The St. Louis Cardinals have been the most active team in free agency through the first month of free agency. They have been extremely aggressive in free agency to address the desperate need for pitching, which is very satisfying to see.
Over the past week, the Cardinals have signed three veteran right-handed starters. Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, and Sonny Gray will be joining the Cardinals rotation in 2024. Gibson and Lynn are coming off rough seasons in 2023, but they will be relied on to give innings, which was something the Cardinals didn't get enough of from their starters last year. Sonny Gray is coming off arguably the best season of his career with the Twins, and he finished runner-up in the American League Cy Young voting in 2023.
Despite filling 60% of their rotation with free agents, the Cardinals may not be done yet, looking to add more pitching. But looking at how the Cardinals have approached this off-season so far, it kind of mimics how the World Series champion Texas Rangers approached their off-season last year. I will go further in-depth to try and compare the two.
In 2022 the Rangers lost 94 games, it was their second straight season with at least 90 losses, their 3rd straight season finishing 4th or worst in the AL West, and their 6th straight season without making the postseason. This disappointing season led to manager Chris Woodward and President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels losing their jobs, and in the following off-season General Manager Chris Young went to work.
First off he brought in three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy to manage the team, and veteran pitching coach Mike Maddux to man the staff, then he would address the Rangers' biggest need which was starting pitching. The Rangers had a 4.63 ERA from their starting pitchers in 2022 which was 25th in the league, and it was even worse in the years prior to that (5.37 ERA in '18 and '19, 5.32 ERA in 2020, and 5.33 ERA in 2021).
Young effectively rebuilt the Rangers' rotation through free agency. Young was very aggressive adding three starting pitchers in free agency. He signed Andrew Heaney to a two-year, $25 million contract, and Nathan Eovaldi to a two-year, $34 million contract, then made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Jacob DeGrom to a five-year, $185 million deal. Those additions to the rotation along with a new manager/pitching coach duo and an already potent offense, changed the outlook for the Rangers going forward.
Those three acquisitions combined to go 24-11 in 59 starts in the regular season with a 3.78 ERA. Only 6 of those starts came from DeGrom however, as he had yet another season be cut short due to injury, so Young again went to work looking to improve the rotation at the trade deadline, acquiring Jordan Montgomery from the Cardinals and Max Scherzer from the Mets. Those two went a combined 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA down the stretch, Texas effectively revamped their rotation through free agency and the trade market en route to their first World Series in franchise history. As a team, the Rangers' ERA from starters in 2023 was 3.96, which was 7th in the league, and their lowest team ERA from starters since 2011.
The Cardinals are in a similar situation that Texas was in last year, they are coming off a disappointing season that saw them not get enough production from their pitching staff, but they have the financial resources to address that issue. They have already done what Texas did last year, and that's sign three free-agent starting pitchers with maybe more to come. Another way they relate is both teams have a good offense, deep lineups, and a solid core of players that you want to build around and try to win championships with.
Sports in general not just baseball, is a copycat business. When one team tries something like Texas did using free agency and trades to solve their rotation problems and have it work famously, other teams are going to try that same concept and hope it works just as well for them. Whether this approach by the Cardinals is intentional, or if it was motivated by seeing how it benefited the Rangers this past season, it was a necessary action by the Cardinal front office, and they hope that similar actions bring similar results in 2024.