St. Louis Cardinals rumors: Plan seems to emerge after Aaron Nola signs with Philadelphia Phillies

With the St. Louis Cardinals missing out on Aaron Nola, it is becoming clear what are the next best options for the pitching-hungry Cards.

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Sonny Gray
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Sonny Gray / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

When news broke on Sunday morning that the Philadelphia Phillies had come to terms with starting pitcher Aaron Nola on a new contract, some of the best-case scenarios for the St. Louis Cardinals and other teams went out the window.

It was clear that Nola not coming to St. Louis put a dent in the hopes of Cardinals Nation, but it was also clear that the Phillies were much further down with Nola than the Cardinals and other teams as well.

St. Louis Cardinals rumors: So what comes next with free agent pitchers or trades?

Two names now immediately shoot to the top of the St. Louis priority ladder it seems, and those are Sonny Gray and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Dylan Cease could also be likely added to that list, but rumors are swirling that the Los Angeles Dodgers are actively pursuing a trade with the Chicago White Sox to land the right-hander. With that in mind, Gray and Yamamoto are likely at the top of the St. Louis list.

In his weekly column posted on Sunday, MLB insider Bob Nightengale wrote that the Cardinals are "the favorites" to sign Gray, the 34-year-old right-hander who finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2023 after posting an MLB-low 2.83 FIP and 0.4 home runs per nine innings. Gray finished off a five-year, $50.7 million with the Minnesota Twins and is projected by to earn a four-year, $90 million deal this winter.

But, no, the Cardinals won't be the only ones chasing Gray.

Yamamoto, of course, is the bigger prize and one that several MLB teams want to land, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Yankees, according to MLB insider Jon Heyman. He does list the Cardinals as one of the teams "prioritizing" landing a top starter, and the Japanese ace falls into that category. The price to land him will much be higher than Gray, with predicting the 25-year-old right-hander inking a nine-year, $225 million deal.

There have been social media posts showing Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar golfing with Yamamoto in recent days as the duo knows each other from their World Baseball Classic Days as a part of the Team Japan roster. Could that relationship help the Cardinals land one of the most coveted prizes of the offseason?

While there are other pitching names out there (like Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and others), the two clearest names seemingly in the Cardinals' crosshairs are Gray and Yamamoto, with the first being a much more probable addition for St. Louis than the second.