Gonzaga lefty Mac Lardner really wanted to hear his name called during the MLB draft a couple of weeks ago. But the consolation prize, if you can call it that, was the ability to pick where he would sign his first pro contract.
For him, it was a win-win situation.
Lardner followed what has started to be a pipeline from Gonzaga to the St. Louis Cardinals, signing with the big league organization on June 13 on the first day of nondrafted free agency.
“Obviously, everyone wants to hear their name called and wants to see the draft round next to their name,” he said. “But the ability to pick the team you wanted to end up on, you just really can’t put a price tag on it.”
With the MLB draft shortened from 40 rounds to five this year, there was a lot of jockeying by the big league clubs to select “signable” draftees. That meant many college seniors, like Lardner, went undrafted, since their eligibility was exhausted and they had no option to return to school.
But it also meant players in demand, like Lardner, could be picky about where they signed.
“I had multiple offers,” Lardner said. “St. Louis called me the morning of the draft and said that I was in play. They said they needed to save some money since I was a senior and I was a lot cheaper than some other guys, some of the juniors and high school guys.”
As the draft unfolded, the Cardinals stayed in touch and let Lardner know he would be a “bubble guy” for them – someone they saw as a draftee but signable after the draft.
“They said I’d be the first guy they’d go after in free agency,” Lardner said.
A couple of other teams called Lardner throughout the draft, but, “I basically gave them a pretty high number that I felt good about that would probably pull me away from the Cardinals,” he said.
None matched that number, so Lardner was free to sign with his first choice.
“I ended up going undrafted, but it was worth it to me since the other teams I didn’t necessarily want to be on. I could pick the Cardinals over every other team. I really wanted to be a part of them.”
Lardner, a 6-foot-4 senior from Templeton, California, went 0-2 in four starts over 24⅔ innings this season with a 2.55 earned-run average and 1.013 WHIP before the spring season was shut down.
His godfather, Mike Krukow, played 14 years in MLB with San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia. He spoke highly of the Cardinals’ organization to Lardner.
“I reached out to him a lot, about different teams I was interested in,” Lardner said. “He just went on and on about the Cardinals, about how great of an organization they are. I just have all the respect in the world for him. So when he speaks that highly about the Cardinals, it was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Lardner has been in contact with the Cards, waiting for his assignment as MLB sorts out its return.
“They’re shooting for something in the fall at their spring training facility in Jupiter (Florida). Hopefully, Septemberish. But we really have no idea. They’ll have to figure out what they’re doing with the big leagues, and then it will just trickle down to the minors.”
Seattle Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales was drafted by the Cardinals out of Gonzaga in the first round (19th overall) in 2013 and spent parts of four seasons in the organization before the trade that brought him back to the Pacific Northwest. One day after Gardner signed with the Cards, teammate Nick Trogrlic-Iverson did the same, inking a deal that will keep the pair in the same organization.
Trogrlic-Iverson transferred to GU in 2019 after two seasons at Central Arizona CC. Last season, the 6-foot-1 relief pitcher finished 4-3 with a 5.05 ERA in 26 appearances.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence, either,” Lardner said. “I think there are a lot of similarities between the Cardinals and Gonzaga from a character development standpoint, a personnel standpoint. They attract high-character guys who win not just on the field but in life, and it’s something that I’m proud to be a part of.
“Just everyone I’ve talked to with the Cardinals, everyone I’ve talked to outside the organization about the Cardinals, just said nothing but good things, how classy they are, how they take care of their guys and not cut corners. It was just a really, really easy fit.”
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