Wise or sighs: Did the Cardinals choose the right starting pitchers this offseason?

St. Louis set the free agent pitcher market when they signed both Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. Did they pick the right back-end starting pitchers compared to other free agents?
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Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages
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Tyler Mahle - Sighs

Tyler Mahle, another Minnesota defector, is one of the youngest pitchers of the bunch; he just turned twenty-nine. Mahle signed a two-year, $22 million ($11 million AAV) with the Texas Rangers to help boost their rotation after Jordan Montgomery's free agency, Jacob DeGrom's injury, and Max Scherzer's recent surgery. The contract is fully guaranteed without any team or player options.

In 2023, Mahle pitched just 25.2 innings due to Tommy John Surgery in May of last year. He likely won't be back to the rotation until at least July of 2024. Therefore, the first year of his contract is a bit of a wash. In those twenty-five innings, Mahle had a 1-2 record with a 3.16 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 1.052 WHIP, and he struck out a total of twenty-eight batters. He has only pitched more than 130 innings once in his career (180 in 2021). He has a career 4.30 ERA, 4.27 FIP, and 1.304 WHIP. He also had good K rates for his career.

Mahle is projected to pitch in just eighty-five innings due to his recovery from Tommy John next year. Baseball Reference predicts him to have a 4.13 ERA, 1.247 WHIP, and strike out 9.4 batters per nine innings. He isn't overly homer-prone, but his walk rate is a bit elevated.

Given Mahle's recovery time, I would have been hesitant to sign him. The Cardinals are very much in a "win-now" mentality, so waiting on a core starting pitcher to return from surgery to possibly underperform isn't the best plan. However, given his age, I would have been willing to sign him to a longer deal, possibly three or four years, with a lower AAV.

With the innings potential of Sonny Gray, Miles Mikolas, and either Lance Lynn or Kyle Gibson, I would have been fine sacrificing Mahle's innings. Also, the team has plenty of starter depth in Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, and Gordon Graceffo, among others. I think Tyler Mahle would have been a nice addition to the rotation for 2024 and beyond.