Phillies, Cardinals, Jays Pursuing Free-Agent Starters (twitter.com)

The Phillies and Cardinals are among the clubs who are still active in the free-agent market for starting pitchers, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com

. Among the starters being considering are James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker. The Phils have already made some modestly priced additions to their rotation mix, signing Matt Moore ($3MM) and Chase Anderson ($4MM) to one-year deals, but they’re likely to vie for innings at the back of the rotation and perhaps even in long relief. Any of Paxton, Odorizzi or Walker would surely be a set-in-stone member of the starting staff, health permitting.

Those two clubs aren’t alone in their exploration of this market, however. Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet report that the Blue Jays are also looking at free-agent starters in this tier, noting that the club seems to prefers to keep investments in the starting staff to one year. That’d likely rule out Odorizzi, who is known to be seeking a multi-year arrangement. The Sportsnet report indicates Jays interest in both Walker and Paxton but characterizes Toronto’s current level of interest in Odorizzi as “unclear.”

As for the Cardinals, jumping into this mix would deepen a group that currently includes Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez and Kwang Hyun Kim. Lefty Genesis Cabrera and righties Jake Woodford and Daniel Ponce de Leon are on hand as depth options as well.

Still, Mikolas didn’t pitch last year due to a flexor strain that required surgery, and Martinez’s standing in the organization has seemingly diminished. He’s oscillated between the bullpen and rotation in recent years. Adding an established starter is plenty sensible, and the Cards look to have suddenly awakened from a dormant offseason in the past week, acquiring Nolan Arenado and re-signing Wainwright.

Any of the three pitchers in question would serve as logical upgrades for this group of teams, but there’s some cause for pause as well. The Phillies, notably, are about $11MM shy of the $210MM luxury tax threshold. There’s been no indication yet that owner John Middleton is willing to cross that mark, which has seemingly come to serve as a de facto salary cap for MLB owners this winter. Even if the Phils could secure one of the three pitchers in question for an annual commitment south of $11MM, doing so wouldn’t leave much room for in-season acquisitions.

The Blue Jays aren’t anywhere close to the luxury barrier, but Davidi and Nicholson-Smith suggest they’re also wary of adding so many veteran options that it impedes the path to innings for younger arms like Anthony Kay and Julian Merryweather. Toronto currently has Matz, Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson, Tanner Roark and Ross Stripling as possible rotation pieces slated for the Opening Day roster, and there are several arms on the 40-man roster in Triple-A.

As such, some in the industry expect the Jays to look to move the remainder of Roark’s contract, per Nicholson-Smith and Davidi. He’s owed $12MM this year, and while it’s unlikely they could convince another club to pay the full freight of that deal, it’s possible he could be movable with the Jays eating some cash or taking on a different contract in return.

With regard to the Cardinals, it’s worth wondering the extent to which ownership is willing to spend. They surely have some money earmarked for their hopeful reunion with Yadier Molina, and despite ample speculation about shuffling their outfield mix, the status quo remains in place. Then again, with the Rockies incredibly agreeing to pay all of Arenado’s $35MM salary this season, the Cards appear to have the payroll capacity to bring Molina back and still explore upgrades in the rotation and/or in the outfield. In its current state, the roster is projected for a roughly $138MM payroll (via Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez) with just shy of $150MM in luxury-tax obligations.

The asking price of all three pitchers matters, of course. Such parameters can vary as Spring Training nears, but as of late January, Odorizzi was reportedly still in search of a three-year deal that’d pay him $12-14MM annually. SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson said in his podcast two weeks ago (audio link, around the 9:30 mark) that the Twins believed Paxton to be seeking a one-year deal in the $12MM range.

There hasn’t been much reported on Walker’s asking price, but he’d surely have a case for a multi-year deal given his age and solid results in 2020 — his first healthy season since Tommy John surgery in 2018. He’s something of an interesting case, however, as there are arguments for him to take either a one-year pact or a multi-year deal this winter. At 28, he could take a one-year pact to further prove his health and look to cash in on a long-term deal next winter when he’s still a relatively young free agent entering his age-29 season. At the same time, the security of any multi-year deal would be appealing for a pitcher whose 2018-19 seasons were almost entirely wiped out due to injury.



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