The St. Louis Cardinals have a decision to make in regards to the future of starting pitcher, Lance Lynn.
Earlier this week, I decided to go a little off-course than the traditional reaction pieces we have at Redbird Rants. I wanted to focus on a single player because he was the most intriguing piece the St. Louis Cardinals had to offer at the trade deadline.
In the first of a three-part series, I wrote on whether I believed Lance Lynn‘s price tag at the deadline was too high. I am convinced the Cardinals’ price for Lynn was too high, but we may never really know. The front office won’t come out and exactly say it, but considering what other teams received for their pitchers, the Cardinals’ could have received something in return.
Of course, that is under the assumption the St. Louis Cardinals do not want to keep Lynn, but that’s exactly what I am going to talk about in part two. The Cardinals have some options now that they did not trade Lynn.
Here are the options the Cardinals have for the time being:
- Let him walk, no strings attached
- Trade him through the waiver wire
- Offer him a qualifying offer in free agency
- Re-sign him to an extension
What are the St. Louis Cardinals options?
If you were wondering why the Cardinals did not trade Lance Lynn, you more than likely came to this same question as well. When assessing the options there are some very likely candidates and no-so-likely candidates. Of course, there are some other scenarios that involve signing Lynn and then trading him away, but that is ridiculous. I’m sticking to my four options above.
Let him walk
The first scenario is a no-brainer. I know it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but it is a possibility, if it even is one. If the St. Louis Cardinals were to let Lance Lynn walk, no strings attached, then it would be the craziest thing I have ever seen. It would be even crazier than Mike Matheny putting Matt Adams in left field.
However, Ken Rosenthal mentioned the Cardinals may not offer Lynn a qualifying offer. Meaning, if the Cardinals do not trade him and do not offer him a QO, then he walks free. The front office isn’t dumb enough to do anything remotely close to that, so no worries there. We briefly discussed this topic in our podcast on Thursday. Let’s move on.
The second option the St. Louis Cardinals have with Lance Lynn is trade him through the waiver wire here in August. This scenario is out there, however, there is still a chance the Cardinals do this. One of our writers, Larry, talked about the possibility of using the waiver wire to trade players.
Remember, the waiver wire acts a little differently than just picking a team and saying, “Hey I want to trade with you for this player.” If you need a refresher on how the waiver system works, check it out here. While placing Lynn on the waiver wire doesn’t mean anything really, teams could submit a claim on him.
Once a claim is submitted, the St. Louis Cardinals have three options, keep him, trade him, or let him go. If the Cardinals decide to trade him, they have two days to do so. If no one submits a claim on Lynn for two days, then the Cardinals may trade him to whomever they like. The important date about waiver trades is August 31st. After that day, any player traded cannot participate in the post-season that year.
The complexity of the waiver wire does add some confusion to a Lynn trade scenario. If the Cardinals place him on waivers and he is not claimed, then it becomes a little more interesting. All those teams we talked about in part one (Royals, Indians, Astros) all come back in play. But is this really the option the Cardinals would take with Lynn?
While it is an interesting thought, I’m sure the Cardinals will mull it over. Ultimately, though, I think a couple of things will deter the Cardinals from using this option. The first is pitchers like Lance Lynn usually do not appear on the waiver wire. For as many teams looking for starting pitching upgrades, the Cardinals may not get the trade partner they want because of another team’s claim.
Teams like the Royals, Astros, and Indians, have a lot of other teams in front of them that would more than likely submit claims for Lynn. As of today, the Royals, Indians, and Astros all sit 21st, 24th, and 29th respectively on the waiver wire. Any one of those teams would claim Lynn before the other.
The downside of a team claiming Lynn is that if the Cardinals pull him back off waivers, they cannot do so again without risking Lynn’s rights to the claiming team a second go-around.
The second factor stopping the Cardinals is he is a rental starter and his price will be steep, especially a month from post-season eligibility. Again in begs to question whether the Cardinals price tag on Lynn in July was too high, but I’ve gone through that already.
So, no. The Cardinals will not use the waiver wire to figure out what to do with Lynn. It’s too risky and just not a good plan. However, the next couple of options are certainly ones worth talking about.
The third option the St. Louis Cardinals can take with Lance Lynn is offering him a qualifying offer (QO) in free agency. If you thought the waiver wire was confusing, the qualifying offer scenario isn’t any different. The CBA agreement in place has changed the world you knew when it comes to qualifying offers.
If you need a crash course on the major changes to the qualifying offers, take a look here. Like I said, it’s going to get a little confusing, but just remember one thing, the Cardinals will, in some form, receive a draft pick if they offer Lynn a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere.
"Complex equation for #STLCards. Want to improve for now and future. Need bullpen help to make run. Unlikely to make Lynn qualifying offer.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 27, 2017Complex equation for #STLCards. Want to improve for now and future. Need bullpen help to make run. Unlikely to make Lynn qualifying offer.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 27, 2017"
That being said, there are a couple of key factors to consider in whether the Cardinals offer Lynn a QO. The first factor to consider is how much the QO will be worth once free agency starts. The offer will be a 1-year, $18 million dollar offer. The second factor to consider is the contract Lynn signs for should he sign for another team after declining the QO.
Of the two factors, the more beneficial one for the Cardinals is the one year deal. I don’t believe anyone thinks Lynn will accept the deal because he could receive a larger contract either from the club or elsewhere. However, let’s say he were to accept it, you more than likely have a good starting pitcher for a year under the value of what he believes he is worth.
The second factor presents the more complicated side of the coin for the Cardinals. If Lynn were to reject the offer, then two scenarios will play out.
- Lynn declines QO before signing a deal worth more than $50 million: draft pick compensation awards either a first or second round
- Lynn declines QO before signing a deal less than $50 million: draft pick compensation awards a pick after the competitive balance round.
