The St. Louis Cardinals will have to pay up to upgrade pitching staff, especially if they want Ryan Tepera or Yusei Kikuchi in free agency.
When the lockout ends, and there are signs we are getting closer to that point, the St. Louis Cardinals will finally be able to address their rotation. And while there are reports that Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly will be out of their price range, it’s becoming clear that they will have to pay up to secure upgrades.
Just take these projections of two potential Cardinals targets from Jim Bowden of The Athletic: Ryan Tepera, relief pitcher, signing a two-year, $17 million contract; Yusei Kikuchi, left-handed starting pitcher, signing a one-year, $15 million contract.
To be clear, Tepera deserves this type of contract. He’s a top-3 available reliever and is coming off a career season in which he posted a 2.79 ERA in 61.1 innings. While he recorded 74 strikeouts, he allowed only 35 hits, and would be a tremendous fit with the Cardinals’ elite infield defense. But if they sign him, the front office could have a difficult time allocating meaningful resources elsewhere, including to the rotation and infield depth.
Which would make Kikuchi unlikely and even then, he’s always seemed like an unrealistic target despite being linked to the Cardinals. While he is a left-handed starting pitcher, both things the team likes and needs, he comes with concerns. He struggled in the second half of the 2021 season and was removed from the Mariners’ rotation after a strong first half. Second, he received multiple three-year offers before the lockout, and could receive $10+ million per season on such a contract.
At this stage, Kikuchi can essentially be crossed off the Cardinals’ free-agent list. But to upgrade their roster, and especially the bullpen, they will have to pay up. Not just for a Tepera-type, but for Collin McHugh, Andrew Chafin, Archie Bradley or any other high-leverage bullpen type that is still on the market.
If they don’t, the Cardinals risk having their bullpen falter and ruin their season like it did in 2021. It’s a risk that president of baseball operations John Mozeliak can ill afford to take, especially with so much on the line, most importantly their World Series hopes, Nolan Arenado’s opt out decision after 2022 and the fact that it’s Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright’s final season in MLB.
Look for Tepera, Chafin and Brad Boxberger and others to be prime targets once the lockout is over.