When you have backed yourself so far into a pitching corner that you are forced to take the big and scary risk of rebuilding the bulk of your rotation in a single offseason, and you are refusing to hedge on your outspoken belief that this pending rotation, once rebuilt, will be able to underpin a team worth of postseason contention, then you open yourself up to every move you make being analyzed as a referendum on your risky quest, even before the necessary context is in place.
If the Cardinals didn't already know this, they learned it Monday, when shortly after star free-agent starter Aaron Nola returned to the Phillies on a very big deal, the Cardinals brought back old friend and bounce-back veteran candidate Lance Lynn on a modest one.
Usually a prominent former Cardinal returning home would cue cartwheels.
This time, criticism.
Because what the Cardinals do and/or don't do around Lynn will tell the bigger story, and what piece Lynn winds up being asked to play in the repairing of the Cardinals rotation will not become clear until we find out what other additions Cardinals ownership and its front office have the appetite and assets to acquire.
If Lynn winds up being the third-best new starter the Cardinals added when all is said and done, this could be a shrewd move that adds innings, swing-and-miss stuff the rotation has lacked and some grit that will help toughen up a Cardinals clubhouse that last season got a little too soft.
If the Cardinals are fooling themselves about what they don't have, what they have just added and what they still need, it will become obvious in the coming weeks. Then, once again, another pitching crisis will inevitably derail the team's hopes of contention once spring training ends and games count.
Their first pitching move, this move, won't be their last, and in this case it can't be their biggest. It shouldn't be their second-biggest, either. But within the right context of additions, Lynn can help. If the Cardinals color in the picture around Lynn like they should, I like this reunion and see upside in it.
The Cardinals made a mistake not keeping Lynn after the 2017 season, when he departed into free agency and started bouncing around both leagues. We know this, because between 2018 and 2022, here's where Lynn ranked among MLB starters while maintaining a 3.71 ERA: 796 strikeouts (14th), 124 games started (15th), 727.2 innings pitched (15th) and 64 quality starts (21st). Trivia time. How many Cardinals during that same time had more of those meaty, important numbers than Lynn? Answer: Zero.
That's not to say there shouldn't be some concern. He's entering his age-37 season and I didn't include the numbers from his 2023 season in that rundown up above because, well, Lynn was bad in 2023. He was better with the Dodgers than the White Sox but had a poor postseason start with the Dodgers and wound up with a 5.73 ERA over 183.2 innings and the most home runs allowed (44) in baseball.
Lynn was so bad even his own wife recently roasted him on social media about all the long balls he surrendered last season. One thing about Lynn and apparently his bride; he doesn't sugarcoat things. If he stinks, he will say so. If someone in the Cardinals clubhouse needs an attitude correction, he will say so, too, and this club could use a little more of that moving forward. A void of vocal player leadership opened up beneath the Cardinals after Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina retired. Lynn isn't a fan of the preachy 'Cardinal Way' stereotype that has sometimes canvassed the club. Good. A rusty nail has been needed. He is one.
Pitching with Busch Stadium as his home base should also help Lynn's home-run numbers just from location alone. It's a more power-suppressing than power-boosting park. That alone won't do the trick, though. Lynn will need to get under the hood and make adjustments to prove he's not cooked.
One more thing. It's not as if Lynn is coming home on an Aaron Nola-sized contract, which landed the perfect Cardinals target seven years, $172 million to stay in Philadelphia because he apparently was not interested in looking around much. Lynn got $11 million guaranteed with incentives that can unlock more cash and another season. He's in prove-it mode, and the Cardinals still have plenty of cash to spend.
Until then, I'll happily give the benefit of the doubt to the former Cardinals workhorse who never should have been allowed to leave in the first place. The numbers say the Cardinals never should have let Lynn go. They also say the Cardinals still need two more higher-impact starters than the bounce-back veteran who still has some grit and gas left in his tank.