Shohei Ohtani's ulnar collateral ligament tear in his pitching arm is devasting news to the two-way superstar who was just a few months away from signing a mind-boggling contract in free agency. The game of baseball is better because of Ohtani, so everyone who loves the game lost last night.
It's one of the most frustrating parts of baseball. Star players having their careers altered in an instant by these awful injuries. Ohtani is unique among pitchers since he can continue to be effective as one of the best hitters in all of baseball, but that also means we are being robbed of what made him the best baseball talent we have ever seen - the ability to do both.
Ohtani's injury is just another reminder to the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of baseball that signing mega-deals with free-agent pitchers is risky business. Ohtani was going to make crazy money, likely over $60 million per year, which is something starters just don't sign for. But at least Ohtani can take the field as a DH still. If your $30 million-a-year starter has an elbow injury, you've lost your stud starter.
So why not just trade for that starter then? It's a different kind of risk. If you trade a haul for that young starter everyone wants, they too can get injured, and you may watch some of your former prospects or young position players go on to have great careers elsewhere, while your shiny new starter is on the injured list.
It's why developing internal pitching is so important in today's game. When you "hit" on a young arm, it's one of the most valuable things in the game. You don't have to sign them to a massive contract for six years, and you don't have to offer a bunch of your own young talent to acquire them. It's why a team like the Seattle Mariners has no interest in trading their young arms right now. They are far too valuable to part ways with.
With that all being said, the Cardinals have put themselves in a position where they have to take on that kind of risk. There's no other option. They can hope that guys like Tink Hence, Tekoah Roby, and/or Cooper Hjerpe become those kinds of starters in the future, but for 2024 and the foreseeable future, they have to go out and either sign or trade for that kind of starter. It will require either giving out the kind of contract that should make any fan or front office nervous, or it will take the kind of trade package that will make you hit that "puke point".
After acquiring that kind of pitcher, all you can do is hope for the best. No one can see into the future and know which guys will avoid injuries. Sure, some guys carry more risk, but any starter can throw just one pitch and have their season end in an instant.
Should Ohtani's injury, or for that matter, injuries to guys like Shane McClanahan, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, or other starters in recent memory cause the Cardinals to balk on the pitching market? No. But will it keep John Mozeliak and the rest of the front office up at night if they acquire that pitching? Absolutely.
Hopefully, Ohtani is able to make a speedy recovery and get back to being a two-way star as soon as possible. But I'm also crossing my fingers that whatever starting pitchers the Cardinals target can have a speedy recovery.