Let me be clear off the top, I am not defending the St. Louis Cardinals' decision to sign both Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. My goal here is to help us try to get into the front office's mind a bit and try to understand what their goal here is.
I get it, I'm frustrated too. But even though I disagree with their moves so far, it just doesn't make sense to look at these moves and believe the Cardinals want to finish in last place again or that they somehow believe Lynn or Gibson can be front-line starters. Neither is the case, so why would the Cardinals make these signings?
Let's start with this. Last year the Cardinals had both an innings deficit and lacked front-line starting pitching. Both are real things they needed to fix this offseason. Signing one of Lynn or Gibson made a lot of sense because of that, as it gave the Cardinals someone who could give them six or seven innings in most of their starts, helping the bullpen to survive the grind of the season and keep them in those games as well. Signing both of them is the part I have a hard time understanding.
Let's try and look at this from the Cardinals' angle. Brandon Kiley of 101 ESPN did an excellent job breaking down the sheer difference in innings that Lynn and Gibson can offer the Cardinals' compared to their options last year.
Did you catch that? Lynn and Gibson went five innings in their starters about 35% more often than Wainwright, Liberatore, Woodford, Hudson, and Rom did in 2023. Those options for the Cardinals were only able to get through the fifth inning one out of every two starts last year. That's impossible to endure for an entire season as a pitching staff. Not only that, Lynn and Gibson also go through the sixth inning in 53% and 57% of their starts respectively, something that the group of Cardinals did only 27% of the time in 60 starts.
16 out of 60 starts.
That is disastrous.
So, if the Cardinals are able to get 64 starts from Gibson and Lynn and expect 53 of those to be at least five-inning outings and 36 of those to go six or more innings, that is a massive improvement for this club. It raises the floor of this team in a much-needed way.
Now, I would argue the Cardinals could have gotten that kind of certainty from better pitchers if they were more aggressive, and maybe they will add two more starters this offseason. I'm confident they plan on adding their Opening Day starter this offseason, but in order to truly raise the ceiling of this club, they need two guys who can slot ahead of Mikolas.
For now, though, the Cardinals have their innings eaters, which even though it's not flashy, it does make them better. I have real questions though about how much better it makes them, but there's reason to believe Lynn and Gibson can be quality number four and five starters this year.
The Cardinals' focus can be squarely on the top of the pitching market with free agents like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery, as well as trade options like Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Cease, and Logan Gilbert. I ranked who the Cardinals should be targeting from that group earlier today.
If the Cardinals get just one of those names, their strategy will be simple. Ride their long front-line starter when they are on the mound, and it all other starts, the goal of their starter is to just give them a chance to win. Don't get pulled before the end of the fifth inning and do not give up 8 or 9 runs in the process. Eat innings, give up three runs, and allow the offense to lead the way and the bullpen to get the team to the finish line.
I think that is a really, really risky strategy. It's better than last year's but not by much. If all goes well, the Cardinals will be in contention at the deadline and can make another serious rotation upgrade then, but there are a lot of "what ifs" with this equation.
The better path, and the one I hope they are still trying to pull off, is bringing in two top-end starters. While I do think they have a stronger chance at Yamamoto now, I'm going to rule him out of this equation for now, since I don't really know how the Cardinals would factor his posting fee into this equation.
If the Cardinals sign a Gray, Montgomery, or Snell, and then trade for a Glasnow, Cease, or Gilbert, this rotation looks miles better than it does right now.
That rotation can get the Cardinals back to the playoffs. I actually am really high on Matz coming into 2024, as he really regained his form when he got back into the rotation this past year. The concern with him is always injuries, which is why it's helpful to have three innings eaters like Mikolas, Lynn, and Gibson behind him, ready to fill in as needed.
We'll see how the Cardinals round out this offseason. They still have the opportunity to change the narrative, but for now, it's easy to see why most people are skeptical of their current gameplan.