1. Sign Aaron Nola
I would love Yoshinobu Yamamoto as much as the next person. His eventual contract feels impossible to predict. Some think he could end up with an annual salary south of $20 million, while others see him getting $30 million or more annually. I'm going to air on the side that teams are aggressive in their pursuit of him, meaning he gets a $200 million or more contract plus an additional $30 million or more in posting fees.
If the Cardinals did that, I'd be over the moon, but I honestly think they can have an extremely exciting offseason without going after Yamamoto, and it starts with Aaron Nola.
For a long time now, the Cardinals and Nola have felt like a match made in heaven. Nola is one of the few front-line starters in today's game who also operates like a workhorse. Yes, his 2023 season was a down year as a whole, but he made some adjustments to his mechanics in mid-September, and it resulted in an excellent playoff run from Nola with the Phillies.
Keith Law just did his top-50 free agents this offseason over at The Athletic (paid subscription required), and Law ranked him as the third-best free agent behind Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger, calling him a "hidden ace, someone who'll take off for whoever signs him".
That's high praise from a talent evaluator like Law, and makes Nola and even more attractive fit for the Cardinals. Not only is he a guy who they can expect innings from, but he is also a guy who will give those innings at a high level, and shows up when it matters most in the postseason.
With every move, the cost to acquire someone plays a large role in how attractive of target they are. Sure, Shohei Ohtani is easily the best target out there, but at his price point, it would make little sense for St. Louis to pursue him. Now, when it comes to someone like Nola, his price point also makes him a worthwhile number one target.
There's some talk of Nola getting $30 million or more a year annually, but unless he's signing a short-term deal, I think that's unlikely. Most insiders have Nola looking at a deal around $25 million a season, in about the five to six year range.
Let's assume his market is competitive. The Cardinals could up the annual value up a few million a year to seal the deal, but in this scenario, I'm going to have them add an extra year to his contract and bring him in on a seven-year, $175 million contract. That makes me uncomfortable, and I'm sure it would make the Cardinals uncomfortable too, but ultimately, it's what they need to do in order to get back to having World Series aspirations.