Cardinals swing big, sign Sonny Gray to a three-year $75 million contract
The St. Louis Cardinals inked starting pitcher Sonny Gray to a three-year $75 million contract on Nov. 27, knocking down one of the largest dominoes in the free agent market. Gray finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2023, posting a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts.
Desperately needing to fill rotation spots after the departures of pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals added Gray to their offseason shopping spree, also consisting of veteran pitcher purchases Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson.
“He’s a competitor. He’s always looking to improve, he’s aggressive, he fits this ballpark perfectly and most importantly, he wanted to be a Cardinal,” said John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, when introducing Gray in a press conference.
“Going into this thing I wanted to be a Cardinal,” Gray said. “That started probably a little over a year ago. It’s a place that every time I’ve come here as a visitor, I’ve looked at the stadium and I’ve said, ‘Wow this place is incredible.’”
The 34-year-old right-hander is joining the fifth different team in his career. Gray began his career as a young phenom in Oakland before being traded to the New York Yankees in 2017. After a brief stint in New York, Gray became a free agent and signed with the Cincinnati Reds. After three successful seasons in Cincinnati, Gray was traded to the Minnesota Twins, pitching two years in the Twin Cities.
“I think back about Sonny Gray, and I remember back in 2011 when he was pitching at Vanderbilt, how we had a lot of interest in trying to draft him in the first round,” Mozeliak said, “Unfortunately, he was chosen before we got to pick and ended up being drafted by Oakland. So it’s kind of come full circle, and it’s kind of cool and there were a couple of times we actually tried to trade for him too along the way.”
After facing Gray as an in-division opponent for three seasons, the Cardinals realized his pitching prowess and determined they needed Gray at the top of their rotation. Joining Gray in St. Louis are experienced 36-year-old pitchers Lynn and Gibson. The signings of the two veterans further swayed Gray to St. Louis in his decision-making process.
“You want to talk about changing a pitching culture or creating and establishing a strong pitching culture, I think you’re bringing in Lance, bringing in Kyle, bringing in me,” Gray said while sporting his fresh Cardinal threads. “You want to talk about creating an edge, having some intent and some fire to the guys who take the ball, you’re definitely doing that.”
Although Gray, Lynn and Gibson are all in their mid-30s, all three are consistent innings eaters. Only two Cardinals pitchers amassed more than 110 innings in 2023, a feat that all three newcomers have accomplished in each of the previous three seasons. Gray adds another veteran presence to the Cardinals staff, while providing ace-caliber production, something the Cardinals have lacked for multiple years.
The Cardinals went into the offseason with the goal of fixing the broken pitching staff that led to the team’s 2023 demise. In signing Gray, Mozeliak has ensured that five MLB-proven starters will be with the team on opening day in 2024.
“We entered this offseason with one simple goal, and that was pitching, pitching, pitching,” Mozeliak said. “And I’d say so far so good. As I reminded all of you guys last week, this isn’t about being done or being finished. This is about addressing our needs and doing something that we felt we needed to do, and so adding three guys to our rotation, we think it’s important.”
The Cardinals 2023 rotation now projects to consist of Gray, Lynn, Gibson, Steven Matz and Miles Mikolas. While the average age of that rotation surpasses 34, there is reason to believe the Cardinals can succeed with the five veterans. Gray, being the vanguard of the Cardinals’ pitching attack, can provide quality starts every fifth day. Mikolas, Lynn, Matz and Gibson can eat innings and keep the Cardinals competitive in games, which is all the potent Cardinals offense needs.
“I absolutely love competing,” Gray said. “I love taking the ball. I love having that me versus the hitter. I love doing that. It’s something that I genuinely love doing. It carries throughout the staff, it carries from one person to the next and to the next. When you start putting super intense competitors with an edge and with a fire, you start stacking those guys up, then you’re putting yourself in a good position to have success.”