The St. Louis Cardinals may have had aspirations of signing a free agent starting pitcher, but after the deals Cole Hamels and Zack Wheeler got, that may go out the window.
I believe that the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office plans to come into the 2020 season with the current five starting pitchers that all of us know. Jack Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, and Adam Wainwright have plenty of potential to repeat the performance the group put forth last season, but after these five the depth drops off.
So that the team doesn’t have to rely on all their starters staying healthy, a lot of smart minds have said that the team needs to at least explore going after either a backup option or (with the robust starting pitching free agent class), go after an upgrade.
Of course, the darlings of this year’s free-agent pitching class are Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. No Cardinals fan could’ve honestly believed the team would sign either of those two, but beyond those top-level guys, there is a breadth of middle-tier options that could’ve intrigued the Cardinals.
However, after Cole Hamels and Zack Wheeler signed this week, I would guess the Cardinals won’t be signing anyone who is close to that middle-tier starter range.
If you missed it, Cole Hamels signed a one year, $18M deal with the Braves (thank you for leaving the NL Central) and Wheeler signed a five year, $118M deal with the Phillies.
At first glance, that is a ton of money for two players who were 3.0 and 4.1 bWAR pitchers respectively.
More from St Louis Cardinals News
- Cardinals: Here is Willson Contreras’ first message for St. Louis fans
- How do the St. Louis Cardinals stack up with Willson Contreras?
- Cardinals: The insane asking price the Athletics had for Sean Murphy
- St. Louis Cardinals: Ask me anything with Josh Jacobs – 12/8
- The St. Louis Cardinals sign catcher Willson Contreras
Looking at Hamels, the 35-year-old was really good with the Cubs in 2019 starting 27 games and throwing over 140 innings with a 3.81 ERA and 117 ERA+. He will be 36 by the time the 2020 season starts and there are a lot of miles on that arm. He’s a mid-bottom rotation arm and while a one-year deal isn’t dangerous, I don’t think I’m totally alone in saying $18M is a lot for a player that old.
Wheeler is still younger (29) which is why he got the five-year deal, but he has dealt with a ton of injuries in his career. Wheeler has thrown more than 100 inning in three out of five years and didn’t pitch at all in 2015 and 2016. While his FIP, K/9, WHIP, and other peripherals have been good, he really hasn’t been that great in the counting stats area. His best ERA+ season came in 2018 when it was 112.
In 2019, Wheeler had that 4.1 WAR and made 31 starts eating 196.1 innings, but had an ERA+ of just 102. He got hot down the stretch and probably made himself a bit more money. The overall picture of a 29-year-old who has been, at best, 12% above average and who has been injured about as much as he’s been healthy isn’t pretty.
That player got $23.6M a year…
I’m glad the Cardinals stayed away from both of these pitchers but what it says is that free agency is back on track and pitching is coming at a premium. That premium is not something I could see the Cardinals paying, nor should they.
Add to this that the price of another free agent who is probably on the Caridnals radar, Madison Bumgarner, has been reportedly “skyrocketing,” and I am going to be afraid to see what Cole and Strasburg make.
This doesn’t mean that the team can’t/won’t/shouldn’t go after reinforcements by trade, but just don’t expect them to make any sort of a splash in the starting pitching market of free agency.
The contracts for Hamels and Wheeler could end up looking good, but at first glance, I’m not mad at all that the Cardinals stayed away (not that they were ever in). I would expect the Cardinals do get another starter for backup, just not through free agency. Plenty are available through trade.