In case anyone forgot, the 2023 St. Louis Cardinals were the ultimate reminder of how important it is to have starting pitching.
Going into the season, they were the overwhelming favorite to win the National League Central Division and had a strong case to be a factor in October. Instead, their pitching imploded, and they found themselves in last place. Now they are looking to make significant starting pitching upgrades.
Well, it looks like almost every team in baseball has the same wishlist.
This past week, Tim Britton of The Athletic created an excellent big board of everything each team needs this offseason (subscription required). In his breakdown, he listed 20 different teams in need of starting pitching. Chad Jennings, also of The Athletic (subscription required), pointed out that with so many teams needing pitching, some are bound to be left without the upgrades they need, or at least only part of their list completed.
I truly believe the Cardinals want to overhaul the rotation. I believe the reports that the Cardinals front office and ownership are genuinely embarrassed about how the season went. I think they know they need to spend and are going to put themselves in a position to. Actions will speak louder than words, but I believe their intentions are finally there when they historically haven't been.
Here's the issue though. A few weeks ago, free agent projections most of the pitching market getting lower contracts than most of us had anticipated. Maybe that is still the case, but with the demand being at an all-time high and the supply being low, that's usually a recipe for massive contracts.
What if Aaron Nola and Blake Snell end up getting $30 million a year on long-term deals? What if Sonny Gray and Edwardo Rodriguez get the AAVs that we originally expected Nola and Snell to get? If the market goes haywire, the Cardinals are in major trouble.
I am by no means saying this is an excuse for them. It isn't. This is the position they have put themselves in. If they had done a better job developing internal pitching in recent years, they would not be in this position. If they had signed guys like Kevin Gausman or Nathan Eovaldi, things would look a lot brighter. If they had traded for a Pablo Lopez, they may be lighter on bats, but not as desperate for pitching.
But here we are, the Cardinals have no choice but to be aggressive in this market. Ultimately, they are going to have to show us what risks they are most willing to take.
1. Are they willing to risk giving out a mega-contract to a starting pitcher, knowing it could blow up in their face?
2. Are they willing to bite the bullet and give away their promising bats for pitching, knowing the risk that they could go on to be stars elsewhere?
3. Or are they willing to risk another horrible, not being aggressive in the free agent or trade market and hoping their "prudent ways" can win them enough games?
No one can answer that question except for the Cardinals' front office and ownership. And we'll know the answer in the coming months.
Here's the other scary part of this equation. They could offer a massive contract to a starting pitcher and still lose out on them based on other factors. They could offer a strong trade package for a starting pitcher, and see another organization offer a massive overpay to outbid them.
Ultimately, the Cardinals are not in a position to let the obstacles be excuses anymore. Even if all of the top starting pitchers get massively overpaid and the trade market is bonkers, the Cardinals will deserve all of the criticism they will receive. This is a problem they created for themselves over the last decade, and it's their job to get themselves out of this mess.