what the club had last year.

It will be interesting to see what the 30-year-old Darvish commands on the free agent market. He’s not as flashy as guys like Max Scherzer and David Price who have broken the bank over the past few years. He’s only won more than 13 games once and he doesn’t have much of a playoff track record. But he’s got strikeout stuff and a history of performing well in a difficult environment for pitchers. Darvish’s career ERA is a full half point lower on the road than it is at Globe Life Field.

Despite the fact that players see guys from the other league a lot more than they used to because of interleague play and free agency, Darvish is a guy who teams in the National League won’t have as much experience with, so that might be an advantage. He’s only pitched 4 1/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs, five innings against the Milwaukee Brewers and 12 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I imagine Darvish is going to get at least a six-year contract. But he might demand less of a financial commitment than the Cardinals were willing to make to Price two years ago before he stunned them by signing with the Boston Red Sox at the last minute.

It would be an out of character, but not out of the realm of possibility, move for the Birds to spend big bucks on a free agent pitcher. But if Darvish is available for a reasonable cost, St. Louis ought to take a good hard look at him. Because I bet the Chicago Cubs will.