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I woke up this morning to texts, tweets, and alerts saying the Cardinals were showing interest in a big time starting pitcher. John Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSportsmentioned David Price of the Tigers, Cole Hamels of the Phillies, and free agent Max Scherzer. It seems like this comes up every couple of weeks. Just a few days ago,Rosenthal speculated that the Cardinals were the favorite to sign another pitcher, James Shields.
The question becomes, why do the Cardinals keep coming up in trade/free agent rumors? Let’s run down some reasons why the Cardinals may be linked to these big names.
Concerns over current staff’s health
This is probably the most obvious reason why the Cardinals are flirting with a big name pitcher. Just a couple of months ago, Adam Wainwright went under the knife to have a ligament trimmed. This after the club said during the season he would not need an operation. The 33-year old Wainwright isn’t getting any younger, and if you look at his xFIP, he had his worst season in 2014 since 2008. Waino’s K% of 7.10 was his lowest since his first year as a starter, 2008. Maybe some of these lower numbers in 2014 are due to his injury, maybe not?
Maybe more confusing is the injury to Michael Wacha. After getting diagnosed with a stress fracture in his scapula bone in his shoulder, Wacha was shut down from mid-June to September. The good/bad with his injury is the only prescription is rest. Surgery is not needed for that type of injury. We are assuming that after a long rest this offseason, Wacha will be good to go when spring training starts in February, but there have to be concerns on whether the injury will return.
That’s 40% of the projected starting rotation that has injury concerns.
Concerns over durability to other starters.
Two other starting rotation spots appear to be had by 36-year old John Lackeyand 23-year old Carlos Martinez, both have their own question marks. How much can the Cardinals rely on Lackey? He is going to miss starts, the question is how many? While Martinez has only made 8 starts in his career, opponents are hitting .301 with an OPS over .800. Martinez has also walked more batters when he starts than when he relieves, which would limit his innings as a starter if continued.
They have the money
In October, Derrick Goold of the Post wrote that Bill DeWitt, Cardinals chairman, expects a significant rise in payroll over the coming years. Later in the article DeWitt did not define “significant”, but maybe the time is now. DeWitt also had this interesting quote:
As we look into the future the (salaries) will grow organically, internally. Having said that, we would have the capacity for an additional core player or players depending on their quality, their compensation, and our need.
Obviously if the Cardinals could not afford Hamels or Scherzer or Price, they wouldn’t be in the market. If you look at future obligations to those three you see that Hamels will make $23.5 million over the next four years and has an option year in 2019. David Price becomes a free agent in 2016 and the Cardinals would have to pay up for him, probably more than what Hamels has left on his contract. Scherzer is currently a free agent and is looking for a contract around $200 million, according to multiple sources.
The point is, the club would have to open their DeWallet in a big way for one of these three.
They have to keep up with the competition
Any good business always checks in and sees what the competition is doing. The Chicago Cubs are loading up for a run probably in 2016 or ’17 and the Dodgers are still the Dodgers. Sure, the Cards have knocked The Fighting Kershaw’s out of the playoffs the last couple of years, but you cannot expect that to happen every year.
The Cubs have impressive offensive pieces like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez,Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber. John Sickels of Minorleagueball.comsays the Cubs have the 3 of the top 10 prospects in baseball in Bryant, Russell, and Soler. While the Cubs will always be the Cubs in many fans’ eyes, you have to notice what they are doing, the Cardinals are.
Whenever I hear rumors like these, I always wonder where this information is coming from. I would bet a lot of money that it is not a source inside the Cardinals. My guesses are rival clubs and agents. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the Tigers or Phillies are floating the Cards’ name out there to drum up interest and to possibly rise the price tags of Price or Hamels. Same can be said on the agent’s part.
If I were to put these three pitchers in order of want, I would have Cole Hamels first, thanks to his “friendly” contract and the fact that he isn’t showing signs of decline. Second, I would have David Price, but he is a long distance away from Hamels. Price would be another “lame duck” player, one who does not have a contract after 2015. That would mean the Cards would have to re-sign Price and Jason Heyward in the same offseason. Max Scherzer would be my last choice, probably because I don’t want to hand out a $200 million contract to a 30-year old pitcher.
I still put the likelihood of acquiring one of these three at less than 20%, but as you can see from above, there are some valid reasons to explore.