The Lance Lynn contract extension reveals issues with the St. Louis Cardinals front office decision-making process when signing veterans to long-term pacts.
Suppose you’re a member of the St. Louis Cardinals front office and you had to choose between these two pitchers for the next two seasons.
Pitcher A has thrown nearly 40% more innings, with a much better strikeout rate, though Pitcher B has exhibited pinpoint control. Also, Pitcher A turned 34 years old in May, while Pitcher B will be 33 in August. Pitcher A just signed a $38 million extension covering the 2023 and ’24 seasons, while Pitcher B will earn $34M during the same time period.
Looking at just the information above, aside from workload, these two hurlers look rather evenly matched. However, there’s plenty of additional information to consider.
Lynn has been a steady workhorse since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2012. He has started between 29 and 33 games per season in that time frame, aside from last year’s pandemic-ravaged campaign, during which he merely lead the league in starts, innings pitched, and batters faced, earning a second consecutive top-six Cy Young Award finish.
Mikolas threw 91.9 forgettable frames for the Padres and Rangers between 2012 and 2014, posting a forgettable 5.32 ERA and 4.81 FIP. After going to Japan and posting great results during three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, he returned to the States, inking a two-year, $15.5M contract with St. Louis in December of 2017 before agreeing to terms on a four-year, $68M extension in the spring of 2019.
For a different perspective, let’s revisit the table above, but looking at just the two most recent seasons.
Again, similar rate stats as before, but that second column is rather crucial. Lynn has taken the bump like clockwork, serving as a rotation anchor for the Rangers and White Sox the last two years. Meanwhile, Mikolas has missed nearly all of the last two seasons with forearm and shoulder injuries, though he is expected to begin a rehab assignment very soon.
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Another factor to consider is that Lynn will have earned $42M for the 2018-2021 seasons compared to $49.5M for Mikolas during the same period. Signing Mikolas for big money and several years after just one strong MLB season is yet another example of the Cardinals’ front office’s series of missteps when it comes to devoting serious dollars to veteran players.
With the contracts of Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Martinez, and Andrew Miller coming off the books at the end of this season, Mikolas’ deal is one of three (the others belonging to Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado) big-dollar extensions carrying through at least the 2023 campaign.
Let’s hope the Redbirds’ brain trust makes savvy use of that $60M being freed up this winter to improve the roster while not burdening the team with additional big-money contract anchors. Cardinals fans have high expectations for their team every season, and it’s time for the front office to live up to those expectations.