Plan A: Try to win the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes
When to pivot:
1. Yamamoto signs elsewhere or it becomes clear the Cardinals are out of the running.
2. Potential trade targets are close to being moved.
Plan A has to be Yoshinobu Yamamoto at this point. While I like other options on this list, Yamamoto is the one name that can single-handedly change a lot of our opinions about this offseason, raise the Cardinals' ceiling for 2024, and help this team for years to come, all at the same time.
I detailed various reasons why I am becoming more optimistic about Yamamoto signing with St. Louis recently on the site. If you are not familiar with all of the things the Cardinals have done as an organization to position themselves for this sweepstakes, I'd highly recommend reading my write-up or looking into it yourself. While it remains to be seen if the Cardinals will truly pony up the kind of offer needed to secure Yamamoto, it's clear they've been doing a lot of work to make it a real possibility. Here is a link to an interview I did with Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat on the Noot News Podcast, as he detailed the Cardinals' work on Yamamoto as well.
Signing Yamamoto would give the Cardinals a true ace, and potentially one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, who also is just 25 years old. That would be a franchise-altering move, requiring them to give out a contract at or above $200 million in the process.
For as much as I love the idea of Yamamoto, they still will lack the overall talent at the top of the rotation truly needed to be considered a favorite in the National League. Yamamoto is clearly a number one-level pitcher, but you cannot sell anyone on Miles Mikolas or Steven Matz as the number two starter.
I do think there are paths for the Cardinals to acquire two top starters this offseason, but signing Yamamoto would narrow that second name down to a cost-controlled arm. They could still pull off a deal for someone like Dylan Cease or Logan Gilbert to pair with Yamamoto, but signing him would certainly take them out of the market for any other free-agent starters or even a Tyler Glasnow trade due to the money.
Before I dive into the "pivot points", I want to remind everyone that the Cardinals are going to be exploring multiple options at once regardless. Even if Yamamoto is Plan A, they have to be working on Plan B, C, etc. at the time time, as the market is going to continue moving, even if the Cardinals would prefer to focus on Yamamoto.
Let's touch on the second pivot point first in light of that. If the Cardinals are in on Yamamoto but are still waiting for him to make a decision, and the trade market for one of the other top starters they acquire begins to heat up, the Cardinals will likely need to pivot to acquire one of those guys if they can get a deal in place. Why? Well, the only thing more frustrating than missing on Yamamoto would be to miss on Yamamoto and also miss on all of the other options they could acquire. The Cardinals cannot afford to come up empty-handed.
The other reason to pivot would be the obvious one, that Yamamoto has made it clear he will be signing elsewhere. Sure, the Cardinals could try and convince him otherwise, but at that point, they really need to get serious about one of the other top options available, rather than striking out on Yamamoto and beginning to panic.