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MLB free agency: Cardinals could pursue Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta

Could the Cardinals break with tradition and sign a starter over 30 to a long-term deal this offseason?

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals are looking to boost their rotation this offseason and could make a strong run at free-agent right-handers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, though they’ll first explore the trade market, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.

The 31-year-old Darvish, who posted a 3.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 31 starts between the Rangers and Dodgers, and Arrieta, who will be 32 next season and posted a 3.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 30 starts for the Cubs this season, are the top two starters on the free-agent market this offseason.

Arrieta grew up just outside of St. Louis in Farmington, Missouri and is close with Cardinals infielder and his former TCU teammate Matt Carpenter, so from a sentimental standpoint he’d be a strong fit in St. Louis. The Cardinals have roughly $135 million committed towards their 2018 payroll and consistently rank near the top of the league in attendance, so they could surely afford to add a high-priced starting pitcher like Arrieta or Darvish if they so choose.

But considering the Cardinals’ history (or lack thereof) with these types of big-ticket signings, it would be totally unprecedented for them to actually make the top bid for either Darvish or Arrieta. The only outside free-agent starting pitchers over the age of 30 that the Cardinals have signed since John Mozeliak took control of the baseball operations department following the 2007 season are John Smoltz, who they signed during the middle of the 2009 season, paying him the pro-rated minimum after he was released by the Red Sox, and Brad Penny, who received a one-year, $7.5 million contract prior to the 2010 season.

With that said, Mozeliak has admitted in recent months that the Cardinals need to reevaluate their approach to player acquisition, so perhaps they’ll be more aggressive in pursuing aging stars than they’ve been in previous years.

But ultimately, while the Cardinals would be well-served to add a starter via the free-agent market this offseason, they’re likely to go after more of a low-risk, high-reward type who can serve as a stopgap for a season or two. After all, Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch are less than three months removed from trading right-hander Mike Leake—who they’d signed to a five-year, $80 million contract prior to 2016—to the Mariners, basically as a salary dump, because they were so intrigued by their young crop of starting pitchers.

24-year-old Luke Weaver established himself as a key member of the rotation following the Leake trade, and that crop will be even more plentiful in 2018 as top prospect Alex Reyes returns after a year-long layoff due to Tommy John surgery. St. Louis also has guys like Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen, and Austin Gomber who are not too far off from being big-league ready, so unless they’re treating most of those guys as trade chips rather than future contributors, it doesn’t make much sense for them to commit to an aging starter who will certainly command a four or five-year deal worth more than $100 million.