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If there’s evidence of collusion, Lance Lynn is exhibit A

If the St. Louis Cardinals are playing chicken with the free-agent market, they’re awfully good at it.

We have heard for the last two months that there was plenty of time left to wheel and deal. Just be patient, they said. Well, spring training starts in less than two weeks and the Redbirds could still use a good starting pitcher, a closer and — if we’re going to get greedy — another slugger in the middle of the batting order.

No one ever expected St. Louis would get all of the above. But two out of three would be awesome and even one of them would potentially be a massive improvement. And by an amazing coincidence, four very good starters and one successful, experienced closer remain waiting in the wings for an opportunity to play.

There might not be much substance to allegations that Major League Baseball owners colluded in effort to try to hold down salaries, but if a case is made, Cardinals free-agent hurler Lance Lynn might be Exhibit A. Lynn is 72-47 with a 3.38 ERA in his career and is coming off a very nice season, especially for a guy in his first year back following successful Tommy John surgery. It stands to reason that the big righty will be stronger and more refined in his second season following the operation.

Lynn publicly announced last spring that he wanted to remain with the Cardinals and would take less to sign an extension here. Fans at my season ticket-holder appreciation party were adamant in telling General Manager Mike Girsch that they wanted to see Lynn brought back, but got no traction whatsoever.

It didn’t make any sense — when the Cardinals could use a durable starter and Lynn wanted to come back — that the team refused to even discuss a new contract ... unless the Cardinals knew that nobody was getting signed this winter and that, if they gave Lynn the same sort of contract that the team gave to Mike Leake two years ago, it would be an enormous overpay in relation to a market that no one should have been able to predict.

Regardless of whether the Redbirds knew what was going to happen to free agents, or if they really think they don’t need a starting pitcher because they have so many young arms in their system, it is especially frustrating to fans that it seems Lynn could be had much more cheaply than originally expected and St. Louis won’t bite.

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