Lance Lynn extension could be tricky for Cardinals as arbitration inches closer

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In 2014, Lance Lynn ranked in the Top 10 among wins (15), innings pitched (203.2) and ERA (2.74) for MLB starting pitchers. Many could argue that the Cardinals rotation may have collapsed under so much change and pressure without his surprise breakout performance last year.

But even though he evolved into one of the most reliable, durable and consistent secondary starters in the game last year, are the St. Louis Cardinals ready to make Lynn long-term offer?

It’s hard to tell. Lynn has made less than $600,000 in each of his past four seasons from league entry rules, and based on his impressive start to his career (8.3 WAR), it’s felt like a bargain to the Cardinals.

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But it won’t for much longer.

The 27 year-old becomes arbitration eligible for the first time this week if the two sides do not reach a new contract agreement within the month. A lot of factors make the arbitration process complicated, but he could clip Dontrelle Willis‘s record-breaking deal for first time eligibles worth $4.35 million in 2006.

Part of the trick deals with Lynn’s role on the Cardinals in the past. Since converted to a full time starter in 2012, he has accumulated the fourth-most wins of any pitcher in baseball, following good company in Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw respectively. Yet questions still loom about his command, considering he’s posted more than 60 walks and a 1.25 WHIP in each of those past three seasons.

While the righty is virtually a lock in St. Louis’s rotation for 2015, the Cardinals’ pitching depth possesses some challenges for him. Young hurlers Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales all present different concerns heading into 2015, but could prove their value as they compete for two unclaimed rotation slots in Spring Training.

None of these pitchers become arbitration eligible until 2017 and each of them are hyped with the potential to make an impact at a major league level. Lynn is under team control until 2017, and while the Cardinals aren’t generally game players with the arbitration market, the development of young pitchers could certainly affect the team’s willingness to offer Lynn a mutually beneficial contract.

A lot of factors make the arbitration process complicated, but Lynn could clip a record-breaking deal for first time eligibles worth $4.35 million in 2006.

Additionally, with the ever-growing possibility of a rotation meltdown, the Cardinals have been linked to other big-name solutions this month. Scherzer seems to be the most intriguing one, despite recent speculation about blockbuster trades for David Price and Cole Hamels.

If the Cardinals hypothetically acquired one of these three pitchers, it makes their future budgeting plans more tight. Such a move would consequentially interfere with Lynn’s contract situation and question the Cardinals current values of developing homegrown talent.

Basically, this particular issue breaks up into a simple debate. Would the Cardinals rather spend big bucks on another top-tier, mid-career ace or negotiate a reasonable hometown discount, yet pricey contract for a pitcher who is beginning to hit his prime?

In a perfect world, the Cardinals would be able to support an expensive mid-career ace and fund Lance Lynn’s future contract without budget woes. But the situation presents a curveball for the front office, and it’s very possible the Cardinals will wait and see how 2015 turns out before their next bold move in the pitching department.