Lynn has expressed desire to re sign long-term with the Cardinals but is there a fit?

Thursday, Lance Lynn made his first start since October 2015 due to Tommy John Surgery. It was a huge boost to the organization to watch him limit the defending World Champions to just two runs on five hits over five and a third innings.

The most promising sign? His fastball velocity averaged 92.8 mph yesterday which is actually slightly up from his average velocity of 92.5 mph between 2014-2015. Knowing Lynn’s past production as a 3.0 WAR pitcher and current status, let’s look at the routes the Cardinals can take with him later on and make a bold prediction:

Long-Term Contract

If Lance Lynn can stave off the post-Tommy John regression and show he’s back to his old self, he will draw a lot of interest as a fantastic third option in most rotations. With the recent spike in pay for reliable number 3 starters, there will be a bidding war for his services this coming winter.

A good estimate for what a healthy Lance Lynn would receive on the open market is the contract given to Jordan Zimmerman last offseason when he signed with the Tigers for $120m over 5 years.

That may seem a bit steep but when you compare healthy Lynn with Zimmerman, they are very comparable with Lynn edging out Zimmerman in WAR (3.3 to 3.0).

Lynn (2015): 175.1 IP | 3.03 ERA | 3.44 FIP | 8.57 K/9 | 3.49 BB/9

Zimmerman (2015): 201.2 IP | 3.66 ERA | 3.75 FIP | 7.32 K/9 | 1.74 BB/9

$120m for a pitcher with just one year under his belt post-TJ sounds outrageous, but if he can prove the surgery was a success without setbacks, he will get paid nicely by a team who misses out on Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish.

With the high-end pitching prospects at the Cardinals disposal (Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes), it’s not ideal for them to commit long term to a strikeout pitcher on the wrong side of thirty.

Lynn has also said in the past he will not give a hometown discount which would be needed for this move to make any sense for the Redbirds. If he has a solid season and hits the open market, be prepared for life after Lance Lynn

Short-Term Contract

If Lynn’s initial showing doesn’t become the norm for 2017, then he might end up pitching on a rebound contract come 2018. It’s known that pitchers coming off of TJ face inconsistency their first season back so that could be the case with Lynn as well.

However, unlike my prediction if he reverts back to 2015 form, Lynn will resign with the Cardinals this offseason if he struggles. With Reyes coming back from TJ in 2018, and Wainwright another year older, the extra depth and upside provided by Lynn on a one-year deal could save the team next year.

They say you can never have too much pitching and since the Cardinals rotation already has some question marks for 2018, a familiar face could be a valuable safety net.

Trade Deadline Chip

If all falls right for Lance Lynn in 2017, it’s going to be very tough to watch him walk for seemingly nothing in the offseason. But with the current construction of the Cardinals, it won’t be likely for them to be sellers come July. They could however, shop Lynn if Luke Weaver looks ready to help push this team to the playoffs along with the rest of the rotation staying healthy.

Trading Lynn wouldn’t deprive them of much depth with John Gant, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzales waiting in the wings. High level pitching, even on a rental, is a hot commodity down the stretch for contenders that need someone to round out a playoff rotation.

If the Cardinals are still in the thick of the playoff race with Weaver excelling, expect Lynn’s name to be thrown around as a potential chip to address other needs. If the Cardinals are out of the playoff race by July expect Lynn to be sold off to the highest bidder to reload for next year.

Prediction

Lynn will put up a season similar to what he produced in 2015 while putting his injury behind him which will put him in line for a long-term deal. The Cardinals will go into the trade deadline a couple games back of the second wild card.

This will cause the front office to kick the tires on some of the pending free agents (Lynn, Peralta, Oh), but will only decide to move Lynn. Lynn’s moved with the hope that the rotation will still be strong enough to make up ground if the offense heats up.

The deal will be a one for one with the Cardinals getting a near MLB ready prospect in the top 30-50 of most prospect rankings (assuming he’s on pace for a 3.0 WAR).

As long as Lynn performs like it’s 2015, he can either set the team over the top or be sold for pieces that will put them over the top. Either way, a healthy Lynn is a shot in the arm for this team looking to dethrone their rivals.

*All stats courtesy of Fangraphs

Photo Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports