The St. Louis Cardinals are going to have their hands full in a couple of weeks when free agency finally begins. Adam Wainwright is now retired, meaning that the last holdover from their 2006 and 2011 World Series championship teams is gone, so they'll have to find another veteran leader for their pitching staff.
The Cardinals did not add any pitching last offseason, and that has to change if they want to rebound from a dreadful 2023 season and compete again in 2024. The question remains though, will the Cardinals be willing to do that? Will they pay the price necessary to land quality pitching in free agency?
Just any pitching won't be enough for St. Louis. It's going to take at least one frontline starter to return them to the World Series for the first time since 2013. Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, and Sonny Gray are among the options available, and St. Louis needs to sign at least one of them in order to contend again. They missed the playoffs this year and will look to bounce back into postseason contention in 2024.
St. Louis Cardinals: It's time for John Mozeliak to pay up
But the Cardinals path back to contention starts and ends with owner Bill DeWitt and President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak. The root cause of the Cardinals problem is the pitching staff, namely the rotation. But can the Cardinals fix it?
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are already looking into Nola and Gray as potential fits next season. Either of those two options would give St. Louis their ace in the hole for the future. Both are proven veterans who can be trusted in big moments such as the postseason.
So, in that sense, one could make the case that the Cardinals will be willing to pay the price for pitching. Mozeliak has also stated that the Cardinals need to add three starters from outside the organization. On top of that, Mozeliak was booed twice yesterday during Adam Wainwright's retirement ceremony, so fans should hope that the boos motivated him to do better.
But in years past, the Cardinals have been linked to high-priced free agents and not signed them. The best example is their failed pursuit of David Price back in 2015. The Cardinals also had ample opportunity to add pitching last offseason, but failed to do so.
Fans have every right to be skeptical. And even when they did sign pitching in years past, their transactions didn't pay off. Mike Leake, Brett Cecil, Andrew Miller, and Steven Matz are perfect examples of such failures. The Cardinals will likely sign pitching either way, but the question is whether or not they'll sign the right pitchers.
Still, it had been since 2007 that the Cardinals finished under the .500 mark, and they hadn't finished more than 10 games under the .500 mark since 1999, making 2023 a historically bad season. Their final record this year was 71-91.
That, in and of itself could be enough to convince the Cardinals to change their ways. But at the end of the day, the buck stops with the front office and ownership. It's ultimately up to them to decide if they truly care about taking the Cardinals to their first World Series in 11 years next year.