Sonny Gray Was the Signing the Cardinals Needed To Make

The St. Louis Cardinals needed to sign an ace this winter. Fresh off his Cy Young runner-up season, Sonny Gray was their guy.

Sonny Gray is a free agent after an excellent season for the Minnesota Twins. (David Berding/Getty Images)

There was no question that the St. Louis Cardinals needed starting pitching this winter. They were linked to just about every top arm on the market heading into the offseason – Aaron Nola, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, etc. – and it seemed all but certain they would sign at least one.

After all, the Cardinals’ rotation lost an MLB-leading 27 games following the trade deadline this past summer, pitching to a 5.86 ERA and the second-lowest strikeout rate in the sport. Only two starters on their roster were good candidates for the 2024 rotation: Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz. Clearly, they needed help.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak stressed this point midseason, suggesting the team would add three new starting pitchers during the offseason. However, he qualified that statement after the season ended, telling reporters, “I think we definitely need to try to find two [starters] and then maybe we find someone that can maybe split roles or something.”

The Cardinals Needed an Ace

When St. Louis burst out of the offseason gate to sign Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, fans began to grow concerned. After all, neither Gibson nor Lynn is a “split roles” kind of guy – quite the opposite, in fact. Dating back to 2013, Gibson and Lynn rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in games started. At 36 years old, these two veterans are as “starting pitcher” as it comes.

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So, with Lynn and Gibson sure to earn spots in the rotation (and taking up approximately $24 million toward the luxury tax payroll), did their signings mean the Cardinals weren’t going to add another full-time starting pitcher?

Lynn and Gibson are fine additions to a rotation that lacked depth last season. However, there’s no mistaking either one for an ace at this point in their careers, and an ace is what the Cardinals still so desperately needed.

And on Monday morning, an ace is what they got.

Sonny Gray Signs a Three-Year, $75 Million Deal

As the Thanksgiving long weekend came to a close, the Cardinals got their Cyber Monday shopping started early. Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported that a deal was imminent between Sonny Gray and St. Louis, and not long after, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic came through with the terms: three years and $75 million.

The AL Cy Young runner-up will lead the Cardinals’ rotation next season as they look to move past a disastrous 2023 campaign and compete for the NL Central crown once again.

The move brings the team’s luxury tax payroll to approximately $208 million (per Roster Resource), only $7 million higher than last season and still comfortably under the first threshold for penalties. However, the team’s operating payroll is now higher than it was last year, even before the Cardinals sold off at the deadline, and presumably, the team still wants to make a few more acquisitions to shore up the bench and the bullpen.

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Nonetheless, there’s no way to argue the signing wasn’t worth it. The NL Central will be wide open next season, and this Cardinals team has too much talent on the roster to punt on the 2024 campaign. With all the money they’ve already invested in players like Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Willson Contreras, they needed to keep spending to build a legitimate contender.

What’s more, three years and $75 million for a pitcher like Sonny Gray is a pretty good value considering the season he just had. It’s essentially the back three years of the Aaron Nola deal – Gray is three and a half years older than Nola, who signed a seven-year deal for a similar AAV – but while Nola is coming off one of the most disappointing years of his career, Gray has never looked better.

The Cardinals’ 2024 Rotation

NameGSIPERAfWAR2024 Proj. ERAProj. WARAge (2024)
Sonny Gray321842.795.33.833.234
Miles Mikolas35201.14.783.15.542.135
Kyle Gibson331924.732.64.322.136
Steven Matz171053.862.03.992.133
Lance Lynn32183.25.730.54.342.337
2023 stats via FanGraphs, 2024 projections via Steamer

The Cardinals now project to have one of the older and more expensive starting rotations in the league. However, they also have five guys they can genuinely count on for average-to-above-average performance and six innings per start – that’s a whole lot more than nothing.

On top of that, they have several young arms to serve as additional depth when injuries inevitably pop up. Zack Thompson looked capable if unspectacular last season, and former top prospect Matthew Liberatore is still brimming with potential at 24 years old. Meanwhile, Gordon Graceffo and Michael McGreevy are waiting in the wings to make their big league debuts.

Finally, the Cardinals could still be in the market for one of the top arms on the trading block. After signing Gray, they don’t need someone like Tyler Glasnow or Dylan Cease so desperately, but if they’re serious about competing next season, they could certainly use a postseason-caliber No. 2 starter.

The Cardinals Have Addressed Their Biggest Weakness

Barring a major trade, the Cardinals’ rotation isn’t about to become their biggest strength. Still, they could feasibly go from a bottom-ten group last year to a top-ten group in 2024. Suffice it to say, that would be a massive upgrade.

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Following a disappointing season in 2023, the Cardinals are ready to get right back into the race. Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson will help them achieve their goals, but Sonny Gray was the signing they absolutely needed to make. Less than a month into the offseason, they can check the most important task off their list.