Offseason Outlook: Pending Free Agents

With the World Series about to start getting underway, it’s time to start the offseason series’ here at Redbird Dugout. And the first step in that will be to take a look at the Cardinals’ outgoing free agents.

And when you look at this list, you might see a pattern. They’re all pitchers. With no free agent position players, that creates an interesting situation for a team who has a glut of position players that they need to not only thin out, but upgrade. But we’ll look at that going forward.

RHP Juan Nicasio. Juan Nicasio came late to the Cardinals this season, acquired in a September trade with the Phillies. At 31, Nicasio made the transition to full time reliever this season and responded with a career year as Pittsburgh’s 8th inning setup guy. Upon arriving in St. Louis, Nicasio slid into the closer’s role that had been left vacant by Trevor Rosenthal’s injury and posted a 1.64 ERA over 11 innings and was a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities.

Both the Cardinals and Nicasio have indicated that they’d like to be together in 2018 and I think the odds are good that something could be worked out. The hitch in the plans seems to be that the Cardinals claim to be looking at pursuing a top name closer. For Nicasio, I think the opportunity to close for the Cardinals is the most valuable thing the organization could give him. Without that, I think he’ll look for a closing opportunity elsewhere. Overall, I think a 2 year, $8-10 million deal would get the job done.

LHP Zach Duke. Yet another free agent reliever, but the fact that Zach Duke, 34, saw the mound at all this season was a pretty incredible feat. After being acquired last summer for Charlie Tilson, Duke finished his 2016 season with a 1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings with the Cardinals. However, after the season he needed to have elbow ligament replacement surgery and missed the first half of 2017. He managed to return in late July and posted a 3.93 ERA last season.

While that may not seem particularly impressive, five of the eight earned runs he allowed last season came in just two of his 27 appearances. He also had a 1.41 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over his final 14 appearances.

The future for Duke is less clear. With Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons in the bullpen next season and Ryan Sherriff fighting for a spot of his own, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals would need yet another left handed reliever. That’s why, despite Duke recently telling Cardinals.com that he would be interested in returning, I don’t see it happening. I’ll be the first to suggest that I don’t have a good feel for what Duke could command on the free agent market, but he is coming off a 3 year, $15 million deal. I would expect him to command $4-5 million on a one year deal.

RHP Seung-hwan Oh. After a stellar rookie campaign in 2016 where he assumed the closer’s role, Seung-hwan Oh had what can only be termed an incredibly disappointing 2017 season. In 62 appearances, Oh posted just a 4.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP and lost his closer’s job mid-summer.

The future is cloudy for Oh as well. Getting to free agency was something that Oh had been aiming for since arriving in St. Louis after signing his 2 year, $5.25 million deal before the 2016 season. He’ll have the option of signing here in the U.S. or returning to Korea or Japan to close out his career.

With his past closing experience and how effective he was in 2016, I’m sure there will be a team willing to take a chance on him, but it’s hard to know just how much that would be worth. In a reliever heavy free agent market, that could depress his value to a smaller deal with incentives. Which I think is where you could see him electing to return to Asia.

RHP Lance Lynn. Despite his multiple public expressions of interest in discussing an extension to remain in St. Louis, the Cardinals never got in touch with Lance Lynn‘s agent to put the feelers out. That, combined with statements that the club wants to “go young” with their rotation, seem to close the door on Lynn’s return. Which I wrote in April is a mistake and I still agree with that.

The Cardinals need Lynn or a pitcher of his caliber in their rotation next season and going forward. As the season went on, the need to bring Lynn back only seemed more obvious to me. Until he ran into the wall in September, he was on track for a career year. He ended it with a rotation-best 3.43 and a league-best 33 starts. With the team looking to get better next season, how do you keep a straight face when saying that at the same time you let your top performing starting pitcher walk?

That’s the question that needs answering. I get the arguments that Lynn was lucky because his fielding independent pitching numbers weren’t attractive. His HR/9 was up, his BB/9 was up, his K/9 was down, but his H/9 was also down and he still posted a career-best WHIP of 1.23.

I suggested back in April that Lynn would command a 5 year, $125 million deal in free agency and I continue to stand by that. Some have suggested that Lynn will end up getting Mike Leake money (5 years, $80 million), which I find laughable. I think nine figures are a slam dunk for him and I consider Jordan Zimmermann‘s deal with the Tigers from two winters ago (5 years, $110 million) as his free agency floor. He’ll also get a qualifying offer, which he’ll decline.