Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn will miss the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery today, the team announced today.
Lynn’s injury is a significant blow to the Cardinals’ pitching staff, though the team does have some depth to get around the loss of its No. 2 starter. Adam Wainwright is expected to be healthy again for the duration of the 2016 campaign, and he’ll be joined in the rotation by Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia, whose $11.5MM club option was recently exercised. Other options in the rotation include Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales, though Gonzales dealt with shoulder injuries in 2015, as did the impressive but inexperienced Martinez. Between the unexpected loss of Lynn, the potential departure of John Lackey via free agency, and the 50-game suspension for top prospect Alex Reyes, it seems reasonable to expect the Cardinals to enter the both the free-agent and trade markets for rotation upgrades.
General manager John Mozeliak acknowledged today after the announcement that the injury to Lynn alters the Cardinals’ course of action this winter (Twitter link via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold). While the team hasn’t previously dabbled in lucrative starting pitching contracts for free agents, that could change this winter, Goold notes. It’s obviously extremely early to speculate, but one would think the injury to Lynn considerably enhances the Cardinals’ pre-existing interest in a reunion with Lackey.
The top of the free agent market, of course, consists of David Price and Zack Greinke, while Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto occupy the next tier. If there’s such a thing as an opportune time to lose one of your best starters, the Cardinals have found it, as this year’s free-agent market features virtually unprecedented starting pitching depth. Other options for the Redbirds would include Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, Doug Fister, Mark Buehrle and more.
The Cardinals have the lowest first-round pick, No. 30 overall, by virtue of owning the Majors’ best record in 2015, and they could potentially gain two compensatory picks if Lackey and Jason Heyward sign elsewhere. I’d imagine that would make the team less wary about parting with its first-round pick to bolster the rotation.
Over the past three seasons, the 28-year-old Lynn has quietly solidified himself as one of the more valuable starting pitchers in the National League. The former No. 39 overall pick has tallied 580 1/3 innings of 3.25 ERA ball in that time, averaging 8.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 with a 43.9 percent ground-ball rate. Fangraphs rates him 20th among starting pitchers in wins above replacement in that time.
The Cardinals considered Lynn reliable enough to lock in his three arbitration seasons last winter with a three-year, $22MM contract. A healthy Lynn, of course, easily justifies that type of financial commitment, and he did so in 2015. He’ll be penciled in for a $7.5MM salary next season and $7.5MM the following year as well before hitting the open market heading into his age-31 season.