Could another Cardinal arm be needed?

Pitching has been the strength of the Cardinals throughout their league-best season opening. But as the trade deadline approaches, could adding to their greatest asset be necessary? And if so, how would they go about doing so? One thing is for certain: the team has the assets and the market would be open to listening on what they could offer.

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So far, so good has been the order of the year for the Cardinals starting rotation. Coming into today, they have a MLB-best 38 wins and a 2.97 ERA. Yet, looking a bit deeper, and the forecast may not be as good as the moment. Only Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook have more than one season of 30 plus starts among the current staff, and as a year ago showed, the pitfalls of a youthful staff become more evident the later it gets. Lance Lynn noticeably wore down by last August, and while he has become more economical in his approach recently, he is still has to show he can breakthrough over the full course of the year. Add into the equation the presence of Shelby Miller, who has never topped 139 innings in his pro career, and some combination of  Tyler Lyons (152 inning career-best) and potentially Joe Kelly (179.1 innings total a year ago), and there’s not much long-term experience that September and October bound seasons can lean upon.

This bring into question if the presence of another proven arm is a must to ensure the club has the legs to run the full marathon of the season. With the loss of Jaime Garcia and the uncertainty of Chris Carpenter injury: Cardinals right-hander gacing live batters” href=”http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2013/6/4/4395400/chris-carpenter-injury-cardinals-rehab-shoulder-neck-return”>the availability of Chris Carpenter, there is a definite forced youth movement to the bottom half of the rotation. If Lyons, Lynn or Miller falters over the second half, the presence of another arm could be necessitated.

However, the question begs, to what extent could the club pursue an outside addition? In recent weeks, there have been rumors of the potential availability of the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, as well as the Blue Jays’ Mark Buehrle. Both veteran lefties have been tied to the club before, and could be highly sought after if their respective clubs stay far enough outside of the pennant race to concede. Lee has a limited no-trade clause, yet the Cardinals are not a team listed on it. The Arkansas native is 8-2 with a 2.55 ERA in 14 starts this season, and grew up a fan of the team, and would provide a much needed left-handed presence to the rotation. However, he is due another $50 million guaranteed over the next two years of his contract, in addition to likely costing multiple high-potential prospects, an approach GM John Mozeliak has balked at engaging with in recent history.

Buehrle, who was dealt to the Blue Jays this past winter, is also a battle-tested lefty that would provide a similar presence in the rotation, at a slightly friendlier price to both acquire and maintain. The 34-year-old is due $37 million over the final two years of his deal, carrying through 2015. He also would probably not carry quite as steep of a price to acquire from the young talent pool, but wouldn’t be a discount acquisition either. The St. Charles native does not have any trade restrictions on his deal, and has stated publicly before his desire to pitch in his hometown.

Other potential targets could include a group of expiring contracts after the season in Ted Lilly, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Edison Volquez. All would fit into the scheme of short-term arms, that wouldn’t cost much in regards to top tier talent being moved to acquire, and having contracts that will come off the books after the season.

Potentially, nothing could come of this as well. The team could choose to stick with what’s in the fold, and rotate in the bevy of internal to fill in space. For a team that’s 20 games over .500, blockbuster moves may seem like the ultimate vanity play, but digging a bit deeper, it could truly be an investment in staying where they started.

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