Ranking the 10 starting pitchers that the Cardinals should explore trading for

The Cardinals will likely swing a trade for one of their rotation upgrades this offseason. Which arms should they prioritize the most?
San Diego Padres v Chicago White Sox
San Diego Padres v Chicago White Sox / Quinn Harris/GettyImages
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7. Robbie Ray

After winning the American League Cy Young award in 2021, Robbie Ray signed a five-year, $115 million deal with the Seattle Mariners. He is set to make $23 million in 2024, with an opt-out following the season if he thinks he can make more than the two-year, $50 million he'd be owed in the final seasons of the deal.

There haven't been any reports yet that Ray would be available in a trade, but coming off a step back in 2022 and then Tommy John surgery in 2023, the Mariners may be interested in moving off his contract with all of the rotation options they have. Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby all likely slot in ahead of Ray, and guys like Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock are strong rotation candidates as well. Three years, $73 million is a lot to pay your fourth-best starter on your roster.

If the Mariners were willing to eat a significant chunk of Ray's salary, they could perhaps get some interesting pieces in return. It's highly unlikely he will opt out after next season, but that opt-out does make for an interesting conversation in trade talks. Even if they were willing to eat a large chunk of Ray's salary, would a team want to give up a legit asset if Ray potentially walks the following year?

How much salary are we talking about here that Seattle could pay? Well, even if the Mariners were to eat $8 million a season of Ray's deal, that would set his AAV at a much more manageable number for the remainder of his deal.

(If the Mariners eat $8 million AAV per year)

2024: $15 million
2025: $17 million
2026: $17 million

That's about 35% of his contract, which is a good chunk, but probably enough incentive for the Mariners to free up an additional $15 million-$17 million for the next three seasons.

Why would this be appealing to the Cardinals? Well, Ray is a strikeout machine, hovering between 10.1 and 12.1 K/9 between 2017 and 2022. He has the upside of a solid number one starter or really good number two, and when things are right, he's at least good enough to be a contender's number three starter.

Getting that salary down a bit makes Ray very affordable for the upside he may have, while also not taking an arm and a leg in terms of trade capital to acquire either. It's unclear whether or not Seattle will move any starters this winter, but if so, I imagine Ray is one they'll take calls on, and the Cardinals should at least test the waters here.