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St. Louis Cardinals ready to spend wisely on 2015 roster upgrade

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Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

Dilip Vishwanat

After the St. Louis Cardinals' season ended with the final out of the NLCS, the club looked largely set for the 2015 season. The starting rotation was overflowing. The eight regular position players were all under control either at the league minimum, via arbitration, or as a party to a guaranteed contract. The lion's share of the bullpen would return as well, though an upgrade could be signed. A complementary bench player was also a luxury the Cardinals could readily afford as they positioned themselves for a fourth consecutive October run.

Since then, things have changed. The Cardinals find themselves in search of a starting right fielder. But fear not, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, DeWallet is open:

There is, as general manager John Mozeliak agreed, "payroll muscle, if needed."

Goold reports further:

And still the Cardinals have room, officials have said, to consider adding a core player from outside the organization, or to flex a little to get the player they desire.

But in his wisdom, Mo knows that mo' money can mean mo' problems.

"It doesn’t seem right to me to just go whooooooosh," Mozeliak said Wednesday, holding his right hand up to his mouth and blowing as if spreading a stack of cash around the room. "One of the things that I think we try to do is remain rational and consistent. You’re definitely right in the assessment that we do have resources. If adding a year or adding a higher (average salary) means a deal, yes, we’re capable of doing that as long as it stays within our parameters of being rational."

So Mo recognizes that having money to spend can be a trap—just look at the Yankees. About the only MLB clubs can spend money on is older players and those veterans are typically on the downward slope of their careers, as examined by Jeff Zimmerman at Fangraphs. In the post-PED era, it's fair to expect a player to steadily decline after their age-25-to-26 season.

Chart from: Jeff Zimmerman, Fangraphs, "Are Aging Curves Changing?," December 13, 2013.

The Cardinals have several players on the steeper side of the age-decline slope as we head to the 2015 season and beyond:

  • Matt Holliday is under contract at $17 million annually through 2016, his age-35 and age-36 seasons. The Cards have a $17 million club option on Holliday's age-37 season with a $1 million buyout.
  • Jhonny Peralta is owed $15 million in 2015 (his age-33 season), $12.5 million in 2016 (34), and $10 million in 2017 (35).
  • At age 32, Yadier Molina will earn $15.2 million in 2015, $14.2 million in 2016 (33), and $14.2 million in 2017 (34). Molina's contract has a $15 million mutual option for his age-35 2018 season with a $2 million buyout.
  • Matt Carpenter will play 2015 at age 29 and earn $3.75 million, will earn $6.5 million in 2016 (30), $10 million in 2017 (31), $13.75 million in 2018 (32), and $14.75 million in 2019 (33). St. Louis has a club option at $18.5 million for 2020 (34) with a $2 million buyout.
  • Jon Jay will play his age-30 season in 2015 and is under club control via arbitration through 2016.

Like humans do, these players will continue to age. Like ballplayers do, they will decline. Probably not as smoothly as the MLB average decline rate as shown on Zimmerman's chart, but in a herky-jerky fashion their numbers will continue to decline. (After all, 2014 was a down year.) The Cards will hopefully be buoyed by young talents such as Kolten Wong (24 in 2015) and Matt Adams (26). Perhaps Randal Grichuk, who will play most of 2015 at age 23, or Stephen Piscotty, who will turn 24 in January, will catch on at the big-league level and be productive. But right now the Cards are looking externally for a right-field solution and it's hard to blame them. Their aging veteran core necessitates a win-now addition. As Goold details, Mozeliak is intelligently seeking to add a win-now piece while not bogging the club down longterm with any such deal:

"We have payroll flexibility. We’re not hiding from that," Mozeliak said. "It just goes against our mental model in terms that we want to stay disciplined in how we purchase talent. You can always do something irrational, but at what point does that get you? When you start evaluating those types of deals, shorter is much easier to accept vs. when you’re talking about five-, six- or seven-year contracts. Those are hard to run from if production goes away."

Mo knows that mo' money and mo' years means mo' problems. And that's heartening as the Cardinals Hot Stove shopping ramps up.