clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Lance Lynn really shouldn’t be looking for a job in January

The ex-Cardinal has been a quietly consistent starter when healthy, and every team could use him. Which team will take the plunge?

Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Among pitchers who have thrown at least 900 innings since 2012, Lance Lynn ranks 18th in adjusted ERA. He’s just behind Jon Lester and Jose Quintana, just above Chris Archer and Dallas Keuchel. Even though he missed a season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, he posted another strong campaign, becoming one of just 19 pitchers to post 3 WAR or more in three out of the last four seasons. His company there is Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, and a few other pitchers you might know.

It is the opinion of SB Nation MLB that Lance Lynn is actually good at baseball, and he can help his team win more than most pitchers would be able to. It’s also the middle of January, and he doesn’t have a job.

Let this be the perfect case for the codified collusion that ol’ Marc was talking about over here. In the modern game, collusion doesn’t mean a bunch of owners sitting around a table discussing how to limit salaries. The collusion has come in the form of negotiations with the Player’s Association held over several years, with a little bit taken here and there, combined with the league-wide revelation that prospects and draft picks can save teams millions and millions of dollars if hoarded correctly. How is it that 30 teams aren’t sure if Lance Lynn can help them? Because they’re concerned that the draft pick(s) they’ll lose might turn into someone who can help them afford the next Lance Lynn. Plus, it’s a lot of money he’s asking for, and, eh, why bother?

Draft-pick compensation will probably cost Lynn $20 million, easy. That’s about as much money as a low-first-round draft pick will save a team, on average. So in exchange for his new team giving up the chance at a valuable prospect, Lynn essentially has to offer a rebate directly back to them. It’s hard to be mad, even. I’m just impressed.

If you don’t like the word “collusion” being thrown about, you can substitute “the owners’ ability to dominate the collective bargaining and win salary suppressing tools that have added up to work better than they ever could have imagined.” Hey, it’s legal. Winning this thoroughly is going to lead to some absolutely nasty labor strife during the next CBA negotiations, but it’s absolutely legal. And it’s amazing how the system almost seems to target players like Lynn (and Alex Cobb and Lorenzo Cain ...) personally.

Here’s another factor that’s hurting Lynn: His old team likely doesn’t want him back. The Cardinals took a belt of distilled, 100-proof arrogance last summer and considered trading Lynn in the middle of a pennant race. They had soooooo many young pitchers, ugh, just spilling out all over the place, and they needed a spot for them, and they figured they could at least explore trading one of their better starters for prospects. They’re set in the rotation, really, even if we all know that their yearly spring training surprise is coming, so the one team that doesn’t have to give up a first-round draft pick probably isn’t interested.

Though, the Cardinals would have to give up the compensation pick they would have got after the second round for Lynn, so even that rule hoses him a bit. So it goes for the lonely free agent who is too qualified to accept the qualifying offer, but not qualified enough to make teams dismiss the draft-pick penalty.

Let’s keep all of this in mind and ask some questions. Who would make the most sense for Lynn? Who is likely to sign him?

The ideal fit for Lynn

This would probably be the Yankees, considering they’re one starter short of a full house and have the money. In theory, at least. In practice, the Yankees are worried about the fake salary cap, the other blunt object being used to whack Lynn about the torso. If Lynn wants the sweet, sweet Mike Leake money that he certainly deserves, the Yankees might be out. They’re hovering around the cap now, and they’ll need to keep some room for midseason acquisitions and prorated major league minimum salaries for whomever they call up.

The Rangers tentatively have two relievers, Mike Minor and Matt Bush, in their rotation, and they’ve filled the rest out with question marks Doug Fister and Matt Moore. They can certainly use another bolt of cost certainty.

The Cubs could replace Jake Arrieta with Lynn and not miss a beat, except Arrieta would cost them only the pick they would otherwise gotten for losing him, which would be dozens of selections after their first-round pick.

If the Astros really don’t swing a trade for Gerrit Cole, Lynn is as comparable as pitchers get in this market. Both pitchers throw hard and throw strikes. Cole would cost top prospects and Lynn would cost a first-round pick. The only difference is that Lynn wants more money, and the difference in financial obligations is why the Astros would consider giving up their best prospects for Cole in the first place.

Look, we can do this for almost every team. The Giants would love Lynn as their fourth starter, except they aren’t going to go over the luxury tax threshold and pay a 50-percent penalty for a pitcher. The Brewers would love Lynn instead of the duct-taped solutions they’re accumulating, but they don’t want to give up the draft pick or the money. The Twins are looking to spend, but why not see if Yu Darvish, who doesn’t cost a pick, chooses them first?

Lynn fits every team.

Lynn fits none of the teams.

He is a useful free agent drifting through space, drifting, drifting, unable to grasp on to anything. This is because teams think that first-rounder Griffin Lazenby (OF - Clemson) will help them save more money and win more games in the future than Lynn will help them win in 2018.

Which is unfortunate for both Lynn and the teams, really. Because one of those teams up there will miss the postseason by a game or two, and the bunk-ass fifth starters they trot out every week will be the difference. Keep a list and laugh at them next October.

The likely fit for Lynn

Maybe the Phillies, who are all-in and have already given up a second-round pick to sign Carlos Santana? Lynn would cost them just a third-round pick, and that’s right around the level that teams stop caring all that much about their precious draft picks.

What we need to find is a team that loves to jump into the middle of an offseason scrum wearing a mystery team lucha mask. A team that’s very much into winning now and doesn’t worry so much about losing their draft picks. A team like the ...

Prediction

Washington Nationals, four years, $68 million. They have a strong rotation already, but we already know they love to strongify it even more. This would be a smaller deal than Mike freaking Leake picked up, even though he never had an adjusted ERA better than any of the ERA+ marks posted by Lynn in his last three seasons, but so it goes in the era of Hyper Draft Pick Awareness, in which teams have all independently become more aware of how young players can save them money, which hurts no one more than a player like Lance Lynn. It’s kind of a drag, and it would benefit the Nationals disproportionately.

They would sure have a sweet rotation, though. It’s why I was thinking Nationals even before the rumors made me feel wise. Lynn would fit every team, but he fits the Nationals better than most, and it’s not surprising that they’re interested.