Rumors started circulating Thursday morning that the Cardinals were looking at adding a pitcher, with James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi, and Taijuan Walker all being named by Mark Feinsand. It’s kind of a surprise, as it was anticipated the team could be looking at another hitter; Marcell Ozuna has started some rumors after stating he would like to be reunited with Yadier Molina.
Of the pitchers mentioned, Odorizzi has been named a player of interest by Derrick Goold. This makes sense for a few reasons. First off, Odorizzi is from Breeze, IL, which is about 45 minutes east of St. Louis; he’s pretty much considered a local product. While not every local player has succeeded here (hello Scott Cooper), it’s a major selling point for fans.
Secondly, he’s probably the least risky of the 3; Paxton and Walker have some high upside, but it seems like every time they break through, they get hurt. While Odorizzi has a better chance of staying healthy, he’s had his fair share of injuries; he was limited to 4 starts last year with the Twins and has historically missed a couple of starts a year.
Finally, he’s only 30 (31 next month) and could be in line for a decent length contract – something like 3 years, which is rumored to be what he’s looking for. After playing on a Qualifying Offer in 2020, he really hasn’t received much interest this winter; over the last few days, he was tied to the Phillies, and the Blue Jays. That 3 year deal could come down to 2 and an option due to his slow market.
Odorizzi was an all star in 2019, where he went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts. With his injury problems in 2020, he went 0-1 with a 6.59 ERA in his 4 starts. He saw his K/9 drop from 10.1 to 7.9 while his HR/9 jumped from 0.9 to 2.6. A move from Target Field to Busch Stadium wouldn’t improve those numbers all that much, since both are pitchers parks.
Paxton and Walker definitely have more upside.
Paxton was very successful in 2017 and 2018 for the Mariners, but had mixed results with the Yankees; his 2019 was a step down from the previous 2 seasons, but 2020 looked like Odorizzi’s (only 5 starts and 6.64 ERA). The good news was his K/9 stayed over 11 in the rough year, but his BB/9 did increase by almost a full walk when he moved to New York. Paxton is looking for a 1 year deal in the low double digits ($12-15M). A move to Busch would benefit the lefty, as Yankee Stadium is a hitters park.
Walker probably had the most potential of all as a prospect, but also has the most issues. He struggles to find the zone at times (2.8 BB/9 for his career, many seasons over 3.0) and hasn’t started 30 games in a season ever (he’s averaged just over 13 starts a season for his 8 year career). He’s expected to be looking for a 1 year deal to try and build value; I’d expect the cost to be less than that of Paxton (probably $7-8M). He’s be another guy to benefit coming to St. Louis, since Rogers Centre and Chase Field both are hitters parks.
The fit is the bigger question; as of right now, the Cardinals rotation is Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Kwang Hyun Kim, and Carlos Martinez, with Genesis Cabrera, Jake Woodford, and Daniel Poncedeleon as fallback options. It’s a full rotation, but there are question marks. Mikolas is coming off flexor strain surgery. Martinez had a bout of Covid that made him ineffective after he came back; there are also questions about his ability to start and the needs of the bullpen, where his arm plays well. Flaherty didn’t pitch well last season, but I’m chalking that up to his erratic schedule and the shortened season. KK looked incredible, but could there be a sophomore slump?
I think Odorizzi would be a safe upgrade; I believe he’s an upgrade for the back of the rotation and would allow Martinez to return to the bullpen. I would also like Paxton, but would want to see a throwing session first; if he’s the Paxton from 2017-2019, I’d take him. If he struggling with velocity, I’d pass. Walker would be a better option on a minor league deal, but I don’t think his market has fallen that far that he’d not receive an MLB offer from someone else.
The Cardinals could stand pat and still have one of the better rotation in the NL Central. Adding one of these other 3 could push them to NL Contender, if they were to have a healthy season.