The St. Louis Cardinals will have five days to make a decision on what to with Lance Lynn. What they decide will affect the future of the team in 2018 and beyond.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken a look at the curious case of Lance Lynn and the St. Louis Cardinals. As we all know, Lance Lynn was not traded on July 31st, and remains on the team so far through the waiver-deadline. In parts one and two, I looked at whether Lynn’s price was too high at the trade deadline and what options the Cardinals had from there.
In part three, I am going to guess what the Cardinals will do and how that impacts the team in 2018 and beyond.
If you’ve followed along with my Lance Lynn mini-series, recall part two talked about what options the St. Louis Cardinals have once free agency hits. I believe we can safely rule out the first two options the Cardinals have: let him walk and waiver-wire trade. The Cardinals will not Lynn walk for nothing, and trading Lynn now would be a disservice to the eight-game win streak they just accomplished.
Neither of those options worked best for the Cardinals, but the last two options are more likely. Once free agency hits after the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals will only have two choices: offer Lynn a qualifying offer (QO) or a contract extension.
What will the St. Louis Cardinals do?
Making any kind of prediction in baseball is an awful lot to risk. However, I am going to give my best attempt about what the St. Louis Cardinals will do on Lance Lynn and the future of this team.
There will be a lot of things in motion once the World Series is over, but one thing is certain, the Cardinals face a very tough decision. Essentially, the choice comes down to a proven commodity in Lynn or the potential in the future. I believe the St. Louis Cardinals tipped their hand at the trade deadline for two reasons.
First, the fact that Lynn started the Sunday before the deadline showed me he wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, there wasn’t really any news worth noting besides the fact the Cardinals might not offer Lynn a QO. I would bet if a Lynn had traded for Lynn, he wouldn’t have started. However, we’ve seen stranger things happen, especially this season. Right, #RallyCat?
Secondly, the news of Stephen Piscotty and possibly Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty being moved for Sonny Gray made it evident the Cardinals are willing to deal their future. What intrigued me most about that news, however, is that it was for a pitcher with somewhat limited control and not the big bat we were hoping to see.
Again, it shows me the Cardinals are willing to deal pitching prospects for proven commodities.
Now it’s time for my prediction. I am playing this one close to the chest because of some assumptions I’ve made. After I say what will happen, I’ll make those assumptions clear and why it happens.
Prediction: The St. Louis Cardinals will sign Lance Lynn to a contract extension in the off-season between a four-year deal worth close to $90-100 million.
Here are some of the assumptions I’ve made when figuring out what to do. My first assumption is the Cardinals and Lance Lynn will not agree to a contract extension through the rest of this year and the five days after the World Series.
Both the Cardinals and Lance Lynn play a major part in the thought process. Neither the team or Lynn have commented on an extension in recent days, so the likelihood of it actually happening decreases by the minute. Should we expect some dialogue between the two parties? You can expect it, but it won’t mean much for two reasons.
Lance Lynn has nothing to gain by signing a contract extension in the middle of the year, especially if he thinks he is worth more than what the Cardinals will pay than the market. He has no reason to no test free agency. The only think that would stop him would be an injury or a bad month and a half of baseball. However, given how he has performed this season, the latter is unlikely to happen.
The other reason is the St. Louis Cardinals also have nothing to gain at this point by signing Lynn to an extension. Does that mean they do not want to? Absolutely not. What it does mean is the Cardinals are trying to be smart about who they give their contract to. Is it the same Lance Lynn they’ve always known or is this year a fluke?
It’s hard to say either one is wrong for doing what they are doing. Baseball is a business like everything else. The St. Louis Cardinals are known to make the smart decisions, even if it feels like we’ve been stuck in the mud lately.
My second assumption is, considering he will not be signed to an extension, the Cardinals will offer Lynn a QO. Of all the assumptions, this is the most obvious of them all. This assumption also plays off the fact that Lynn was not dealt.
As I mentioned in part two, the Cardinals would be fools not to off him a QO. If you weren’t trading him then, why would you let him walk freely to another team? Hint: you wouldn’t.
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My third, and final, assumption is Lance Lynn will reject the QO of the St. Louis Cardinals. Does that mean Lynn does not want to be a member of the Cardinals? No.
