The St. Louis Cardinals say they like their starting rotation. But that is not preventing them from pursuing a major upgrade.
The team is exploring trades for left-handers Cole Hamels and David Price and the possibility of signing free-agent right-hander Max Scherzer, according to major-league sources.
No deal appears close on any front, and it’s possible that the Cardinals will simply decide that the acquisition cost in each case is too high.
However, the Cardinals’ interest in adding another starter reflects, at least in part, concern about their rotation beyond right-hander Lance Lynn.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright is coming off surgery last October in which he had cartilage trimmed from his right elbow. Michael Wacha pitched only 107 innings last season due to a stress reaction in his right shoulder.
John Lackey is entering his free-agent year, while Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales are unproven as starters. Jaime Garcia, the sole veteran left-hander, underwent surgery in July to correct thoracic outlet syndrome in his shoulder and has pitched only 99 innings the past two seasons.
The Cardinals’ preference, according to sources, is to add another left-hander; hence, their interest in Hamels and Price. Scherzer holds a different appeal — he is a native of St. Louis and the best pitcher on the free-agent market. However, sources say he is seeking $200 million, and his agent, Scott Boras, generally is not inclined to grant hometown discounts.
Hamels and Price would be expensive in other ways.
The Phillies want premium talent for Hamels, who is owed $90 million over the next four years. Teams usually balk at trading top prospects while taking on expensive contracts. The good news for the Cardinals is that they could acquire Hamels without his permission; they are not on his no-trade list.
If anything, Hamels would welcome a deal to St. Louis, sources say. His wife, Heidi, is from the St. Louis area, and all of her family lives in Missouri, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
The Cardinals’ biggest problem, perhaps, would be satisfying the Phillies.
To secure Hamels, the Cardinals likely would need to part with Martinez or Gonzales as well as an outfielder such as Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty (the Phillies have long coveted Peter Bourjos as well, sources say).
Such a price could be prohibitive.
In the past six months, the Cardinals have traded pitchers Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, depleting their stable of young arms. What’s more, the player whom St. Louis acquired to replace the late Oscar Taveras, right fielder Jason Heyward, is entering his free-agent year.
Price would represent a different type of acquisition – he, too, is entering his free-agent year, and projects to earn $18.9 million in arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
The Tigers acquired Price last July 31 in a three-team trade that cost them left-hander Drew Smyly, Class-A shortstop Willy Adames and center fielder Austin Jackson, who went to the Mariners.
A second trade of Price surely would result in a lesser return, but it could give the Tigers the flexibility to re-sign Scherzer, who rejected a six-year, $144 million offer from the team last spring.
A Tigers official said on Wednesday, “We are happy with our starting pitching. We are not pursuing any upgrades.” However, sources say the Tigers have yet to approach Price about a contract extension – an indication that they might not view him as a long-term solution.
The Cardinals presumably would acquire Price with the intent of signing him long term. Price almost certainly would be open to the idea, particularly after spending his entire career in the higher-scoring American League.
St. Louis is about a five-hour drive from Nashville, Tenn., where Price lives during the offseason. The pitcher also enjoyed attending a game at Busch Stadium as a fan with several teammates last July, the night before the Rays began a series in St. Louis.
The Cardinals’ payroll currently projects to be slightly above their season-ending $115 million figure in 2014. Chairman Bill DeWitt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last October that he expects “significant increases” in the team’s budget over the next three to five years, mostly due to younger players growing more expensive.