ST. LOUIS – On paper, the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation regulars don’t look all that different from last year or any of the previous three postseason-bound campaigns. The next two free agency cycles, including this current one, could determine whether that remains the case for years to come.
Three contract years and an upcoming farewell season for Adam Wainwright loom ahead for the Cardinals. Plenty for the St. Louis front office to consider as the Winter Meetings approach next week.
The Cardinals are expected to retain 10 players who made starts and seven who started double-digit contests last year. The plethora of options could help the Cardinals get creative in favorable matchups or prevail through possible injuries next season, regardless if other staters join the fold.
Beyond this season, the Cardinals risk losing pitchers who have covered nearly one-third of their innings amid the team’s postseason streak. Wainwright is set to retire after the 2023 season. Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery could become free agents after the 2023 season without new deals.
It’s unclear if any of the three Cardinals contract-year pitchers are close to extensions, and each one could be a wait-and-see case based on next season’s results. Mikolas signed a 4-year, $68 million extension in 2019, though will be 35 by next offseason. Flaherty rejected a club offer last year to cover his final two arbitration-eligible seasons and has missed a handful of recent games to injury. Montgomery’s mixed sample size might be a bit small to negotiate just yet.
What does all of this mean for the Cardinals? It’s hard to say, but Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak noted last month that there are some needs for the pitching staff, perhaps more than recent seasons as the team also seeks an heir to longtime catcher Yadier Molina.
“We’ll certainly try to address the club, try to improve it wherever we can, and hopefully over the next three or four months, we can call that a success,” said Mozeliak.
Some intriguing arms that baseball aficionados have linked to the Cardinals, though far from guaranteed to join the team out of free agency, include:
- Jacob deGrom – Two-time Cy Young winner with a dominant fastball, though enters age 25 season on a few injury-riddled years. Some writers from MLB Trade Rumors and ESPN have linked him as a strong fit for St. Louis.
- Carlos Rodon – A strikeout-specialist southpaw coming off back-to-back All-Star nods. His postseason experience is a bit limited. Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports project the Cardinals as a possible landing spot.
- Nathan Eovaldi – Above-average groundball rates could work behind a Gold-Glove caliber defense and has pitched at least 100 innings in nine of 11 seasons. Pitcherslist.com envisions him as a possible backend piece for the Cardinals.
- Jose Quintana – A crafty lefty who proved reliable in the Cardinals stretch run last year (2.02 ERA in 62.2 innings). Few sites have predicted a St. Louis return, though he previously expressed interest if Willson Contreras takes over as catcher, per the Belleville News-Democrat.
Projected contracts of that group, per MLB Trade Rumors, include:
- deGrom: Three years, $135 million
- Rodon: Five years, $140 million
- Eovaldi: Two years, $34 million
- Quintana: Two years, $24 million
If the Cardinals choose not to pursue one of these arms, and come up short in new deals for thir contract-level starters next year, they might need to look internally to fill the gaps. Some rotation options beyond 2022 could include:
- Steven Matz: Still owed $33 million over three years and the likely favorite for the No. 5 slot this year without any changes.
- Dakota Hudson: 28-16 record over 67 starts since 2019, though troubled by walks last year. Under contract through 2025.
- Andre Pallante: Covered some much-needed innings midsummer between rotation and bullpen roles with 41 starts between his last three minor league seasons.
- Tink Hence: Sixth-highest rated Cardinals prospect per MLB pipeline. A 20-year-old with a fast rise in minor-league ball, including a 1.38 ERA over 16 starts in Palm Beach.
- Gordon Graceffo: Third-highest rate Cardinals prospect per MLB pipline. A 22-year-old with 10 wins over 27 starts last season in Springfield.
Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson and Jordan Hicks also made spot starts last season, though might project more for relief roles long-terms.
Pitching discussions should be abundant for the Cardinals as the Winter Meetings begin Sunday, Dec. 4 in San Diego, a period where MLB free agency usually picks up steam.