THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Fans and media are pleading with the St. Louis front office to add another high-end rotation piece before the 2024 season. It can be a free-agent signing. It can be a trade. But the Cardinals need more strength at the top to pair with new acquisition Sonny Gray. And I agree. I’m with you on that.
To cite some examples, the Redbirds have to put together their own version of the one-two punch the Phillies have in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Or the elite one-two combination that the Diamondbacks send after hitters with Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Or, during healthier times, there was Milwaukee’s co-ace partnership of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.
Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys had a song: Wouldn’t It Be Nice?
Aerosmith had a song: Dream On.
That pretty much sums up the current situation.
The emotions and fantasies lead to rampant wishcasting. The BFIB and content providers (me included) want another prime starting pitcher. Most of the local online authors and talk-show bloviators are expressing (demanding?) this desire. I think we should call this Yamamoto! … but other starting pitchers are worthy of the classification. There is a Pavlovian response to the names Dylan Cease, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Bieber, or Logan Gilbert or any other recognizable name that’s being circulated as a distinct possibility. Yep, it sure would be nice.
And then there’s the reality. Hoshinobu Yamamoto is drawing intense interest from a large contingent of big-spending teams. According to The Athletic the list of Yamamoto stalkers includes the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, Giants and Mets. Contract forecasts have Yamamoto receiving a long-term deal that exceeds $200 million. And that doesn’t even include the posting fee that goes to the righthander’s team in Japan.
I’m not sure why so many good people are working themselves into a lather, inexplicably believing that Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. can be persuaded to outbid the MLB’s big shooters and successfully entice Yamamoto to a fantastic baseball future in St. Louis.
If you buy that, then you should also go ahead and plunk down a large wager on Bill Belichick being voted Coach of the Year in the NFL.
“I don’t think we’re looking to add starting pitching now,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Monday, during Gray’s introductory news conference. “I think it’s (more about) where can we improve the club overall. But I learned a long time ago, never say never.”
OK. Mozeliak didn’t totally rule out the possibility, so I’ll play along.
How and why could the Cardinals bring in another starting pitcher?
1. The Cardinals could move lefty Steven Matz to a swingman role, using him as a starter or a reliever depending on need at a particular time. Or the Cardinals could package Matz and an outfielder (coveted left-handed bat) in a trade for a starting pitcher. That would free up a rotation spot and payroll space. And then you can concoct 589 scenarios that would send Cease from the White Sox to the Cardinals. Or something like that.
1a. Or maybe the Cardinals could flip Tyler O’Neill or Dylan Carlson (or both) to acquire a legitimately good starting-pitching prospect who is close to graduating to the big leagues. Or maybe I’m just delusional for thinking that. But the outfield depth does create trade possibilities for pitching add-ons — including the bullpen.
2. If Mozeliak and associates are determined to sign or otherwise acquire a starting pitcher, the most likely outcome is the addition of a depth guy. And no doubt about it, this rotation could use some depth. The five starters – Gray, Miles Mikolas, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Matz – have an average age of 35 and soon must apply for Medicare. (Not really.) I’d be pleased with free-agent Seth Lugo, who can start or relieve. But as a free agent he’d probably prefer signing with a team that commits to using him in a starting-pitching role.
2a. Lugo won’t be a cheap purchase, either. On the other hand, he did not receive a qualifying offer from the Padres, so a team can sign Lugo without giving up draft-pick compensation. For informational purposes, other available starting pitchers who didn’t receive qualifying offers are Wade Miley, swingman Nick Martinez, Michael Wacha, Mike Clevinger, Frankie Montas, Luis Severino and Clayton Kershaw. But Kershaw isn’t really in play. He’ll retire or else return to the Dodgers or perhaps join his hometown Texas Rangers.
