The Cardinals made a mistake in passing on Lance Lynn

“He won’t age well as a pitcher.” That was the main takeaway from every Lance Lynn critic. As he gets older, his effectiveness on the mound would die away like a Thanos finger-snap in slow motion.

Narrator: They were wrong.

Lynn aged like a secluded but still beloved can of 4 Hands Pilsner, pumping out fastballs for strikes and giving a team quality innings. Oh, not just quality starts, but instead the kind of arm whom teams could rely on for game-changing outings. The Cardinals did sign Lynn to a three year contract in January of 2015, buying up his arbitration years but not his free agent seasons. The latter move was the pitcher’s call, confident words from someone who wished to prove himself.

Timing bruised the relationship more than anything. Lynn remained stoic in the season after the contract agreement, compiling a 3.03 ERA in 31 starts and 175.1 innings of work. He produced a 2.46 K/BB ratio. For the people whose math brain just ran a wind sprint (me included), that means he struck out two and a half batters for each walk allowed. That’s pretty good work from a guy who lived and died on a four-seam fastball.

The fictional Cleveland Indians manager, Lou Brown (the late James Gammon), would have loved Lynn-because he would forget the curveball and throw the heater instead. He could hold his index finger up, informing the hitter of the type of defense on its way, and still get the guy out. I don’t think the Hall of Fame will ever have Lynn’s name, but a lot of great actors don’t win Oscars either. He was more than quality.

The entire 2016 season was lost to him, though. Tommy John surgery wrecked that key second year of the contract plans, the place where a pitcher can force the team’s hand in coming up with an extension before the final year began. When he came back in 2017, the effectiveness wasn’t gone; the polish was missing. The strikeout rate dipped and the home runs allowed increased. Lynn allowed 27 home runs that season, which was more than he had allowed in the two previous seasons combined.

The Cards decided to tag him with a qualifying offer, which was $17.4 million at the time. A nice deal for most guys, but a slap in the face to an arm who had still managed to produce a solid season considering the circumstances. Look around anywhere and the first year after Tommy John isn’t peachy. Adam Wainwright looked like diet Waino in his initial return from an injury that haunts pitchers’ dreams like Freddy Krueger.

Lynn eventually signed for around $4 million less in Minnesota. It wasn’t a great tenure. The walk rate skyrocketed and the reliability was hit or miss. In 20 starts, he had a 5.10 ERA. The Yankees came calling. First, they shaved his trademark beard off with ninja scissors. He suddenly looked like the much younger guy from Ole Miss. He finished off the season with a strikeout rate back in the double-digits. The ERA lost a whole point, so it was time for a little Southern BBQ.

Lynn’s career changed in Texas. The team he was wrongfully called in to face during a World Series came helped him get back to steadier work on the mound. He threw his most innings since 2014, giving the Rangers 208+ frames. Pitcher wins aren’t a notable stat, but they still help with the dollar signs. He won 16 games and scored his first top 5 Cy Young award ranking. 2020’s mad season featured 84 innings from Lynn in just 13 starts. The ERA was his sharpest in five years.

This year has been even better. Reunited with Tony La Russa in Chicago, Lynn brings a 1.55 ERA into tonight’s game with St. Louis, including a shutout. The fielding independent pitching (what a guy can do without his defense) is a cool and collected 3.05. At 34 years old (he enjoyed a birthday 12 days ago), Lynn is better than ever.

You messed this up, Cardinals. Lynn’s dance partner tonight is Kwang-hyun Kim, who the Cards hope to get five solid innings out of. With Miles Mikolas enjoying his second stint on the injured list in 2021, Lynn’s presence is sorely missed.

He was steady and consistent, more at times. A great #3 starter for the Cards. Now, he’s pumping out ace material. The Tommy John injury and other minor issues should have given St. Louis pause, but their lack of overall interest in re-signing Lynn was a little shocking.

It’s not a Max Scherzer type miss, but still a bad one.

One more thing. The team lost a great postgame interview when he left. He was so deadpanned and dry with his remarks, and always looking for a cool laugh. Great on/off the field and a lover of one year apartment leases, Lynn was a gem.

Too bad he’s not still wearing the birds on the bat.

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