The hot stove is finally heating up around baseball, as reports about free agents and which teams are interested in them are beginning to hit the internet. According to Jon Morosi of MLB Network, the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves are two of the teams showing early interest in free-agent Aaron Nola.
If you've been keeping up with local reporting, this won't be news to you. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals' interest in Nola over a month ago (subscription required), as well as the Cardinals' interest in a number of other pitchers, such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Cease, and others.
The Cardinals' interest in the top-of-the-market starters is real, and they intend to make strong bids for the best pitchers available. Time will tell whether or not they are aggressive enough to land one of those free agents, but their reported interest in Nola is not smoke, it's real.
Why does that matter? Well, in past offseasons, there has been speculation regarding their interest in the top shortstops that were available or other starting pitchers on the open market. Frankly, the Cardinals never had a strong interest there, so not landing one of those names should not come as a surprise. This time, they intend to land a top name, so you should fully expect them to be in these conversations.
Nola has been a speculated fit for the Cardinals for a long time. He seems to fit the "Cardinal mold", someone who eats a ton of innings, is a gamer, and is reliable day in and day out. There are concerns about Nola's down 2023 season, but he rebounded well in the postseason and should get a significant contract on the open market.
The Braves having interest in Nola shouldn't shock anyone, but it is a bit surprising considering they picked up Charlie Morton's $20 million option last week. A number of other teams, including the Phillies, will be in on Nola, so the Cardinals will have to present a strong offer to land his services.
Nola's market may take a while to unfold though. Many of the teams interested in Shohei Ohtani or Yoshinobu Yamamoto may turn their attention to Nola when they are off the market, so I wouldn't be surprised if he waited things out to see where they go.
Expect the Cardinals to continue to be linked to the top pitching free agents and trade targets this offseason. They have a long list of things to accomplish and need to make significant moves to get back into contention in 2024.