The St. Louis Cardinals announced Tuesday afternoon that Lance Lynn has undergone Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2016 season, an injury that could have big ripple effects on this winter's free agent market. The workhorse right-hander ranks sixth in the majors in wins and 22nd in innings over the past four seasons. With John Lackey a free agent, the Cardinals are now without two of their starters from the 2015 pitching staff that posted the lowest ERA since the 1988 Mets.
Adam Wainwright, who missed most of 2015 with a torn Achilles, can fill one of those slots, but consider this rotation:
Wainwright: Tommy John surgery in his past, plus minor elbow surgery after the 2014 season.
Michael Wacha: Missed time in 2014 with a scapular stress injury in his shoulder.
Carlos Martinez: Missed the 2015 postseason with a shoulder strain.
Jaime Garcia: Returned for 20 starts in 2015 after making just 16 starts in 2013-14 combined.
The Cardinals won 100 games thanks to rotation depth and the best bullpen ERA in the majors, but that foursome comes with red flags entering 2016. Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales are around as depth and all have had major league time, with Lyons and Cooney coming off good seasons at Triple-A. Top prospect Alex Reyes, who had reached Double-A, was suspended 50 games on Monday for a positive marijuana test, making his arrival in the majors in 2016 less likely. So while it's not necessarily urgent that the Cardinals dip into the free agent market for a starting pitcher, it certainly more likely than it was 24 hours ago.
The Cardinals have to enter the offseason thinking they'll be facing some regression as is in the run prevention department. After all, they allowed 70 fewer runs than any other team and 78 fewer than in 2014. No team had allowed fewer runs per game in a 162-game season since the early 1970s.
Now the Cardinals have to balance adding a pitcher with adding offense, including re-signing or replacing Jason Heyward in the outfield. The Cardinals ranked 11th in the NL in runs in 2015 and ninth in 2014. Matt Holliday will be 36 and coming off a season in which he played just 73 games and hit four home runs. Yadier Molina's production has tumbled the past two seasons. The Cardinals received great production in partial seasons from Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, but they'll have to prove they can do it over 500 at-bats.
Do they give Heyward $175 million? Do they go after Chris Davis to add some needed power to the lineup, hope Holliday has one big season in him and go with Piscotty in right field? Do they pony up a big contract for David Price?
Remember, the pressure on the Cardinals is that it may again take 100 wins to win the NL Central, given the strength of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. Suddenly, the Cardinals look like they need to be added to the list of most intriguing teams to watch this postseason.
My prediction: The Cardinals go for a bat -- Heyward, Davis, Justin Upton -- and sign a second-tier starter, or maybe even bring Lackey back since he won't require a lengthy deal, given his age.