Decision #2 - Sign a number one starter
Predicting the free agent contracts that starters will get this offseason is a tricky game, so I left those projections up to national insiders over at The Athletic. For each of these free agents I proposed, I used either Jim Bowden's predictions or the projections of pitching contracts from Tim Britton and took notes from Keith Law's top 50 free agent list to decide between the two numbers offered by both guys (subscription required for all three stories).
The four options I proposed come at varying levels of pedigree and cost.
Option #1 - Yoshinobu Yamamoto at seven years, $203 million plus an additional $32.3 million posting fee. Yamamoto is a 25-year-old superstar pitcher from Japan who is coming to Major League Baseball in 2024 and will require a massive contract to secure his services. Although the posting fee does not technically go toward the 2024 team salaries, my bet is the Cardinals would internally bake that number into whatever they do, which is why I had his AAV up at $33.5 million rather than $30 million.
Option #2 - Aaron Nola at six years, $150 million ($25 million AAV). Nola is coming off a down 2024 season but made some mechanical changes at the end of September that helped him regain his ace form in October. He's a guy who will eat a lot of innings and should do so at a high level.
Option #3 - Blake Snell for five years, $135 million ($27 million AAV). The likely National League Cy Young award winner, Snell has the elite strikeout stuff the Cardinals need and just spent the 2023 season shoving for the San Diego Padres. Concerns about his consistency, durability, and high walk rate are keeping his years and AAV down.
Option #4 - Sonny Gray for three years, $69 million ($23 million AAV). I'm not arguing Gray is an ace (even though I am a huge fan of his), but he does offer a cheaper, top-end option that allows them to spend more money elsewhere as well. He qualifies more for that number two starter role, so I'll include him there if that scenario presents itself.
Here is what Cardinals fans voted for:
Yamamoto won by a landslide, which wasn't really surprising to me. The Cardinals are linked to Yamamoto by both local and national media and have a lot of ties to his team in Japan and Yamamoto himself, so if they are willing to meet his asking price, it's a real possibility. I would love to acquire Yamamoto as well, so this is a huge win overall.
Remember though, we are not going to go into ultra fantasy land and spend like crazy. $65 million was already an optimistic number for them to spend, so we are not going to blow past that. Signing Yamamoto now puts the Cardinals' remaining budget at $31.5 million.
Fans' decision: Sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto for seven years, $203 million plus an additional $32.3 million posting fee ($31.5 million remaining in budget).
Now it's time to figure out who the number two starter will be for the Cardinals in 2024.