Item #1: Top-of-the-rotation starter
Who they should target: Aaron Nola, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Dylan Cease, *Sonny Gray
*Sonny Gray will also find his name in item two, but can pass as an item #1 if the rest of the items are strong.
The first order of business for the Cardinals is the most important task of all, grabbing a starter who can lead their rotation in 2024.
Getting three starters who can slot in as their three best guys will do wonders for their ability to win ballgames in 2024, but the quality of their number one starter will set the tone for how legit of a threat they are when it comes to October and beyond.
We can all debate whether or not Aaron Nola, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Dylan Cease, or Sonny Gray are legit number-one starters in today's game. There is no true "ace" available this offseason, but each of those guys can go toe-to-toe with another team's number one starter can put the Cardinals in a position to win.
Nola feels the most realistic of the bunch, as for a long time now he's looked the part of a Cardinals' front-line starter. He eats innings, knows how to pitch in big games, and carries himself like a professional. If Jim Bowden is right about his contract predictions, he'll be looking at something in the five-year, $125 million range, which is more than manageable for the Cardinals. I could see him getting something in the eight-year, $200 million range if his market really explodes, but I imagine it'll be lower than that number.
Yamamoto would be an awesome target for the Cardinals, and I do believe they'll make a strong push for him, but it seems like other large market teams are really in on him as well. I don't really see them going after Blake Snell, nor do I think he'll prioritize St. Louis as well.
Cease is an interesting name to watch, as I think they should avoid him if he'll require someone like Nolan Gorman, but if they are open to a prospect package instead, I'd be all ears. Cease has the stuff of a true number-one starter and proved it in 2022, but is coming off a down 2023 with two years of control left. He's very valuable, but I'd be hesitant to give up the core bats if I'm the Cardinals.
I'll address Gray further on the next slide, but I don't think it's a terrible thing if he ends up being their guy from this tier. What it would mean though is they have to get a really good second starter as well, and probably an overqualified third starter to add to the mix to compensate for missing out on the top guys available.