The St. Louis Cardinals have a tall task this offseason, looking to bring in three starting pitchers and two relief pitchers to rebuild their pitching staff for a rebound season in 2024.
Honestly, I've spent a lot of time the last few trying to figure out how they can most effectively rebuild the rotation with the payroll constraints they typically have. If you squinted hard enough, it was believable that they could acquire one top arm, a pretty good second arm, and then probably a low-end starter as that third guy. But recently, two things have happened that have drastically changed my opinion on how much the Cardinals can accomplish this offseason - for the better.
First, the month of October saw reports that the Cardinals front office and ownership had agreed internally that they must meet the price of pitching this offseason, and then public comments from Bill DeWitt III confirmed that they plan on "climbing the payroll rankings". Now it seemed really possible to snag two high-end starters, but the third guy they get may be a bit of a downgrade.
Now this week, The Athletic released two different stories with contract predictions for this offseason. The first was from former MLB general manager Jim Bowden (paid subscription required), who does an annual projection list for the top free agents available each offseason. The second was from Tim Britton (paid subscription required), who did a massive breakdown on free-agent pitchers and used a combination of advanced analytics and recent contract history around MLB to project what MLB teams will likely offer this year's crop of pitchers.
I highly recommend checking out both articles, but their projections on the best free-agent starting pitchers are what I find most interesting. Across the board, each of the free-agent starting pitchers is projected to get much less than what most have said in recent months. No one is eclipsing $200 million besides Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and the only one anywhere close is Britton's projection for Aaron Nola. Everyone else, including Blake Snell, has an estimated AAV of below $28 million per season. This pitching market is looking like it will be much more affordable than we all believed it to be.
What would this mean for the Cardinals? Frankly, if these numbers are right, the Cardinals have no excuse not to get two of these arms in free agency this offseason, as well as add a third high-quality arm through the trade market, with room to add a bullpen piece as well. The Cardinals should have around $55 million to spend this offseason, with the potential for that number to rise to $68 million if they trade the likes of Tyler O'Neill and Tommy Edman in their quest for pitching. The DeWitt family has also stated they are open to cutting into their operating revenue, which could bring an additional $10 million to $20 million on top of that.
Are they going to sign all three of Nola, Yamamoto, and Snell? Of course not, but they should be able to get one of those guys, or trade for a number one starter, and then sign a really good number two like Gray or Rodriguez, and still have room to make another trade or signing. Add in a couple of quality bullpen arms and they are cooking with gas here.
I've said this so many times already, but I feel like I have to say it again. The Cardinals have to follow through on this, or else the offseason is a failure. The stars are aligning for them to have an excellent offseason, but none of the talk will matter if they do not deliver. Everything seems to be pointing in the right direction though, and I'm optimistic that we are about to see the kind of offseason moves that have been long overdue from the Cardinals.