The Cardinals’ rotation for 2022 is 80% set, with Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson pencilled into four out of the five slots. However, that last spot could still seemingly go in many different ways, either with internal or external options. Derrick S. Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch spoke to the team’s president of baseball operations John Mozeliak about the various paths they’re choosing between.
The club is apparently giving consideration to Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks, both of whom having been primarily working as relievers in recent years and are questionable fits for rotation jobs. Reyes had an excellent year out of the bullpen in 2021, eventually becoming the team’s closer. In 72 1/3 innings, he had an ERA of 3.24 with a strikeout rate of 30% and notched 29 saves. However, that also came with a walk rate of 16.4%, around twice the league average. He also comes with a lengthy injury history that has limited his contributions in his career thus far. Those 72 1/3 innings from this year are the most he’s thrown since 2016, when he threw 111 1/3 between Triple-A and the big leagues, which is the most he’s logged in a single season. That was followed by a completely lost season in 2017 and three straight years of just a few dozen each.
The situation with Hicks is somewhat comparable, as he had an excellent season in 2018, throwing 77 2/3 innings out of the bullpen with a 3.59 ERA. However, he was limited to 28 2/3 innings in 2019 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery, opted out of 2020 and then was limited by injuries to just 13 innings in 2021, between Triple-A and the big leagues. Expecting him to jump into a rotation job at this point seems like a tall ask, and Mozeliak admitted as much. “My guess is no better than yours or anybody else’s,” he said, in regards to what Hicks could provide in the future. “For him to go out and pitch north of 100 innings would be maybe putting him in a difficult spot.”
In addition to those two, Goold also lists Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo and Genesis Cabrera as those who are in the mix. Despite all of those candidates, the club is still looking into external options, which is understandable based on how 2021 went. Multiple injuries caused the club the struggle in the first half, leading them to make the mid-summer additions of Jon Lester, J.A. Happ and Wade LeBlanc. Although that helped stabilize the staff and get the club into the playoffs, they’re all now free agents. As Mozeliak puts it, “Last year, we thought we had nine or 10. I think you’ve got to have some protection going in regardless of what we say we’re going to get them to do… Having some additional arms is healthy.”
Goold’s report says that free agent Max Scherzer “would entertain an offer from the Cardinals”, which is notable because Scherzer was apparently unwilling to waive his no-trade clause to join them this past summer, preferring to become a member of a West Coast club. However, now that he is trying to maximize his earning potential, it makes sense that he would try to keep as many buyers at the table as possible, in order to ensure healthy bidding. Even if Scherzer is genuinely open to working in Missouri, where he was born and raised, the club may have trouble fitting him into the budget, as their 2022 payroll is currently over $142MM, according to Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That’s around $20MM shy of 2021’s opening day payroll, which was a franchise record, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Scherzer is likely to command much more than that for an annual salary, with MLBTR recently predicting he garners a contract of $120MM over three years, an annual average value of $40MM.
A pitcher who will come much cheaper is Steven Matz, who was at the GM Meetings yesterday, according to Tim Healey of Newsday. Healey lists the Cardinals as being interested in his services, along with the Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers. MLBTR predicted Matz to land a deal of $27MM over three years, an AAV of $9MM which would certainly fit into the Cards’ payroll much more neatly than Scherzer’s. Matz had a solid year for the Blue Jays in 2021, throwing 150 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.82. He figures to be popular among teams hesitant to surrender draft picks, as he didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Jays.