The St. Louis Cardinals can go so many different directions this offseason to improve their starting rotation, but what is the dream scenario for the 2024 season? Well, I think I've got it mapped out.
I'm going to put together the dream rotation for the Cardinals next season, one that is both realistic but also requires the Cardinals to go out and be bold. We aren't going to go out and sign all three of the top starting pitchers available (as there is no way that happens), but I will say, this rotation ends up having three legit front-line pitchers.
Here is the budget we have to work with:
The Cardinals have $55 million in expected payroll flexibility heading into the offseason.
We are going to add an additional $16.8 million in budget to spend by trading or non-tendering the following players:
Tyler O'Neill ($5.5 million)
Tommy Edman ($6.5 million)
Dakota Hudson ($3.7 million)
Jake Woodford ($1.1 million)
(Those projected arbitration numbers come from MLB Trade Rumors).
In total: We now have $71.8 million to spend in this dream scenario.
What if I told you we are going to pull all of this off and still have an additional $18 million to spend? Let's take a look at this dream rotation.
Number five starter: Steven Matz or Zack Thompson
There are a ton of different directions I could have gone for this dream scenario, including finding a way to get four starters and knock both of them out of the projected rotation. But once you see the top three starters I acquired for them, I don't think there will be any reason to complain about Steven Matz or Zack Thompson being the number five starter.
Frankly, I think people tend to overrate the quality of number-five starters in baseball. Rarely do you find a rotation top to bottom with guys who have no injury concerns and have sub-3.50 ERAs.
Matz began the year about as bad as he could have and then finished the year on the injured list, so I think most people forget how good he was after his brief stint in the bullpen for the Cardinals. He finished the year with a 3.86 ERA in 17 starts and 8 relief appearances but was excellent during the second half. During those 6 starts, he posted a 2.16 ERA and really looked confident on the mound. In fact, his ERA for the months of June, July, and August was never above 2.25.
Now, there is no reason to believe he'll be that good for the Cardinals in 2024, but to expect Matz to be a quality number-five starter is more than realistic expectations. Sure, he's had his share of injuries, which is a concern, but that's why the Cardinals have acquired rotation depth.
Thompson showed he was more than capable of filling in as a starter if needed, and he'll have a chance to compete with Matz for a spot in the rotation during Spring Training. Names like Gordon Graceffo, Matthew Liberatore, Drew Rom, Adam Kloffenstein, and more should also factor in as well.
In past years, the Cardinals' rotation has been so thin that relying on depth arms like that was too risky, and yet they did so anyway. Now with this new rotation I have built, I really do not have concerns with needing those guys to fill starts when injuries happen and then making a trade at the deadline for another starter.