For Starters: Four pitchers St. Louis Cardinals could target in free agency

St. Louis Cardinals

New York Mets’ Marcus Stroman pitches during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

ST. LOUIS–Despite a looming labor lockout next month amid negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, Major League Baseball’s offseason is still moving along as if it’s business as usual, with teams still signing free agents who are willing to get something done before the business of baseball changes.

While a collection of shortstop talent seemingly unmatched in the history of free agency has garnered a lot of attention across the sport, and to some degree here in St. Louis, the Cardinals appear most interested in fortifying their pitching staff, already re-signing reliever T.J. McFarland, and as our partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week, looking at the bidding for the top ten available starters.

“I would say a guy you could count on for 150 innings,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak told reporters at MLB’s General Managers Meetings last week. “Someone who is going to take advantage of our defense, take advantage of our ballpark, and have a lot of success. That would be a great way to look at it.”

The Cardinals have famously come up short in recent pursuits for top-of-the-line starting pitching in free agency (see David Price). Going into the offseason, some of this year’s top targets, like Chesterfield native Max Scherzer appeared to have pricetags that figured to be too expensive for St. Louis’ tastes, even with money coming available thanks to declining 2022 options on Matt Carpenter and Carlos Martinez, and with the club no longer paying Dexter Fowler and Andrew Miller.

But look at the handful of pitching deals that have come to fruition just since Mozeliak’s comments last week.

Eduardo Rodriguez got $77 million over five years from Detroit, Noah Syndegaard, who threw only two innings all of 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, got $21 million for a single year from the Angels, and Justin Verlander, also coming off Tommy John, returns to the Astros for a single year and $25 million.

If players with significant injury histories can land deals like that, it’s a sign that the rest of the market outside of a perceived “top 10” will be costly, in dollars, years on a contract, or both. It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money, and we won’t try to game out potential contracts, except to say that the days of giving pitchers anywhere near the age of 30 more than a five year contract should be over. That means teams will need to be willing to fork over more money annually.

Here’s a look at four possible directions for the Cardinals, with 2022 projections thanks to FanGraphs:

MARCUS STROMAN

IPBB%K%GB%ERAFIPxFIPWARRA9-WAR
179.06.9%19.2%52.3%4.124.084.002.62.6

STEVEN MATZ

IPBB%K%GB%ERAFIPxFIPWARRA9-WAR
158.07.2%22.6%45.7%4.194.164.032.32.3

JON GRAY

IPBB%K%GB%ERAFIPxFIPWARRA9-WAR
169.08.2%23.6%45.3%4.134.084.042.42.5

CARLOS RODON

IPBB%K%GB%ERAFIPxFIPWARRA9-WAR
154.07.6%30.6%40.4%3.473.373.453.83.6

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