The 2016 MLB offseason is in full force.
And big spending has been the central theme of it.
Pitcher David Price became the highest paid pitcher in MLB history a few weeks ago when he signed a massive seven-year, $217 million dollar deal with the Boston Red Sox. The 30-year old was previously a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Not too long after, 32-year old Zach Greinke went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a six-year, $206.5 million dollar deal.
Notably for the Cardinals pitching staff, 37-year old John Lackey went to the Chicago Cubs, signing a two-year, $32 million dollar deal. With veteran Lance Lynn also out for the year due to Tommy-John surgery, the vaunted pitching rotation is currently shorthanded.
All of this raises two questions; what pitchers are left on the free agent market, and what pitcher(s) would best fit with St. Louis?
Let’s take a look.
For starters, you have the hometown pitcher in Mark Buehrle.
At 36 years old, Buehrle has contemplated retirement over the course of the season as well as the offseason. However, he has made it clear that he will not retire this year if he pitches for one team next year. And that team is the St. Louis Cardinals.
A graduate of Francis Howell North high school in St. Peters and born in St. Charles, Buehrle spent the first 12 years of his career with the Chicago White Sox, helping them win their first World Series in over 80 years during the 2005 season. A five-time All-Star, he has also thrown a no-hitter (in 2007) and a perfect game (in 2009). He has a career 3.81 ERA and record of 214-160.
What makes him a potentially viable option?
With his impending retirement looming, it would be unlikely that it’d be a “big money” signing, which for the Cardinals, is a huge plus. Lackey made the minimum salary last year, and the Cubs are now giving him $16 million a year as he nears 40 years old. Buehrle’s signing can be a one-year deal with some incentives for certain milestones reached. Either way, it’d be a cost-effective signing on the part of the Cardinals, and the veteran would benefit getting to end his career with the team he grew up watching.
Next, there is a pitcher making big headlines: Mike Leake.
The 28-year old Leake is 64-52 with a 3.88 ERA in 177 career games (172 starts) in his career six seasons. Last season, while playing for the San Francisco Giants, the right-hander had a record of 11-10 in 30 starts, and an ERA of 3.70. He also pitched 192 total innings.
So why would the Cardinals and Leake mesh well?
Because he is still under 30, and in a rotation currently with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Jaime Garcia, and Carlos Martinez (though they will try to limit his innings per start), Leake could fill in a key spot within the rotation. It is currently a three-team race for the possible addition of Leake: the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Giants. This would be a much bigger signing (money-wise), than a deal with Buehrle, but still not unreasonable. He is a good fastball pitcher also constantly able to go deep into games.
Now, as far as pitchers within the National League Central, there are two notable ones that are free agents.
One of them is 35 year-old Joe Blanton.
Last year, he pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and in 21 games, Blanton went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA. Over the course of his 11-year career, he has gone 92-91 with an ERA of 4.44. Not the best stats, but much with most signings of players over 35, it would be a safe move as they would not be risking as much signing him to a small one or two-year contract.
But for the grand finale, probably the most talked about pitcher that could go to St. Louis… Johnny Cueto.
First, the reason many people do NOT want him as a member of the Cardinals: an incident that occurred back in 2010. During a bench-clearing brawl between the Cardinals and Cueto’s former team, the Cincinnati Reds, Cueto kicked Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue in the head, giving him a severe concussion. Only a few weeks later, LaRue retired from baseball.
Fans were absolutely outraged at the events that had transpired, and Cueto was heavily criticized. And people haven’t forgotten.
As far as pitching is concerned, however, Cueto is still in his prime at 29 years old. Last year with the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals, he went 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA. Not the best, but his years with the Reds are what he was most famous (or infamous) for. But perhaps his most notable achievement in 2015 was his complete game in the World Series, the first since Jack Norris in 1991.
Reports have emerged that he had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks (which was made before the deal with Greinke was). So it’s pretty clear that if the Cardinals were to make him an offer, it would surely have to be over five years and over $70 million dollars. And the issue arises here: that would be just the benchmark. No way would he be even remotely worth $150-200 million dollars, but around the $100 million range (high or low) is more realistic in this free agent market.
His two fastballs and slider are his signature pitches, those he has many others in his arsenal, bringing a sense of variety to his style. But does this mean the Cardinals are a good fit for him?
Having Wainwright, Wacha, and Cueto on the same team would make a strong trio of pitchers, especially in the National League Central, where pitching is heating up. Add in Garcia and either a veteran or Marco Gonzales, and the rotation is set.
There are many options out there for the St. Louis Cardinals to explore for pitching. The key is to use their spending wisely, otherwise the offseason will become an even tougher challenge for them to handle.
(Photo Credit: ABC News)