The Cardinals proved themselves to be proactive once again in keeping their own in tow by forgoing the arbitration process with pitcher Lance Lynn. As opposed to letting a negotiator set the tone for their future with the 27-year-old right-hander, the club bought out his full stretch of arbitration eligible seasons to the tone of a three year deal that could reach a maximum amount of $23.5 million. And in doing so the club not only protected itself from issuing a potentially record-setting deal, it also shored up its most consistent—and suddenly invaluable—components.
Lynn had long been plagued by the perception of being an inconsistent contributor, an image that was simultaneously both right and wrong. Over the course of his first three seasons, few pitchers had been as victorious as often as Lynn has been. An All-Star in 2012 when he went on to win a career-best 18 games, Lynn is one three pitchers to notch 15 or more victories over the past three seasons and third winningest pitcher in the National League, behind only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. He has been very durable as well; making at least 33 starts each of the past three years and topping 200 innings in each of the previous two campaigns.
Yet despite these high marks, he has been plagued by awful bouts of inconsistency in the past as well, in addition to an image of his success being more a device of run support instead of stellar work done on his own. During his 18-win 2012 season, he struggled so badly down the stretch that he was pulled from the rotation late in the season. In 25 August innings, he posted a 6.66 in seven games and from August 26th through September 9th, he worked from the bullpen until regaining his form to close out the year with four solid starts and an encouraging postseason showing.
2013 saw more of the same however, as he opened up the year with a 7-1 record from April through May into a three month run of an ERA over 5.00 and 6-8 record from June through August. Despite once again rebounding with a strong September and October, Lynn had established a track record of extreme inconsistency as the season wore on.
However, he broke the mold that was quickly being set for him last summer. After entering the season amid questions about where he would factor into the Cardinal starting rotation—if at all—he set out and had his finest season of his career. He never posted an ERA over 4.00 in any month and instead of wilting as the summer grew hotter, he matched its heat in his performance. He carried the Cardinal rotation through nearly unanimous bouts with injuries through the second half, posting a 2.22 ERA after the All-Star Break and limiting opponents to .228 average against.
In short, he conquered his greatest demon and made another step up the mountain towards becoming an unquestioned frontline starter. And whether it is ready to be accepted or not, that is exactly what Lynn has become as he enters his fourth year in the Cardinal rotation—and not a moment too soon.
The Cardinal rotation enters 2015 with its ace in Wainwright returning from offseason elbow surgery and Michael Wacha’s status to be determined as he works his way back into starting shape after a shoulder injury that shortened his season as well. Lynn’s accession to carrying the weight of the rotation will carry over to his responsibility shifting from quality innings eater, to bonafide source of wins, not just beneficiary of his team’s production.
There are wins for both parties involved. Lynn has quietly become one of the game’s steadiest contributors. And in a time where the cost of obtaining quality pitching can have a franchise changing financial ramifications, getting one of the game’s most dependable options for an annual value of just north of $7 million per season instantly becomes one of the shrewdest deals that John Mozeliak has maneuvered to date.
While Mozeliak acknowledged that a longer pact that stretched past just his currently team controlled years was discussed, but ultimately not able to be worked out at the time, both parties come away from the negotiations in a better place than they enter them from. Lynn gets a handsome increase from the $535, 000 he earned in 2014 and also see the reward that befits his accomplishments in affirming his value to team a year ago.
Yet another victory for a guy that has made such an outcome his specialty.