As I said earlier, Lance Lynn will test the free agency market if he believes he will make more than the qualifying offer of $18 million/year. We all know he will, but it’s just ho much will it be.
Rejecting the QO is inevitable in my opinion, but I would caution fans not to read into it too much.
Just because Lynn rejects a QO, it doesn’t mean then Cardinals can’t sign him or that he won’t sign with the team. Again, all it tells us is that Lynn believes he is worth.
Speaking of worth, I know the numbers are a little ambiguous. Truthfully, it’s hard to really predict what kind of contract he will actually get. I plan to revisit this topic once the 2017 season is done, though. At that point I’ll have the numbers to give a more educated guess. However, for now I’ll go off the one thing I do know.
Remember in part two, I explained the qualifying offer is a one year $18 million deal. I also explained in part two any contract negotiations will start at $18 million. Although Lynn technically is not pitching at an $18 million dollar value, that will mean little to him coming off this year after Tommy John surgery the year before. I’m sure in his mind he believes he will be even stronger next season.
How can we figure out some value for a contract without the rest of this season’s numbers?
The simple answer is project what we can now. I used Fangraphs to give me a sense of what Lynn has done to this point in the season. Check the chart below:
As you can see, I’ve projected at least four years into the future because of my prediction. You can see based on the trend, Lynn’s value is set to go up almost every year under a contract extension. What’s even crazier, is Lynn theoretically can still increase his value beyond $25 million a season.
If he pitches well the rest of the way, there is no reason we won’t see anything lower than a $23 million baseline. The obvious catch here is we don’t know if Lynn will stay this consistent through his extension.
I you take my prediction, my low-end for a four-year deal is $22.5 million/year. My high-end in a four-year deal is $25 million. Will it be enough to sign him? I think so. Lynn said he wants to be a St. Louis Cardinal. However, that doesn’t mean he wont be tempted to go elsewhere.
What does this mean for the future?
Ok, enough about numbers. Like many of you, the intrigue of what the St. Louis Cardinals will do with Lynn has kept looking forward to the future. In all fairness, this decision will pretty much determine which direction the Cardinals are going to go.
I’ll start with the Cardinals signing Lynn to an extension. Should the Redbirds do so, it only means one thing for me. Expect the Cardinals to sell off some of their young talent in order to get a big bat they desperately need in their lineup.
I won’t speculate about who that may be, given how the trade deadline went, but there is no other reason for the Cardinals not to do so. I say that because if the Cardinals were so intent on trading Lynn, as many of us here believed, then surely they would’ve done so, right? Since the Cardinals did not trade Lynn, the only logical explanation in my head is that they plan to sign him to a contract extension.
If there was any inkling of the Cardinals not being able to re-sign Lance Lynn in the off-season, then they missed a big opportunity to sell off a high-end rotation guy to a playoff contending team.
This brings me back full circle to the comments of Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty being traded. In my opinion, you never trade young starting pitching unless you know you are gaining a true ace or true hitter.
The Cardinals believed Sonny Gray was worth the price of Piscotty and/or the others mentioned above. You don’t shop around valuable pieces in your farm system without the assumption you are going to sign Lynn in the off-season.
Now, lets play devil’s advocate. What if the Cardinals didn’t sign Lynn to an extension? Well, I already alluded to it, but if this were the case, then they should have traded him while they could. It’s obvious the Cardinals wouldn’t be where they are now without their starting pitching, but if there was an opportunity for a high-end prospect, it would a shame to not take the chance.
Lets also not forget if he doesn’t sign an extension and rejects the qualifying offer, the Cardinals are awarded draft pick compensation. They would no longer have Lynn’s potential salary on the books and could potentially seek a starter in free agency. Again, I won’t speculate on who that will be, but it certainly is an option.
The clear picture here, though, is something is going to have to give. That something is the Cardinals pitching prospects. If the Cardinals are hell-bent on acquiring a big bat for next season, then it’s going to cost. If that is the case, then sign me up for four more years of Lance Lynn.
Should the Cardinals re-sign Lynn or should they go after someone else in free agency? I think they should and will. It all leads up to what will happen in the winter. If Lynn signs a contract extension, I expect the Cardinals to be players for a big bat.