There were a lot of things that needed to be changed, tweaked, or adjusted about the St. Louis Cardinals over the last few years, but one thing that has needed a massive overhaul for a while now is the Cardinals' ability to develop starting pitching.
There are signs that they are turning the corner with this, with names like Tink Hence, Tekoah Roby, Cooper Hjerpe, Gordon Graceffo, Ian Bedell, Max Rajcic, and others having the opportunity to carve out roles in the Cardinals rotation over the next few years. That's something they've been missing for several seasons now.
Outside of Jack Flaherty, in recent years the Cardinals have had to continuously bring in new veteran starters to fill out their rotation. Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Jose Quintana, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, Jordan Montgomery, Jon Lester, Wade LeBlanc, and J.A. Happ just to name a few. Almost every organization needs to bring in a few starters on top of their internal options, but the Cardinals have had to fill almost every rotation spot with free-agent or trade acquisitions.
Whether we agree with it or not, the Cardinals operate with payroll limitations, and this makes it difficult to build a great rotation when they have to pay each member significantly more than the league minimum. Most of the best rotations in baseball have at least a few starters who are homegrown because even lower-end starters require investments of more than $10 million annually on the open market. Part of the reason the Cardinals have been reluctant to spend on top starters is because they are also paying their number three, number four, and number five starters significant salaries.
Going into 2025, Sonny Gray's contract will rise to $25 million, but the Cardinals will have $23 million coming off the books from Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. They'll have both Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas locked up for one more year each, so they'll need to fill two rotation spots once again. The Cardinals may finally have put themselves back in a position to invest in multiple top-end starters, and they can start that process this offseason.
Let's say they trade for a Dylan Cease this offseason. They can extend him if they want to and not be worried about the long-term financial implications for the rotation because they integrate some of their emerging young arms into the back end of the rotation. Over the last few seasons, they have not had the internal arms to fill out their rotation in a way that would make them competitive. With Hence, Roby, Hjerpe, and Graceffo coming alongside names like Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore, they should have arms that can claim those roles on the staff.
This upcoming reality frees them up to spend at the top of the rotation, and spending on top starting pitchers now will actually help them avoid panic spending later.
How so? Well if Hence, Roby, Hjerpe, and these other young arms are able to come up and get opportunities at the Major League level while also not having the pressure of needing to carry the staff, they'll be able to get the big league experience they need to develop into more than just back-end of the rotation contributors. By 2026 or 2027, one or two of them may be ready to lead the Cardinals' rotation, and now the Cardinals finally have one of their own homegrown front-end starters that they have been craving.
Failing to do this will likely lead the Cardinals to the same patterns they've had for years now, needing to fill out their rotation every offseason with new veterans, not allowing their young starters the opportunity to develop, and thus repeating this endless cycle of mediocre pitching development. Adding another top starter to pair with Sonny Gray takes the pressure off the back end of the rotation, giving the youngsters the opportunity to grow, room to fail, and in the long run, saving the Cardinals from constantly investing in patchwork solutions.