Cards keep adding pitching, sign veteran Gibson

November 21st, 2023

Continuing to address what president of baseball operations John Mozeliak referred to as a strong need for “volume” among their pitching staff, the Cardinals finalized a one-year contract with 36-year-old right-hander on Tuesday.

The deal, which includes a club option for 2025, comes one day after the Cardinals landed 36-year-old right-hander Lance Lynn for his second stint with the club.

The 6-foot-6 Gibson, a former college star at the University of Missouri, is a veteran of 11 MLB seasons and went 15-9 with a 4.73 ERA over 33 starts in 2023 with the Orioles. Over 192 innings, he allowed an American League-most 198 hits, while striking out 157. He made one appearance in the postseason, during an O's loss to the eventual World Series champion Rangers in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, surrendering a solo home run over three relief innings.

Gibson and Lynn combined for 28 wins, 65 starts, 375 2/3 innings pitched and 348 strikeouts in 2023, making them proven commodities the Cardinals need in their rotation going forward.

“The difference between this offseason and what we did last year, when we gave a lot of the younger players opportunity ... is we want to go in with a little bit more certainty and have that veteran presence,” Mozeliak said on Tuesday at Busch Stadium. “What we did with Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson is that we brought two guys in that know how to do it, what to do and why they are doing it.

“Young players may emerge and surprise us … but what we don’t want to end up doing is saying we’re counting on X, Y and Z and then we end up being disappointed. We’re trying to get a little more sure-handed and more bird in hand so that when we go out and play each day that we have a chance with that starter.”

A dearth of pitching played a major role in the Cardinals going 71-91 and finishing last in their division for the first time in 33 years. With just two established starters signed for 2024 at the start of the offseason (Miles Mikolas and lefty Steven Matz), Mozeliak has repeatedly mentioned needing pitching -- both in the starting staff and bullpen. The Cards finished with MLB’s 24th overall ERA (4.79), 26th-ranked starters ERA (5.07) and 23rd-ranked relief ERA (4.47) in 2023.

Mozeliak emphasized on Tuesday that the Cardinals are far from being done in terms of adding pitching. The potential exists, he said, for the Cardinals to remain active in the top tier of free-agent pitchers -- namely with National League Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Japanese import Yoshinobu Yamamoto or veteran right-hander Sonny Gray. Mozeliak also mentioned that the club has yet to heavily explore potential trades for pitching, a likely option if the club deems the price tag to be too steep for certain free agents.

According to Mozeliak, the Cardinals had to take advantage of the fact that Lynn and Gibson expressed strong desires to play in St. Louis -- a place both are very familiar with in their baseball careers. Mozeliak said the Cards could not pass that up, given that there’s always potential that the club could swing and miss in free agency.

“We knew we needed innings, and if we had gone out and signed the one good pitcher who was exciting, then where do we go to backfill [innings]?” he asked. “Some of the timing of this didn’t necessarily go with us being patient. To get two guys who collectively had an aggregate of almost 200 innings [each] last year, had we not acted on this this week, they’re probably not here tomorrow.”     

Lynn pitched for the Cardinals from 2011-17 and he notched two wins in the ‘11 playoffs, when St. Louis won the World Series. This past season, Lynn went 13-11 with a 5.73 ERA in 32 starts with the White Sox and Dodgers, but he led MLB in home runs allowed (44) and he surrendered four long balls in an ugly playoff loss.

“Obviously, we think this ballpark will play better for [Lynn] because he did give up a lot of home runs,” Mozeliak said. “He wants to show that he can be better than that. Lance with a chip is a good Lance, and I think he’s got a little chip on his shoulder.”

Gibson, an Indiana native like Lynn, has pitched for the Twins, Rangers, Phillies and Orioles throughout his MLB career. He is 104-100 with a 4.54 ERA in 300 career MLB games -- 294 of them starts. Mozeliak vowed that Gibson won’t be the final pitcher a Cardinals franchise in search of volume and certainty will add this offseason.

“This is not the finish line,” Mozeliak said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”