Given their need to address a severely lacking rotation, it was never going to take long for the St. Louis Cardinals to act once the pitching market began to take shape.
Less than 24 hours after Aaron Nola — one of this year’s top free-agent starters — inked a seven-year, $172 million deal to return to Philadelphia, St, Louis assured itself some rotational depth. Per multiple league sources and first reported by ESPN, the Cardinals reached a one-year, $10 million contract agreement with 36-year-old right-hander Lance Lynn, who was drafted by St. Louis in 2008 and spent the first of six years of his career as a staple in the Cardinals rotation. The deal, which is pending a physical, includes a $1 million buyout, guaranteeing Lynn $11 million in 2024. Lynn can receive up to $13 million in performance bonuses in 2024 and the deal includes an option for the 2025 season.
Lynn is coming off arguably the worst season of his 12-year career. He posted a 6.47 ERA over 21 starts for the Chicago White Sox before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. The change of scenery didn’t help much as Lynn recorded a 4.36 ERA over 11 starts to close out the season. Lynn allowed 44 home runs in — the most by a starting pitcher in 2023.
But the Cardinals have an affinity for reclamation projects, and (at least in their eyes) who better to take a chance on than a player the organization is already plenty familiar with? Lynn is a durable, gritty veteran who has proven to be able to take the ball every fifth day. The Cardinals need to cover innings in bulk next year. By signing Lynn, who made all 32 of his starts in 2023 and has recorded at least 28 starts in four of his last five full seasons, they can at least provide some insurance in that department.
His 9.4 strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio last year ranks higher than any pitcher in the Cardinals rotation last year. That’s a notable stat for an organization searching to increase swing-and-miss throughout its pitching staff. There is also an argument to be made that the team could benefit from Lynn’s dry wit and edginess. The Cardinals lacked veteran leadership at times last season — especially in the second half of the year — and Lynn’s no-nonsense persona could help tighten up a clubhouse.
Of course, Lynn will not be the sole pitching addition president of baseball operations John Mozeliak makes this offseason. St. Louis still needs to address the upper portion of its rotation.
There are several ways in which the Cardinals can do that, though their top-tier free-agent options are looking limited. With Nola off the board, Blake Snell and Sonny Gray are the two of the three best remaining arms. The Cardinals have been linked to Gray and are in a better position to offer the 34-year-old a shorter-term deal than they are offering Snell an extended, multi-year contract. But given how coveted starting pitching is throughout the league, the Cardinals will have to outbid many suitors in order to land him. The Atlanta Braves have had reported interest in signing Gray, as do the Phillies, though it’s unclear if that strategy has changed since signing Nola.
MLB’s next big Japanese star has just hit the market.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto will enter free agency at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Which teams will be vying for his talents? ⤵️https://t.co/dkwniHEL6x pic.twitter.com/IuaPLCgVi1
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) November 20, 2023
The trade market remains another avenue for the Cardinals to acquire quality standing pitching, and the club has the depth to pull off a trade. St. Louis could benefit from a somewhat thin class of position players in free agency this year. The club is open to trading from their outfield depth, including Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson but Lars Nootbaar is expected to stay put, according to league sources. Infielders Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan have drawn interest from other clubs, but the Cardinals would prefer to hang on to both players if possible. If the Cardinals strike out on the top arms in free agency, however, they might be forced to make an uncomfortable trade to shore up the upper rotation.
But by bringing back Lynn, the Cardinals feel they have somewhat addressed their need for innings and successfully added to the back end of their rotation. It is an important box to check on a long list of to-do items, but plenty of work remains.
(Photo of Lance Lynn: Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today)