Following Jon Lester’s retirement, the St. Louis Cardinals should consider pursuing J.A. Happ, a pitcher they acquired at the trade deadline.
Jon Lester’s decision to retire came as a relative surprise. He was expected to pitch at least one more season and all indications were that he enjoyed his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Given their need for a cheap sixth starter, he seemed like a perfect candidate to sign a one-year deal to round out the rotation.
Alas, with Lester retired, the Cardinals will need to look elsewhere to add another starting pitcher. But they shouldn’t have to look too far, as J.A Happ – the left-hander the team acquired at the deadline along with Lester – remains unsigned and would be another cheap option that presents a similar skillset to Lester.
Like Lester, Happ, 39, benefitted from pitching in front of the Cardinals’ elite infield defense. His numbers with the Cardinals (4.00 ERA, 45/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54 innings) were significantly better than his numbers with the Minnesota Twins (6.77 ERA, 77/31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98.1 innings). His FIP with the Cardinals, however, was 4.61 while his FIP with the Twins was 5.42.
That said, that type of production from a No. 6 starter, or even a multi-inning reliever, would be absolutely ideal for a Cardinals team that was crushed by injuries last season. Combined with the fact that Happ should be cheap (he should sign for around the veterans minimum or just a bit higher) and it would 1) give them much-needed pitching depth and 2) maintain their flexibility to sign a high-leverage reliever and potentially another bat, with Colin Moran being a name that has been heavily linked to them during the lockout.
Of course, Happ is not the only option that the Cardinals will consider. There are others available, such as Martin Perez, Zach Davies (he might be more expensive than St. Louis would like), Garrett Richards and Michael Pineda, among others. There are internal free agents such as Carlos Martinez and Kwang hyun-Kim, of course, but there is no indication that the team wants to bring either player back.
But Happ is someone the Cardinals are familiar with and fits what they’re comfortable with spending for a No. 6 starter. Maybe they decide to go in a different direction, but Happ is someone they should strongly consider.