Lance Lynn labored through one of his least prosperous outings of the year Wednesday in the Cardinals 7-5 win over the Marlins, but that won't be deeply discussed here. Requiring a season-high 104 pitches, Lynn gritted through only four innings, allowing four runs on a pair of first inning home runs. It was by no means a banner outing, but it happens. He’ll be fine.
If not, the following topic will be a total waste of everyone’s time, because the Cardinals won’t offer Lynn a big contract if he suddenly stinks.
A possible contract extension for Lynn, an impending free agent, has been a popular topic since Lynn stated his desire to be a Cardinal for life in early April. Certainly, the potential nine-figure deal Lynn would command–as predicted by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (15:30 in the podcast link)–is money that could be spent upgrading other areas of the roster. Detractors to that theory would submit that the Cardinals have ample funds to sign Lynn–an important asset in the rotation–while maintaining the ability to tweak the rest of the roster as required, thanks in part to the billion dollar television contract kicking in for 2018.
Some would argue the Cardinals could withstand the loss of Lynn because of the expected high-caliber reinforcements on the way; that the organization has a slew of pitching prospects closing in on their arrivals at the major league level is no secret.
Sandy Alcantara and Jack Flaherty top the list of hotly anticipated debuts, while Luke Weaver–and most certainly Alex Reyes–will figure into the mix in the coming years. Consider other touted prospects like Austin Gomber and Jordan Hicks, and the Cardinals could have a full rotation’s worth of legitimate talent working its way through the pipeline.
It’s fun to dream about hypothetical stars realizing their potential. It’s also prudent to understand the fast track to big-league success typically features its fair share of bumps in the road. Even if the Cardinals are in rare company with regards to their current organizational pitching depth, fans should bear in mind the adage: there’s no such thing as too much pitching.
It doesn’t take much creativity to envision a scenario where St. Louis is forced to scramble for arms in the not-to-distant future. Though the season remains young, Adam Wainwright (2-3, 6.37 ERA) appears to have carried last year’s accelerated decline over into the new campaign. He’s on the books until 2018, but without a late-career renaissance, his apparent effectiveness could render him a back-of-the-rotation type sooner than expected.
Michael Wacha (2-1, 3.19 ERA) appears to have regained the form of the upstart phenom he portrayed before shoulder troubles darkened his career outlook. Though his performance has rebounded, his stubborn and mysterious condition could again present itself whenever desires. Even if he makes it through the season successfully, will that be enough for the Cardinals to confidently secure him long-term? It’s a precarious situation.
While Mike Leake and Carlos Martinez aren't especially injury prone, pitching is a fickle business–eventually, most guys break down. If it happens to a Cardinal starter before the young guns are ready, the team is suddenly in a pinch–its greatest strength could perhaps become an ominous question mark in a matter of days. It's happened before.
That’s the value of Lance Lynn. He’s a horse with a powerful right arm, one that has already received the Tommy John repair–which is seemingly as routine as an oil change for the power pitchers of today’s game. For his career, Lynn has been a consistent innings glutton, and his effectiveness in those innings (career 3.31 ERA) is too often under-appreciated.
Does that mean the Cardinals should extend him? Realistically–and despite what Lynn said in the first week of the season–it probably won’t happen. At least, not before he gets the chance to see what the free agent market has to offer. Though Lynn said all the right things when asked about his willingness to seek out an extension during the season, he has made clear in the past his intention to test free agency. In December, Lynn was a guest of the St. Louis Writer's Block radio program, and indicated the following:
Lance Lynn will see what free agency has to offer him after 2017, but would also be open to remaining a Cardinal by that process. #STLCards— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) December 15, 2016
If you won't take my word for it, parse through this March 7th edition of Derrick Goold's weekly chat, in which the beat writer succinctly stated the same: "Lynn is going to be a free agent."
For those past reports to be altered, it would require a significant offer by the Cardinals. Lynn was set on testing free agency; to forgo it, he and his representation would likely only accept an offer deemed to be on the high-end of what the veteran would stand to earn on the open market. That's not to say it can't happen, but heed this translation: there will be no hometown discount for a Lance Lynn extension.
Rather, Lynn will extract an exorbitant amount of money from Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak later this summer, or he'll become a free agent–as was the plan all along.