2014 Payroll and Beyond

Given the upcoming trade deadline and discussion of acquiring high priced veterans (Cliff Lee), I thought I'd take a look at the Cardinals future payroll obligations and try to get in the mind of John Mozeliak.

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts the 2013 payroll sits at $117M and the 2014 payroll stands at $76M, a $40M drop. This is primarily due to the expiring contracts of Carlos Beltran ($13M), Chris Carpenter ($12.5), Rafael Furcal ($7.5), Jake Westbrook ($8.8), and Edward Mujica ($3.2M) and includes the pay hikes for Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte, and Allen Craig. It does not include arbitration raises.

There are 6 players eligible for arbitration in 2014: David Freese, Jon Jay, Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepczynski, Daniel Descalso, and Fernando Salas. Freese and Jay are the only regulars on the team this year and can expect sizeable raises, est. $7M for Freese, $2M for Jay. The remaining players have unclear futures on the team and likely won’t receive a combined raise of $3M. That brings our total 2014 payroll obligation to $88M, a $31M decline from this year (25%).

What is so unique about this team is every departing free agent can be replaced by a quality, cost controlled farm product. A SP competition of Wacha, Rosenthal, Martinez, Kelly, Maness can replace Westbrook with the remaining players boosting the bullpen when Mujica departs. Adams and Taveras can replace Beltran.

How does Mozeliak use the upcoming payroll flexibility to bolster the team for the future? I see 5 options:

1. Sit on it. Dewitt sits atop a pile of cash and revels in the glory of creating a perennial contender while undercutting the payroll of other top teams.

2. Trade for high salary/elite players. This is the Cliff Lee scenario and only seems plausible if we are trying to fill our biggest need: SS, but who is available? Tulo, J.J. Hardy, Andrus all play for current contenders that are unlikely to trade talent. SP is always possible, but why trade to pay an old expensive starting pitcher when so many internal options are available?

3. Sign free agents. The free agent market has become a desert with only Robinson Cano and Josh Johnson followed by a lot of average/slightly above average players. More and more teams are not letting their best players get to free agency in or before their prime.

4. Extend current players. Pay more in 2014-2015 for these players with the hopes that they save on arbitration years and team options in 2016 and beyond. There has been an increasing trend in locking up players really really early. The Rays are major proponents with the Longoria and Moore deals and the Cubs followed suit with Rizzo this year. Craig is the first Cardinal to be locked up prior to arbitration and likely won’t be the last. Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Matt Carpenter, and Trevor Rosenthal are all candidates for early extensions.

5. Pay Ty Wigginton to go far, far, far away. Addition by subtraction.

My guess: Mozeliak extends a couple current players and signs a few marginal free agents to round out the team. The team takes a lower payroll into the 2014 trade deadline should a move be needed. Beltran gets a qualifying offer and walks while Westbrook’s option is only picked up if reports on Garcia's recovery are not good.

So what is Mozeliak planning? With our payroll flexibility and prospect pool, anything is possible. I know we’ve all considered the "sign Cano, move Carp to 3rd, Trade Freese for J.J. Hardy, and extend Hardy" scenarios. Let’s get creative people.

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