Of course, there are some other intricacies involving draft pick compensations in the article I linked above, but these are the two most logical outcomes you are going to see.
I’ll shed some light on the terminology so the graph can be a little more useful in understanding Lynn’s value. WAR (wins above replacement) is the most recognizable stat. However, RAR is not. RAR, runs above replacement, is an estimate of the number of runs a pitcher prevents above a freely available replacement player.
Both measurements help show a player’s, in this case a pitcher’s, worth. The higher the measurements are, the more the pitcher is worth.
|Value ($ in millions)||4.1||18.4||27.2||26.1||24.7|
Using Fangraphs calculations for RAR and WAR, they are able to come up with a value for what a player would make in free agency with these numbers. It easy to see what Lynn means to the Cardinals in terms of production. While Lynn isn’t the best pitcher, he shows he is capable of producing value far exceeding what he actually makes, which is $7.5 million.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, and unfortunately for Lynn, Lynn’s surgery in 2016 lessens Lynn’s value overall. In the next table, you’ll see zeroes for RAR, WAR, and value. No production means no value to the team. However, it is interesting to see how the numbers look for a projected 2017 season.
Again, this is just a projection for the 2017 season. However, I want to focus on is the value for 2017. According to the projections, Lynn projects as $16.5 million pitcher, which is just a shade under the amount of what a qualifying offer would be for 2018.
What does that mean for the St. Louis Cardinals, though? The Cardinals would see this as a pitcher be worth less than the QO, but not at a significant amount. The Cardinals would more than likely find it within reason to say Lynn is worth at, or around, $18 million.
Lynn’s RAR, WAR, and value for the season are 9.4, .9, and $7.4 respectively. These numbers are calculated through 108 games. If we project them out to a full 162-game season, at the current rate, Lynn’s final numbers look like this: 14.1, 1.4, $11.1. If Lynn were to finish the season at the current pace he is, then it’s pretty evident he will fall short of meeting the projections from the second graph by quite a bit.
The $11.1 million fall well short of the $18 million QO, so would it make sense to extend him a QO? It may not seem that way, but Lynn is more than likely going to scoff at anything lower than $18 million. As we said earlier, the Cardinals will not let him walk for nothing. He is a better pitcher than what he is showing this year. If he can return the pitcher he was early on, then he will be worth more than the QO.
Then question is whether the Cardinals feel his performance is worth more than the $18 million QO and how much.
The last option the St. Louis Cardinals have is re-signing Lynn. This one is a little trickier in terms of how much the Cardinals are willing to give in a contract for Lynn should they attempt to re-sign him. There is one assumption I am going to work off, though. If the St. Louis Cardinals are willing to give Lance Lynn a QO, then the baseline price a year for Lynn will be $18 million.
Here is where the Cardinals have put themselves in a bind. Let’s say Lance Lynn’s performance for the rest of the year takes a down hill turn. Do the Cardinals attribute that coming off surgery or that he is in actual decline?
If the Cardinals were to believe Lynn was on the decline, then is no reason for a QO. However, as I have said, there is now way the Cardinals will let him just walk. He is still valuable and a decline the second half doesn’t tell the story of his overall performance.
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My point, though, is if the Cardinals weren’t going to trade him or hand him a QO, then the only option they have is re-sign to an extension.
Otherwise, the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office missed an absolute golden chance to trade a starter for some prospects.
Perhaps that’s what they entertained, but him not being traded speaks more than I think people realize.
So that’s why I say the baseline for any extension is $18 million. The Cardinals will give him a QO even if they haven’t agreed to a contract extension.
It protects the Cardinals with draft picks tied to Lynn, but also gives them an opportunity to work out a deal in the off-season before Lynn rejects or accepts the QO.
Where do the Cards go from $18 million though? It’s tough to say without the rest of 2017’s stats. If we were to use the data from the qualifying offer section, we already projected him to fall short of the $18 million mark. Even at his current pace he is well below the money mark as well. However, as I said earlier, the numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of what he has meant to the Cardinals this season though.
It’s entirely possible for the Cardinals to view this season as an audition for what he could do in years to come. The benefit of waiting till season’s end is you protect yourself from injuries that happen in season or that sharp decline we talked about early on.
I will be a little ambitious and try to guess where a contract would head. If I assume correctly, my baseline is $18 million for Lance Lynn. Since we won’t know his final WAR and RAR until the season is over, the best I have to go on is my projections from earlier.
If we use the projection model from earlier, we can see a estimate of Lynn’s value for the next four years. Both his RAR and WAR values drop. The drop isn’t a significant drop by any means, so again the $18 million is justifiable.
I extended the projections to four years because I assume Lynn would want at least a four-year deal. As I said, Lynn will not take anything lower than the qualifying offer. The only exception is if he has a horrendous finish to the season and underplays the projections by a wide margin. That is the case now, but there is plenty of season left.
My expectation is the St. Louis Cardinals will come around for a four-year, $76-80 million deal. This deal is slightly above the QO, but not too far over. The thing is, Lance Lynn will more than likely be able to get more money than that contract. Which, if the Cardinals offer him a QO, is fine since it triggers the draft compensation picks for the Cardinals.
Personally, the only two options available to the Cardinals are the last two. There isn’t a reason not to give Lynn a QO. Plus, as good as Lynn has been, he would be worthy of a contract extension. I know by the numbers he is down, but is that due more to decline or rust from his surgery?
I believe the Cardinals will offer him a QO. Before Lynn rejects or accepts the deal, the Cardinals will do everything they can to re-sign to a deal close to where I think. Part of me says its going to be higher, but I think at that point the Cardinals would be risking an awful lot, considering what they have in prospects. Whatever they decide, though, will have a major affect on the off-season.