Sonny Gray signing just helped clear Yankees' path for Yoshinobu Yamamoto

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Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Three
Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Three / Adam Bettcher/GettyImages

Did Sonny Gray just belatedly have his best moment as a Yankee?

While the Yankees are far from out of the woods, Gray's early morning reported move to the St. Louis Cardinals has likely taken one key Yoshinobu Yamamoto suitor off the board. And if Lars Nootbaar's trip to Japan and Top Golf sessions meant nothing, then what even is this wicked free agency game we're playing?

The St. Louis Cardinals have lurked as more than a threat in the pitching market all offseason. They vowed to be aggressive, and have put their words into action already. While the rest of the league has been biding their time and feuding over Kenta Maedas, the Cards have already signed three starters in Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, and now Gray, who reportedly agreed to a three-year, $75 million deal on Monday morning.

That's no fuss, no muss, and no wonder the most recent contract has received the most positive plaudits. Instead of tacking more years onto the end of the deal to lower Gray's AAV, the Cardinals paid exclusively for his age 34-36 seasons (and paid relatively handsomely). He's an excellent fit in a rotation that needs top-tier performers, but -- most importantly from the Yankees perspective -- he probably takes Yamamoto and his $200+ million out of the Cards' conversations, even after all that excellent recruiting.

Former Yankees starter Sonny Gray eliminates Cardinals from Yoshinobu Yamamoto chase?

Just before the holiday, Derrick Goold insinuated that the Cardinals' relatively spendthrift signings of Lynn and Gibson were intended to pivot them closer to spending big in the Japanese market. Now, one must wonder if that statement refers to Shōta Imanaga or whether it was just an estimation.

Gray, a Cy Young runner-up with an 8-8 record last season (try explaining that to anyone over 60), will now be making ace-caliber money in St. Louis on a far-shorter-term basis than Yamamoto's first MLB deal. The Cardinals were so pitching-deficient last summer that it wouldn't be shocking to see them continue to take depth swings in their attempts to flesh out the rotation. Adding another ace on a long-term deal after they just opted for dollars over length on the Gray contract? Highly unlikely. Steve Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner both just woke up with smiles and aren't sure why yet.