3. I don’t think, for a moment, that the Cardinals would pay a lot (via trade) for an impending free-agent such as Tyler Glasnow. Rent him for a year (2024), and pay him the guaranteed $25 million salary? Glasnow has been in the majors eight seasons. He’s appeared in only 127 games and made just 88 starts. He’s pitched more than 100 innings in a season two times – and never more than 120 innings in a campaign. He’s made more than 14 starts in a season just one time. Glasnow has missed 505 in-season days because of injuries, and his teams have paid him $10.3 million while he rehabs. He’s a prolific strikeout pitcher. But there’s only one little problem with that: he actually has to pitch, and pitch a lot. I’m sorry but I do not understand the local obsession with T. Glasnow.
4. Another pending free-agent starter – the extremely popular Bieber – had elbow problems in 2023 and was limited to 128 innings. In 2021, he missed 103 in-season days with a shoulder issue and pitched only 96 and ⅔ innings.
5. Some of the same people that are downgrading Sonny Gray’s addition by making a fuss over his minor injuries that had nothing to do with his right arm are pining for dudes (Glasnow and Bieber) that have non-minor histories of elbow and shoulder issues. I don’t get it.
6. I like Dylan Cease. Sure. He’s under contract control through 2025. But I’d like to know two things: (a) with more than a few teams pestering the White Sox about a potential Cease trade, what’s the cost of acquiring? How much would the Cardinals have to give up? And (b) Cease struggled to a 4.58 ERA last season. His underlying statistics – including a 3.72 FIP – are more favorable. And Cease was clearly a victim of poor batted-ball luck; the .330 average on batted balls in play against him last season was the highest among innings-qualified starters. But Cease also had an inflated 10% walk rate. And Miles Mikolas (14), Kyle Gibson (17) and Lance Lynn (13) had more quality starts than Cease (12) in 2023. I like Cease, but don’t share the view that he’s a reincarnation of Bob Feller.
7. Before we get too busy conjuring up fantasy trades for a “name” starting pitcher, let’s pause and think about something. Would the Cardinals suffer consequences offensively in 2024 by trading one or more of their better hitters?
8. Here’s why I ask: before the All-Star break last season, St. Louis ranked 12th in the majors in runs, eighth in slugging, seventh in OPS and seventh in park-and-league adjusted runs created. After the All-Star break, the Cardinals ranked 22nd in runs, 20th in slugging, 16th in OPS and 13th in park-and-league adjusted runs created. Of course, some of that can be attributed to the injuries that impacted Brendan Donovan (elbow) and Nolan Gorman (back.) But is this collection of hitters really as good as we seem to believe? Just asking. I don’t trust the situation. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are aging. Decline may be gradual, but it’s inevitable. Masyn Winn almost certainly will be the starting shortstop for the Cardinals in 2024, and he may be lacking offensively.
9. Back to the starting-pitching stuff. I’m not endorsing this view – I’m just passing it along – but the STL front office likes their rotation depth more than we do. The bosses believe the depth is fine. They like Zack Thompson. They still like Matthew Liberatore. They’re internally counting on several prospects to make the jump to the majors in 2024 – a list that includes Gordon Graceffo, Tekoah Roby, Michael McGreevy and Drew Rom.
10. Last season St. Louis starting pitchers averaged 5.2 innings per start, which was tied for seventh in the National League. But that’s misleading. Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty averaged a combined 5.7 innings per start. But Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Steven Matz, Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, Jake Woodford and Rom averaged only 4.7 innings (combined) per outing.
11. In signing Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, the Cardinals added three durable arms that ranked among the top 24 in the majors last season for most innings, and in the top 27 for most starts.
12. I wanted to point that out. The starting-pitching innings supply should be more reliable in 2024, but I still have concerns about the depth. Which brings me to my final point: one way to protect your team from starting-pitching chaos is making an aggressive effort to build a better bullpen. The Cardinals absolutely must do this, and I’m not talking about bringing in just one new bullpen asset. The St. Louis bullpen was mediocre overall in 2023 – and surprisingly low on strikeout pop, ranking 24th in reliever strikeout rate.
I plan on writing more on the bullpen and why it’s a potential hazard zone that requires reinforcement.
Until next time …
Thanks for reading.
Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We have a fresh pod available for you – a discussion of the Gray, Lynn and Gibson signings.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible. Baseball Prospectus, Bill James Online or Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.
For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.