NL Central Notes: Cards’ Rotation, McCutchen, Cubs

While the Cardinals are again shaping up nicely to compete for top honors in the National League Central, they’ll be faced with some important decisions a year or so from now. Among their starting rotation, only Steven Matz is signed beyond the 2023 season, with Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright (who wants to retire) Miles Mikolas other Jack Flaherty all slated for free agency in November.

Replacing four starters in free agency is no easy feat, particularly given the way starting pitchers were priced this winter, and while they do have Dakota Hudson and prospect Matthew Liberatore as options, it should come as a little surprise that Derrick Goold of the St Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the team is planning to open discussions about an extension with two starters this spring.

As Goold notes, Mikolas and Montgomery would appear to be the obvious candidates, with Flaherty a possibility as well – although he has dealt with injuries over the past few years. Montgomery, 30 last month, worked to a 3.11 ERA over 11 starts for the Cards after coming over from the Yankees at the deadline last year. He’s been a steady mid-rotation arm for a few years now and agreed to a $10MM salary in his final year before free agency. Mid-rotation arms such as Taijuan Walker other Jameson Taillon were sought-after commodities in free agency this year, and Montgomery would likely fit into that bracket next winter.

Mikolas, 34, worked to a 3.29 ERA over 202 1/3 innings last season. Another year like that in 2023 would set him up for a nice payday late in his career, so perhaps the the Cardinals could try and get ahead of that and lock up Mikolas for another few seasons.

Here’s some more notes from around the NL Central:

  • The Pirates move to bring back franchise icon Andrew McCutchen has been met with positivity around baseball, and Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sheds some more light on the matter. As it turns out, a return to Pittsburgh seemed unlikely until as recently as New Year’s Day when McCutchen sent a text message to Pirates owner Bob Nutting laying out his desire to return to Pittsburgh to finish his career. As Mackey relays, Nutting then approached general manager Ben Cherington, who then met McCutchen for coffee in Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs to see if a deal could be made. While veteran signings on rebuilding clubs are often done with an eye towards the trade deadline, Mackey reports that it’s more likely McCutchen returns to the Pirates in 2024 than is flipped at the deadline. That’s not to say there’s no chance of a trade, but it does seem like McCutchen is motivated by helping Pittsburgh’s young core return to relevance, and Mackey adds that the 2013 MVP sees similarities in Pittsburgh’s 2009-12 rebuild that wound up in the team going to the playoffs three straight years between 2013-15. The Pirates doesn’t seem quite ready to return to playoff baseball just yet, but it would make for quite the fairytale if McCutchen were to be part of the next playoff team in Pittsburgh.
  • The Cubs have been aggressive in free agency this winter as they look to return to the top of the Central. The team has inked long-term deals with Dansby SwansonJameson Taillon and Drew Smylywhile also adding the likes of Cody Bellinger on significant deals. The team currently has a bit of wiggle room under the first luxury tax marker, but they’ll surely be approaching it over the next few years as they make more free agent additions and deal with Nico Horner‘s arbitration raises. per a report from Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribuneowner Tom Ricketts spoke of a strategic approach to the luxury tax as the team moves forward.“There will be times I’m sure in the near future where we’ll go over. But we’ll always keep in mind that there’s a balance there you have to always look to manage. Just like we did a few years ago, we’ll go over, but we have to be careful of how long and by how much,” Ricketts said. The Cubs’ luxury tax payroll currently sits at $215MM (according to Fangraphs’ calculation), with the first threshold coming at $233MM.

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