Ohtani the Pitcher
A healthy Ohtani would be by far the most attractive starting pitcher on the market for the Cardinals’ needs. He is able to pitch deep into games when necessary, has better strikeout stuff than anyone else on the market (career K/9 of 11.4), and at age 29 is amidst his reign of dominance on the mound, posting a 2.70 ERA, 2.89 FIP, and 156 ERA+ since his unanimous MVP campaign in 2021. When compared to the available MLB-proven talent in Nola, Snell, Gray, and Montgomery, Ohtani is the best choice in nearly every facet. Sure he's only able to pitch every six days instead of every five, but the Cardinals would have enough intriguing options to fill that during the regular season.
Unfortunately, Ohtani's UCL injury has left him unable to pitch in 2024. On the bright side, Ohtani did not need to undergo a second Tommy John Surgery, so his recovery process should be much easier this time. It's expected he will make a full recovery to pitching by 2025, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's able to return as a high-leverage reliever come Postseason time. Sure, there is more risk in Ohtani than in other available starters who are healthy, but he's returned from elbow injuries before with no signs of decline. As Jeff Passan wrote, "Doubt him at your peril."
The risk involved in Ohtani's pitching has also been built into his contract projections. As we established previously, Ohtani the pitcher will be signed for 9 years with an AAV of $25 million. According to Bowden, here are projections for the other top starters the Cardinals may target:
Shohei Ohtani (P)
Yes, Ohtani has more years and more money than each of the other starters listed, but his AAV is significantly lower than Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a starter with no Major League experience, and comparable to Montgomery, Nola, and Snell. I love Yamamoto as an option, but if he's going to be $5 million more expensive per year than Ohtani, I'd choose Ohtani without question. When compared to Ohtani, Montgomery's strikeout numbers are far too low, Snell is incapable of eating innings, and Nola's regression in 2023 is too big a cause for concern. Sonny Gray is definitely a reliable and cheaper choice, but as we established on the Noot News Podcast, Gray cannot be the only top-tier addition to the rotation. If healthy, Ohtani would be a bargain for the Cardinals, they'll just have to wait a year for him to be ready.