A disastrous 2023 campaign for the St. Louis Cardinals ended with a fifth-place finish in the NL Central. For the Cards, this was the first time they finished last in their division since all the way back in 1988.
With a roster that is so immensely talented on paper, this obviously cannot fly. Seeing a team with Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Willson Contreras turn themselves into cellar-dwellers was shocking.
It has long been clear that a shakeup was needed for this roster. That began at the end of the year, when Adam Wainwright officially retired and came off the books. Ryan Tepera, Jordan Montgomery and Drew VerHagen hit the free agent market as well.
Non-tenders removed Dakota Hudson, Juan Yepez, Jake Woodford and Andrew Knizner from the roster, too.
However, with the vast majority of the team’s regulars returning in 2024, the Cardinals are left crossing their fingers that 2023 will prove to be an outlier.
Still, with Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Zack Thompson and Drew Rom the only returning members of last year’s starting pitching group, it was clear that the team needed to make several additions.
A Pair of Head-Scratching Additions
Early in the offseason, no team needed starting pitching more than the Cardinals. With Wainwright, Flaherty, Woodford, Hudson and Montgomery all no longer a part of the equation, there were plenty of holes to fill.
Earlier this week, the Cardinals announced two signings to slot into their 2024 starting rotation.
Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson are the newest members of the Cardinals. Each is a well-respected veteran who undoubtedly will help the team eat innings in the upcoming season, but these are odd moves made by a team that needs to aim higher.
The fact that the rotation will now be made up of four thirtysomething pitchers who each struggled last year and come with their own warts is rather concerning.
Sure, it’s only November, and there’s still a ton of time left in the offseason. With the Winter Meetings still coming up, there’s going to be much more movement in the next month or two.
Simply put, this is not going to be good enough.
Lynn originally broke into the league in 2011 as a member of the Cardinals. He spent six years on the team, making an All-Star Game and winning a World Series ring in the process.
Of course, Lynn’s best years did not come until the 2019-2022 campaigns when he turned into a dominant workhorse for the Rangers and White Sox. Then, last year, he had what was the worst statistical season of his 12-year career.
In Lynn, the Cardinals are bringing aboard a 36-year-old hurler who had a 5.73 ERA and 77 ERA+ last season. He surrendered a whopping 44 home runs and practically served up batting practice to opposing hitters all year long.
In other words, St. Louis has signed a player who is a shell of the pitcher he once was. Gone are Lynn’s days of dominance, and he is no more than a No. 4 starter at best by now. His deal is only a one-year pact, so the Cardinals can easily release him if he isn’t performing, but the fact remains that this signing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Gibson was never quite the star-level arm that Lynn was, but he’s been a reliable innings eater for over a decade now.
Last year, he made 33 starts for the Orioles, going 15-9 but posting a 4.73 ERA and 87 ERA+. His ERA was 13% below league average, making it three straight years that he has failed to even be an ‘average’ pitcher.
The 36-year-old also signed a single-year contract, so the risk is relatively low. However, he led the American League in hits allowed last season and failed to miss bats in a big way.
There Is Still Time To Right This Ship
Again, the offseason is still pretty young. There’s still time for John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, to turn things around.
Mozeliak spoke to The Athletic’s Katie Woo and said he doesn’t feel that the team is done adding. He mentions that they haven’t looked into the trade market yet but will be doing so in the near future.
This is good news for Cardinals fans who were left scratching their heads at their club’s most recent acquisitions.
It’s also worth mentioning that the team has been linked to most top free agent starters this winter.
On the trade front, Tyler Glasnow and Dylan Cease are two names that the Cards could target. Since St. Louis is dealing with a logjam in the outfield, perhaps one of Tyler O’Neill, Brendan Donovan or Dylan Carlson could be the centerpiece in a deal for one of those aces.
In MLBTR’s top 50 free agent predictions, at least one of their writers picked the Cardinals for Aaron Nola, Seth Lugo, Robert Stephenson, Nick Martinez, Yuki Matsui, Frankie Montas and Hector Neris. One thing is clear: This team is crying out for pitching.
The need for more is clear. Blake Snell, Sonny Gray and Yoshinobu Yamamoto are the three best-available arms remaining on the free agent market. If the Cardinals don’t come away with one of them, it’s going to feel like a pretty significant failure on their part. Gibson and Lynn might help stabilize the back of the rotation, but they’re not the signings that are going to turn this team around.