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Signing Leake not enough to plug Cardinals holes

The rumor mill is churning out speculation that the St. Louis Cardinals could sign free agent hurler Mike Leake as soon as today.

That’s nice. I mean, the Redbirds certainly need a starter or two after losing John Lackey to free agency and Lance Lynn for 2016 due to injury.

Leake is a Lynn-like pitcher -- a middle of the rotation guy who is durable and expected to keep the team in every game he starts. But he’s not the top of the rotation starter that the Cardinals and their fans crave to replace Lackey.

It strikes me as odd that the Redbirds would shrink away from top free agent starter David Price because they didn’t want to up their $180-million offer to match the Boston Red Sox. But they’re willing to shell out $75 million or so for an average Joe?

Yes, there is a big difference between $217 million and $75 million. But there isn’t that much difference between $75 million and the $97.5 million the St. Louis Cardinals paid team ace Adam Wainwright in 2013. If the Leake rumors prove to be true, his contract would be the second-largest deal passed out to a pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals team history.

If I was writing the checks, I’d rather have two big dollar starters complimented by young, cheap talent like Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez than four mediocre hurlers making $15 million a year each.

It offers more upside and more flexibility for the roster.

I’m crossing my fingers that a Leake signing is part of a bigger plan. General Manager John Mozeliak said he didn’t plan to make any big deals this off-season. It’s debatable if Leake qualifies as a “big deal” in Mo’s world. But if the Cardinals felt they could afford to spend $180-$200 million on Price or Jason Heyward that they believe they can afford to spend $75 million on Price and have $125 million left to fill other needs.

With Price, the Cardinals could hang their hat on a having a dominant starting rotation to carry the rest of the team. Right now, this club doesn’t really have any single realm of the game at which it can claim it is exceptional. The excellent starting rotation of 2015 has lost two key performers. The offense lost an important catalyst to a division rival and in doing so, the team lost one of its most accomplished defenders.

The Redbirds could solidify the pitching staff if not make it spectacular by signing Leake. But the way this team could become competitive is by using its savings from Price and Heyward to find a legitimate cleanup bat.

Maybe it wouldn’t have the best offense, the best defense or the best rotation. But trading for a guy like Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria or adding a free agent bat could make the Cardinals above average in pitching and offense. Maybe that’s enough to surprise the Chicago Cubs -- and the critics who are falling all over themselves to praise them -- in 2016.

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