Cardinals add Sonny Gray on 3-year deal to revamped rotation

ESPN: Cardinals head coach received a death threate.

The St. Louis Cardinals made their biggest splash yet in an attempt to revamp their lackluster rotation, agreeing with American League Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray on a three-year, $75 million contract Monday to anchor their staff heading into next season.

Gray’s deal includes a $30 million team option for 2027 with a $5 million buyout, which could make the agreement worth $100 million over four seasons.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, already had signed free agent right-handers Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to one-year deals. But Mozeliak also said the Cardinals were not at “the finish line,” and a week later, they have one of the best pitchers on the free-agent market at the front of their rotation.

“We were hoping to sign a couple of pitchers we knew we could count on for innings,” Mozeliak said, “and if we could accomplish that, we were hoping we could do something a little bigger, a little longer, and obviously that’s where Sonny fits in.”

Gray, 34, went 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA for Minnesota last season. He turned down a qualifying offer from the Twins, who get an additional pick in next year’s amateur draft as compensation for losing him, currently No. 33.

St. Louis will lose its second-highest selection. It could be a small price to pay for a big boost to the rotation.

“Where I am in my career,” Gray said during a news conference at Busch Stadium, “I want to win. I’m coming to an organization like St. Louis — the tradition, just walking in here this morning, walking around seeing everything — the history is there. The feel is there. It’s just a baseball town and city and a place that I’m thrilled to be able to come and be part of it.”

The Cardinals went 71-91 last season for their worst record since 1995, and the biggest culprit was pitching. Their rotation had a 5.08 ERA, fifth-worst in the major leagues, and when the bullpen was added to the mix, their 4.79 ERA ranked 24th.

The Cardinals had only right-hander Miles Mikolas and left-hander Steven Matz under contract for 2024, so it made sense for them to move quickly and sign Lynn and Gibson to absorb innings at the back of the rotation.

The 36-year-old Lynn, a two-time All-Star and part of the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series title team, went 13-11 with the White Sox and Dodgers last season. Gibson, also 36, went 15-9 with a 4.73 ERA for AL East champion Baltimore last season.

Gray is expected to be right at the front of the rotation.

The former first-round pick of the A’s spent four seasons in Oakland, struggled during the 2018 season with the Yankees, then had a breakthrough after a 2019 trade to the Reds. He went 23-20 with a 3.89 ERA over three seasons in Cincinnati.

Gray was dealt to Minnesota last year, where his season was derailed by hamstring and pectoral injuries. But he bounced back with the best season of his 11-year career, finishing second to the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole in AL Cy Young voting.

“Going into the offseason, we knew he was going to be someone of high interest,” Mozeliak said. “The real question became the timing. How do we accomplish what we felt like we had to accomplish, and do it in an order where the music didn’t stop and we were left standing? We feel good about where we are today because we were able to add these three arms.”

Gray said the Cardinals were not the first team to discuss a deal this offseason. In fact, Gray and his agent, Bo McKinnis, were moving ahead with other offers and starting to imagine how he would fit in with other clubs.

“Then you do finally get a call and you get intrigued,” Gray said. “You move down the road and once it becomes clear, I did tell Bo, ‘This is the place. Let’s make it work.’ And I don’t know if a lot of free agents say that but it’s just who I am.”

Gray said he spoke to several current and former Cardinals, including Adam Wainwright, who just wrapped up an 18-year big league career spent entirely in St. Louis. All of them spoke highly of the club, the fanbase and the culture they created.

“It’s a place that every time I’ve come here as a visitor, I’ve looked at the stadium and said, ‘Wow, this place is incredible,” Gray said. “I looked around the seats and I saw the fans, and the fans continued to show up and support this team. Everyone raves about St. Louis, the Cardinals, the fans, and how the fans support you. How they are hard on you. How they expect you to win games, expect greatness, which is something as a player — as a competitor — that is something that you want.”

And yet on Saturday, we found there is room for another surprise. This announcement went beyond his customary flabbergasting: Ohtani agreed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a contract that would guarantee him $700 million for 10 years, with a significant chunk to be deferred until after the deal’s conclusion.

To many, the decision seemed preordained: the best player going to the best organization. It was the fashion in which it happened — with a number, 700 million, far exceeding the highest expectations — that imbued it with the sort of oomph that accompanies Ohtani’s longest home runs and angriest fastballs. From L.A. to Tokyo, the fanciest athlete alive, the one who elevated what’s possible unlike anyone before him, secured a contract that matched his magnitude.

The agreement is the biggest ever in professional team sports, nearly twice as large as the next-best free agent deal. It left not just baseball or the sporting world but the entire universe gobsmacked. In a time when anything seems possible, Ohtani’s ability to amaze is unmatched.

THE MOST CONSEQUENTIAL free agency in sports since LeBron James’ Decision ended with a chaotic final 30 hours in which erroneous reports had Ohtani on the verge of an announcement, on a plane to Canada and even agreeing to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. Consumed by the possibility of Ohtani joining their team, fans flocked to flight-tracking websites to monitor the whereabouts of a private jet going from Southern California to Toronto. When the door swung open, Robert Herjavec, the businessman and “Shark Tank” star, emerged, much to the deflation of a Blue Jays fan base frothing at the notion that Ohtani would choose Toronto.

He didn’t.

Ohtani’s announcement came via Instagram at 3:03 p.m. ET, below a slightly blurry Dodgers logo with a caption in which he first apologized for taking so long to make his choice. The decision all of baseball had been waiting for was here, as Ohtani shared he was moving up Interstate 5 from the Los Angeles Angels to the Dodgers.

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