Cardinals make key first steps in addressing rotation by signing Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn

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With the offseason firmly underway and just two weeks remaining before Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings — largely regarded as the industry hot spot for offseason transactions — the Cardinals made sure to put their stakes in the starting pitching market early.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak officially announced the one-year signings of right-handed starting pitchers Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson on Tuesday afternoon, locking up two pivotal rotation spots on a Cardinals team that entered the offseason in dire need of innings. Lynn, who spent the first six years of his career with the Cardinals, returns to St. Louis on a $10 million deal with a $1 million buyout and option for 2025, guaranteeing him at least $11 million next year. Gibson, a product of the University of Missouri, signed for $12 million and his contract also includes a club option for the 2025 season.

“The purpose of (signing Gibson and Lynn) was three-prong,” Mozeliak said in a phone interview with The Athletic on Tuesday. “One is that they are experienced. Two, they eat innings. And three, I think they’ll help the clubhouse culture.”

That certainly was the trifecta for the Cardinals when identifying the characteristics they felt they needed most in the rotation. Durability and experience were coveted traits, as was leadership (something the clubhouse lacked at times during the season, especially in the second half). Both Lynn and Gibson checked all three of those boxes. Lynn, 36, made all 32 of his starts between the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2023 and has recorded at least 28 starts in four of his last five full seasons. Gibson, also 36, amassed an American League-best 33 starts for the Baltimore Orioles last year, and has made at least 31 starts in each of his last three seasons. In a span of two days, the Cardinals were successfully able to add roughly 375 innings (based on last year’s performances from both pitchers) and two decades of experience to their rotation for a combined $23 million.

“When you look back and unpack our season, there are a lot of things that went wrong,” Mozeliak said. “But certainly the inconsistency of our starting rotation put a lot of pressure on a lot of different areas early on in our past season, and I think that just got compounded throughout the year. Having more consistency in our rotation is key, and as we’ve stated all along, we’re hoping to improve that. We think today was a great first step.”

That Mozeliak referred to his signings as a first step is telling. The Cardinals are not done adding to their club, but they did address a critical need. With Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz the only two starting pitchers with ample experience under contract for 2024, Mozeliak and the front office faced a challenging (yet self-induced) task of filling three rotation spots this winter. That task was made exponentially tougher when factoring in the competitive price points of this year’s starting pitching market. In short: The Cardinals needed to add arms and needed to do so in bulk while simultaneously avoiding overspending.

Mozeliak felt considerable pressure to shore up depth early. When both Lynn and Gibson expressed a desire to play in St. Louis, it was optimal for Mozeliak to act on that interest.

“I think you’re going to start seeing more movement in the market, so this was definitely reactionary from a timing standpoint,” Mozeliak explained. “It was also identifying individuals that really wanted to be in St. Louis, which was also a nice thing. When you combine the two, I think if we tried to drag this out and wait a little bit, I think the music would have stopped and we would have been left standing.”

“We had interest in these two guys, and they had interest in us,” he added. “There are other free agents we have less interest in, and they have less interest in us. We could have passed on this, but it seemed like why would we do that for some uncertainties. This just made a lot of sense for us to try to get this done.”

But if the Cardinals want to propel out of the 90-plus loss territory they found themselves in last year and back into playoff contention as they have repeatedly expressed, relying on Lynn and Gibson simply to eat innings won’t be enough. St. Louis will need better campaigns from both pitchers. Gibson ranked in the top 10 in the American League in innings pitched, but also led the league in hits allowed (198) and his 4.73 ERA and 1.318 WHIP left plenty to be desired. Lynn’s 5.73 ERA last year was the highest of his career. He also allowed the most home runs in the majors last year (44) though there is an argument to make that the pitching-friendly dimensions of Busch Stadium should help with that.

In adding Lynn and Gibson, the Cardinals assured depth and coverage for next season while still leaving adequate resources to address other areas of the club. Mission accomplished, at least in that regard. As for constructing a starting rotation that successfully assures fans the team will be competitive next season? Not so fast.

Mozeliak recognized that but also acknowledged the calendar.

“This is Nov. 21,” he said. “There is a lot of time still left. We’re still going to look at ways to improve our club. In terms of what’s next, I think that’s more of a wait-and-see. We have not explored the trade market much to date. We’ll probably take a deeper dive into that as we start to approach Winter Meetings. But we don’t think we’re finished at this point.”

With nearly three months remaining until pitchers and catchers report, the Cardinals do indeed have plenty of time to continue upgrading their roster. Free-agent markets are just beginning to set, and the trade market has yet to be established. But what the Cardinals made clear on Tuesday was they felt it was important to act early and to negotiate where there was mutual interest. They were successful in that regard, but certainly are aware their offseason is far from finished.

(Photo of Gibson: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

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