Let's start this list off with a name that has been assocaited with the Cardinals pusuit of starting pitching upgrades for awhile now, White Sox starter Dylan Cease.
By now, most of us already know the pros and cons of Cease. He's already produced Cy Young-level production in 2022 with a 2.20 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings but saw regression in terms of output in 2023 with a 4.58 ERA in 177 innings of work. I understand why people would have concerns about acquiring him for a haul coming off a down season, but if you look at how his stuff graded out in 2023, he still looks like one of the best starters in baseball.
In 2022, Cease ranked 4th in all of baseball with a 124 Stuff+, which looks purely at the physical characteristics of a pitch to basically tell you how "nasty" their stuff is. Despite a down year in 2023, Cease graded out with a 115 Stuff+, 5th in all of baseball. What's also interesting to me is that Cease also remained consistent in his ranking with Location+ and Pitching+, so there's no underlying data suggesting that he won't return to his elite form.
If Cease rebounds, the Cardinals get a guy who consistently makes 32 starts, goes deep into ballgames, and strikeouts guys at an elite clip. He would continue to help the Cardinals with their innings problem and do so with the high-quality stuff that the rotation still needs.
The price to acquire Cease will be high, and I'm interested to see if it would require one of Nolan Gorman or Brendan Donovan, or if the Cardinals could get away with a package that is more prospect-heavy instead. With the White Sox in rebuild mode, future talent will be a priority, and I'm sure the Cardinals would prefer to hold onto their two-second baseman if possible.