The St. Louis Cardinals have been quiet ever since starting their winter off with a bang by acquiring Jason Heyward. A bit too quiet.

But maybe not for much longer. Word is the Cardinals want to make another bang. And if they pull it off, their status as one of the National League‘s elite teams will become clad in iron, cement and other similarly sturdy things.

As Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of reported late Wednesday night, the Cardinals are thinking of adding a big-name ace starter to their rotation, with their top ideas being signing free-agent right-hander Max Scherzer or trading for left-handers David Price or Cole Hamels.

So no, they’re not messing around. That’s two Cy Young winners (Scherzer and Price) and a guy who’s finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times (Hamels).

Despite St. Louis’ silence since acquiring Heyward, you could see something like this coming. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wondered aloud in late November if the Cardinals had a big move up their sleeve, and even general manager John Mozeliak seemed to be saying “maybe.”

You don’t stop looking for ways to improve, but as far as options go we think we have five quality starters, at least, to go with,” Mozeliak told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch, before adding: “I wouldn’t rule out doing something later.”

Now, before we go any further, let’s acknowledge nothing is guaranteed here.

Hamels is still owed $100 million over the next four seasons, and the Philadelphia Phillies are probably looking to move all of that and acquire young talent. The Cardinals typically have a lot of that, but not so much now after a series of trades in recent months.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers are very much in win-now mode, so they’ll presumably need to be blown away to deal Price. To that end, it would be risky for the Cardinals to go all-out for a free agent-to-be like him after already doing so to acquire Heyward.

As for Scherzer, SB Nation’s Marc Normadin is right on the money here:

You can just forget about those Scherzer dreams, though, even with the Cardinals’ history of pulling off moves that seem designed only to spite the other 29 fan bases. He’s looking for $200 million and a long-term deal the length of which you probably won’t see the Cardinals speaking of, and the main connection here is that Scherzer is a Missouri native.

Morosi and Rosenthal expressed similar doubts and also noted that St. Louis’ preference is to add a lefty anyway.

But while the Cardinals adding Scherzer, Price or Hamels may not be likely, this is one of those rumors that behooves one to consider the possibilities. And in this case, the possibilities are the kind that get the blood pumping.

As things stand now, the top four of the Cardinals’ starting rotation is projected to be:

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Lance Lynn
  3. John Lackey
  4. Michael Wacha

Looks strong, right? Wainwright has a track record as an elite ace. Lynn is coming off a 2.74 ERA. Lackey had a strong 2014 outside of a rough stretch between late June and early August. Wacha has looked like a top-of-the-rotation guy when he’s been healthy.

So how would this rotation look with Scherzer, Price or Hamels inserted into the mix?

Well, if we look at some numbers from the last two seasons, a bit like this:

If you don’t know ERA+, that’s ERA adjusted for league average and ballpark factors. An even 100 is average, with anything over 100 denoting above-average pitching.

So if the Cardinals add Scherzer, Price or Hamels, they’ll have a rotation consisting of five guys who have been between slightly above average and way above average over the last two seasons. From top to bottom, it’s a rotation that would look as strong as any.

There are caveats, of course. Wacha is undeniably talented, but he missed close to three months in 2014 with a bad right shoulder. Lackey is 36. One FanGraphs specialty suggests Lynn probably doesn’t have another sub-3.00 ERA in him. Wainwright is 33 and coming off surgery on his right elbow.

In light of these things, the long-run outcome of the Cardinals adding Scherzer, Price or Hamels could end up being something of a disappointment. What would have looked like an elite rotation could be rendered merely good enough by injuries and/or ineffectiveness.

But since such things are hard to project, it’s best if we focus on projections that can be made.

To that end, the Cardinals are already projected by FanGraphs to get more WAR from their starting pitchers in 2015 than all but four other teams:

Bear in mind that’s without Scherzer, Price or Hamels, as, you know, they’re not members of the Cardinals just yet.

You can probably guess how adding one of them would alter the projections, but we can get specific with some numbers. Here’s the WAR Steamer projects for Scherzer, Price and Hamels in 2015:

  • Price: 4.0
  • Scherzer: 3.8
  • Hamels: 2.6

The projections for Price and Scherzer put them among baseball’s top seven pitchers, while Hamels’ projection of 2.6 WAR lands him just outside the top 25. That’s underselling his talent by just a bit if you ask me, but it would be a perfectly acceptable performance.

At any rate, you can do the math. Even if you add Hamels and his modest projection, the Cardinals’ starting pitching would move up the ranks to be right there with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Add Scherzer or Price, and the Cardinals jump to the top.

This is to say the projections can confirm what you’ve probably been thinking all along: If the Cardinals can add Scherzer, Price or Hamels, their rotation would become arguably the best in baseball.

As for what such a rotation could do for the Cardinals’ contention outlook in 2015, the absolute least it would do is switch their NL Central status from “likely favorites” to “obvious favorites.”

FanGraphsprojected NL Central standings have the Cardinals on top at 87-75, but right there with them are the Pittsburgh Pirates at 86-76 and the Chicago Cubs at 83-79. But if you put Scherzer, Price or Hamels on the Cardinals, their projection would presumably get bumped to at least 88 wins and maybe as many as 90 wins.

That would mean a nice, solid buffer zone between the Cardinals and the Pirates and Cubs, which is plenty significant. In a day and age when earning a wild-card berth only guarantees one postseason game, being the clear team to beat in your division is huge.

Granted, an 88-90 win projection doesn’t sound like much on paper. But the projections do tend to be conservative like that, and nobody in the National League is projected to do much better. The Dodgers’ projection of 91 wins is the best, and the Washington Nationals‘ projection of 88 wins is the second best.

So adding Scherzer, Price or Hamels wouldn‘t just create some distance between the Cardinals and the rest of the NL Central. It would also erase the distance between them and the two teams in the National League that—on paper, anyway—look like the league’s top two World Series contenders.

More specifically, the road to the World Series would look noticeably different.

Though the Cardinals look like a solid match for the Dodgers and Nationals now, they’d look like a much, much more solid match for them with an upgraded rotation. They’d be capable of clashing with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the rest of the Dodgers rotation and Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and the rest of the Nationals rotation.

Again, the last thing anyone should do is take it for granted that the Cardinals are going to sign Scherzer or trade for Price or Hamels. They may want to, but it’s going to be easier said than done.

But you can see where they’re coming from. Adding one of them would mean rotation insurance at worst and a significant boost to their 2015 contention status at best. 

Already one of the National League’s elite, adding Scherzer, Price or Hamels is St. Louis’ ticket to becoming even more elite.


Note: Stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted/linked.  

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

Read more MLB news on