Sonny Gray contract structure could forecast another Cardinals splash

St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak
St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak / Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals have long been expected to be aggressive in pursuit of starting pitching to rebuild the rotation for the 2024 season. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has promised that relentlessly and has, to a degree, already made good on that as well with a trio of veteran arms already signed with the Cards.

Back-end starters Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson were the first to put their names on the dotted line with St. Louis. Then, Mozeliak and the Cardinals pulled off their first truly big move of free agency as they signed coveted veteran Sonny Gray to a three-year, $75 million contact.

Based on the average annual value of these deals totaling just shy of $50 million, it seemed like that could be it for the Cardinals in upgrading the rotation... but maybe not!

Jon Becker of Fangraphs pointed to a report from the Associated Press that breaks down the details of Gray's contract. And it was a bit of a shock to see that it's actually extremely backloaded. Gray will only make $10 million in the 2024 season on the Cardinals' books with $25 million in 2025 and $35 million in 2026. The remaining $5 million is a buyout on the $30 million mutual option for 2027.

So that means that the Cardinals have only committed $33 million to starting pitching in the 2024 season instead of the previously thought much higher amount. Does that mean Mozeliak has something else cooking?

MLB Rumors: Sonny Gray contract structure could signal another big Cardinals move

Just to get out ahead of this, Gray's contract structure does not guarantee that another big splash is on the horizon in St. Louis. However, it might make it potentially more likely that something of the sort could happen in the coming weeks based on the financial flexibility the Cards surprisingly have.

For all the work that the Cardinals have done already to upgrade the rotation, the market remains stout in terms of big names. Whether its highly sought-after 25-year-old Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell, or a number of others, free agency has been quite quiet to this point.

Having said that, given reports from the past few months about the Cardinals' interest in specifically the three names mentioned -- a reunion with Montgomery perhaps being the most likely option -- the fact that they have more payroll room than thought after the Gray deal at least appears to open up the possibility that such a deal could happen.

On top of that, with the MLB Winter Meetings in under a week, the trade market is also starting to heat up with guys like Shane Bieber, Dylan Cease, Tyler Glasnow and possibly Corbin Burnes being on the block, that's another area the Cardinals could be sniffing around. That's especially true when you consider the organization's glut of young outfield talent that could be enticing in any possible trade.

Again, the Gray contract's structure by itself doesn't mean anything by itself. Having said that, it's hard not to think about the possibility that the backloaded deal could mean more moves to come for the Cardinals, especially when they had such a big hole to fill.

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