2. Aaron Nola
Most people have Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Aaron Nola in the top tier of the starting pitching market. If the Cardinals are really serious about getting one of those guys, and I believe they are, Nola seems like the clear favorite to me out of that trio.
Yamamoto may be the most exciting of the three, but as I talked earlier, the unknown with him and the price that will come with it may be too much for St. Louis, especially if they can pivot to Nola. Snell is coming off a better season, but Nola really seems to fit the profile of what the Cardinals want in a starter.
Nola is a workhorse who often finds himself to be one of the most productive pitchers in baseball as well. While the Cardinals should definitely consider some "five or six and dive" type guys who have great stuff, someone like Nola to top their rotation would be a huge upgrade for them.
He's probably never going to win an ERA title or come all that close to doing so, but Nola is a gamer, able to go deep into ballgames and perform in some of the biggest moments. Nola struggled in his two starts in the NLCS and World Series last year but in his three other postseason starts, he did not allow a run in 19.2 innings of work.
I have my concerns with Nola. It's unclear what kind of deal he is going to get, but if it's over $30 million a year on a long-term deal, I'm not sure it's worth the risk. He is coming off a 4.46 ERA season, but depending on how he finishes this postseason, that may not matter as much to people.
For his career, he's had three seasons with an ERA north of 4.00, and just one under 3.00 back in 2018. He did finish fourth in Cy Young voting in 2022, and for good reason. While his strikeouts per nine dipped to 9.4 in 2023, he's still a guy who can get outs at a high level, and if he cuts down the home run ball a bit, that'll help a ton.
There's only one pitcher I think St. Louis is more likely to sign than Nola, but I do think there is a strong possibility they sign Nola and the number one guy on this list. Nola and the last name on this list just feel like Cardinals, and the amount of links to them at this point shows that the Cardinals feel the same way.