The St. Louis Cardinals went 71-91 in 2023. This was their first sub-.500 season since 2007, as well as their lowest win total and first last place finish since 1990. Not all of that is connected to Yadier Molina retiring following the 2022 season.
The Cardinals ranked 24th in ERA this past season with a 4.83, tied with the Cincinnati Reds, who play in arguably the most hitter-friendly park outside of Coors Field in Colorado. Their starters finished with an accumulative 5.08 ERA, which ranked 26th. The Red Bird bullpen also finished with a 4.47 ERA, 23rd in baseball.
The Cardinals need to add arms this winter, and they know it. The team has already signed two starters, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. But they shouldn’t be done just yet. Lynn is returning to St. Louis on a one-year, $11 million deal after spending the last few seasons with the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
He finished with a 5.73 ERA this past season, but he made 32 starts and gave up a ridiculous 44 home runs in the regular season (and three more in his lone postseason start). You have to think that home run total will regress in 2024, leading to better results.
Gibson finished with a 4.73 ERA across 33 starts for the Baltimore Orioles, though his FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 4.13 suggests he could provide better results with a stronger defense behind him. Both Gibson and Lynn should be able to eat up innings for the Cardinals in 2024. The question is going to be how well they pitch in those innings.
St. Louis’ current rotation looks to be Lynn and Gibson in addition to Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz and Zack Thompson as currently constructed. Only Matz, in 105 innings pitched, had an ERA below four last season. The Cardinals have built up some depth to withstand injuries, but they still haven’t necessarily gotten noticeably better yet. This will also be the last season of Paul Goldschmidt before he hits free agency.
The Cardinals need to keep on adding in order to make a run in the NL Central. The Cubs made a big splash in hiring Craig Counsell and could be in line to keep on adding this winter. The Reds are a young team on the rise. The Pirates have a ton of young talent and are going to put it together sooner rather than later.
Milwaukee looks to be taking a step back, however, and they have long been near the top of the Central. This winter could be St. Louis’ chance to re-insert themselves back into the conversation.
According to Katie Woo of The Athletic, Cardinals’ president of baseball operations John Mozeliak considers the signings of Lynn and Gibson “A great first step.” Let’s see if we can find some other additions for St. Louis to make that will put them right back in contention in 2024.
St. Louis Cardinals sign Sonny Gray
Gray, 34, feels like the type of pitcher that would fit well in St. Louis. He’s roughly the same age as a lot of the team, which helps. He’s also sneaky good. Gray was an All Star in 2023, finished second in the AL Cy Young race, and also got some down ballot MVP votes.
The last two seasons with Minnesota he has posted ERAs of 3.08 and 2.79, which is right in line with the type of pitcher St. Louis needs to add to its rotation. The one downside with signing Gray is that he is one of the more costly options available.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto heads to St. Louis
Yamamoto, 25, has a career ERA in Japan of under two. In 2023, he went 16-6 and held a 1.21 ERA across 164 innings. In case those numbers weren’t wild enough for you, his career WHIP over seven seasons is 0.915.
He was also posted on Tuesday, meaning that he has just under 45 days to pick a team to give him lots and lots of money. MLB Trade Rumors projects a nine-year, $225 million contract for him this winter. The Cardinals have shown interest in the potential ace, too.
Adding him to the Cardinals’ rotation would certainly help St. Louis, but it would also leave expectations and the pressure pretty high for Yamamoto in his first big-league season. Not only will he be coming to a new country and playing in a new league, he’d also be surrounded by a bunch of league average innings eaters. He’d have to show up and be the guy on day one.
There will be a lot of competition to sign Yamamoto, and a number of teams are going to have their hearts broken if he doesn’t choose them. He’s the best option for St. Louis, but he also may not be the most likely addition.
St. Louis Cardinals pull off Dylan Cease trade
With everyone on the White Sox roster reportedly available, Dylan Cease is going to be a popular target for a number of teams. Two seasons ago he finished second in the AL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.20 ERA. He collects strikeouts, holding a career 10.8 strikeouts per nine, which he finished just above in 2023.
This past season he posted a 4.58 ERA, which was right about league average.
The reason he makes sense for St. Louis is because he is also a dependable starter, making at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons, and he arguably has more upside than either Lynn or Gibson. The tricky part with Cease would be figuring out which players could be moved in a trade without hurting the club overall. He is projected to make $8 million in his second year of arbitration, and won’t be a free agent until after the 2025 season.
We have talked a lot about the Cardinals’ need for starting pitching, but they also ranked dead last in wRC+ from the DH position in 2023 with a 63, 37% below league average. The 29th ranked team finished with a 79. There is nowhere to go but up at DH, but why not shoot a little higher than “not last?” Why not sign J.D. Martinez?
Martinez finished with a 135 wRC+, 35% better than league average, and was a top-10 DH last season after hitting .271 with a .321 OBP and 33 home runs.
At 36 years old, he’ll be looking for a short-term deal, potentially even a one-year deal in the $12 million range. Adding one of the pitchers above with a bat like Martinez to help supplement the offense while having some young players that could take a step forward next season seems like a good recipe for the Cardinals to return to contention in 2024.