Are the top free-agent pitchers less likely to be Cardinals?

After comments from John Mozeliak at the GM Meetings, should Cardinals fans officially lower their sights?

Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

After John Mozeliak muddied the waters again it might be time to reassess the belief that the Cardinals will target at least two top-tier pitchers. I have no doubt they will get pitching, I just think the fans will be less than overwhelmed with the signings.

It was thought at first the Cardinals would be raising the payroll by a significant amount. All the Cardinal brass acknowledged they missed the boat last year and should have spent more. I for one believed they would make it up this year.

Aggressive was the word used by the Cardinals to describe the plan for the off-season. Now we hear “strategic” and “opportunistic”. The budget, instead of being raised, is now somewhere near last year’s level. To make an improvement over last year it will take a lot more than just getting back to where we were which was last place.

The Cardinals need pitching but so does everyone else. Jim Bowden with the Athletic reached out to 28 teams and 21 of them had pitching as a need. The one troubling statement in Derrick Goolds’ article was “They have a competitive amount to spend.” Looking back at previous years, Mozeliak hit his puke point and stopped. One would think that the team would have figured out that if you are trying to offer a competitive amount of money someone will likely offer more. The other thing is he is already using the word “volume”. If the price of his number one goes past the planned amount, does he stop because he has so many holes to fill?

Even if the Cardinals change their MO and try to outbid the other teams to get their guy there is the problem of will the player want to come here. If I am a free agent and the dollars are the same I’m looking at things like the weather and the best chance to get a ring. The manager and the pitching coach also factor in the decision.

Looking at the top of the list, each one leaves one wondering if the Cardinals will be able to compete. The ranking is from MLB.

1. Shoehei Ohtani - With the self-imposed limits the Cardinals place on themselves there isn’t much chance of them signing a pitcher that will probably make 50 million dollars a year.

2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto - The most intriguing free agent this year. The best guess is he will be in the $30 million per year neighborhood. The Cardinals have been mentioned as one of the teams that are interested. So are the Dodgers, the Mets, and a few other teams with deeper pockets. This is one of those less likely candidates for me. I think this will be a bidding war that the Cardinals won’t last very long in.

3. Blake Snell - Another pitcher that some think the Cardinals may have a chance to land. It will cost close to $24 million a year. This will be past Mozeliak’s puke point. He might swallow hard and match that number. Don’t be surprised though if Seattle is the winner here. Blake was born near Seattle and still lives there during the off-season. It’s hard to compete with home.

4. Aaron Nola - This would be one of the biggest Cardinal signings ever. Nola will be looking to get around $25 million per year or even more. He has spoken fondly of Philadelphia that if they get close to that number I think he stays there. If not the bidding will be intense and someone like the Dodgers just might outbid everyone.

5. Sonny Gray - Approximately $21 million should get you Sonny Gray. If the Cardinals land any of the top five, Gray will be the one. He is exactly the kind of pitcher the Cardinals need at the top of the rotation. The problem is he would look good at the top of most rotations. My guess is he goes six hours east of Minneapolis and plays for the Cubs who will be spending a lot this off-season.

If this happens the way I think it will the Cardinals will react and come away with two free-agent pitchers but they will not be the top-tier pitchers we are all dreaming of.