clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Welcome to the St. Louis Cardinals' payroll of the future

The Cardinals have a new television contract in place that will substantially shake up the financial realities of the team beginning in 2018. But where will the on-field club be when that deal starts? Here's a look at which players will still be under contract when that day comes.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I'm sure we've all seen the news by now about the Cardinals' shiny new television contract with Fox Sports Midwest, which will keep St. Louis baseball on FSM through the unimaginably futuristic-sounding year of 2032. I prefer not to think about how old I will be at that time; I recommend you refrain as well. Regardless of you current age, in fact; adding fifteen years to yourself is always, always going to be depressing.

I do find it interesting to think that the Redbirds have been with Fox Sports for 22 years now. I still have a thing in the back of my head that tells me the Cards on FSM is a new thing, that they were on Channel 11, along with Voltron, until just recently. Then again, I also get nostalgia chills every time I see a Washington Nationals highlight and the voice calling it is that of Bob Carpenter. Anyhow, enough of my reminiscing.

The terms of the contract, in simple and brief terms, are 15 years and one billion dollars. (Insert Dr. Evil impersonation here.) That's a fivefold increase over the Cards' current deal, which runs out in 2017 and now seems almost quaint at eleven years and ~$200 million.

Beyond the raw numbers, there is also a 30%(!) ownership stake in FSM, and annual rights payment escalators. According to Forbes' story on the deal, the rights fees will start off in the $50 million range, and escalate to somewhere in the neighbourhood of $85 million by the end of the deal. Given that ownership stake, the total value of the contract will likely well exceed the $1 billion number, and be among the biggest television contracts in the sport. So, you know. Congratulations Cardinals for building a brand capable of supporting this kind of deal. Congratulations Cardinal fans, as well, both in the St. Louis area and regions beyond, for making something like this possible for a club located in what is still, for most intents and purposes, a pretty modest media market.

The deal also pushes the overall value of the Cardinal franchise even higher. Back in the offseason, Forbes ranked the Cardinals the sixth-most valuable franchise in baseball, with a $1.4 billion valuation, as well as the single most profitable organisation in the sport. Now, with the new TV deal in place, that valuation has jumped to $1.6 billion. Not bad, considering when Bill DeWitt purchased the team back in the mid-90s, Anheuser-Busch had so devalued the asset that DeWitt was able to essentially get the franchise for right around $100 million, after selling off the parking garages which came as part of the purchase package. Sure, 1995 seems like a long time ago now, but a 1500% increase in your investment's value is still kind of an absurd number.

But enough of all that. This is not a blog about the financial business of baseball, even if there are times modern sports fandom seems to verge perilously close to that. Rather, this is a blog about the team The Cardinals, rather than the organisation, and so what we care about is the product on the field. Right? Right. And that means we care about the money really on insofar as it relates to payroll, and what kind of players we're going to see take the field.

With that in mind, I thought we might look at what the club's payroll obligations are for the near future, and specifically what that payroll will look like come 2018, when the new television deal kicks in and bumps the Cards' already-impressive revenue by somewhere in the neighbourhood of $25 million annually right off the bat.

Payroll figures all come by way of Cot's Contracts, which I'm sure you would have guessed on your own, considering how intelligent and handsome/beautiful you are, you wonderful reader you.

The Opening Day payroll for the Cardinals this year was just a shade over $122 million, which is the highest in franchise history. The club finished up 2014 with a payroll just over $121 million, which ranked the eleventh-largest in the sport. So that's the current framework. Now, considering inflation and the growing value of the franchise, not to mention the instant escalation that comes with a new television deal, I could see that 2018 payroll figure easily being in the $150-160 million range, and probably as much as $25 million higher than that if the Cardinals feel as threatened by the coming arms race at the top of the National League as they should. In other words, as brilliant and efficient as the Redbirds have been, they've got smarter competition both arriving now and coming soon, so if they want to remain the big red 500 pound gorilla of both the NL Central and the National League as a whole (and, DeWallet snark aside, I have no reason to think Bill DeWitt and Company are not deadly serious about holding on to their catbird seat), the Cardinals are going to have to spend to do it. And the Cards have the resources to do it, easily. They would likely deny it, but I have a feeling Forbes did their research in saying the Redbirds are the most profitable team in baseball, and it appears they have been for awhile. There is a war chest the Cardinals have built, and if need be I think they would be perfectly willing to open it up. So that's kind of where we appear to be going.

All that being said, by the time 2018 rolls around, the Cards are going to have very, very few of their current big-money pieces still on the books. Which, in itself, is fairly fascinating, don't you think?

Adam Wainwright is currently the Cards' highest-paid player, making $19.5 million per season, and is signed through the 2018 campaign, making him one of the very, very few current players whose deals will overlap with the new television contract. And only by a year, at that, which could -- and in my opinion, probably should -- have real ramifications for what the Cardinals do in signing medium-term pieces.

Matt Holliday is second on the club in terms of payroll commitment per season, making $17 million annually, with a couple million of that deferred to 2020 and beyond. His last season fully under contract with the Cardinals will be 2016, with a club option for 2017. The options comes with a $1 million buyout, and automatically vests with a top ten finish in the MVP voting in 2016.

This is interesting, because as of two seasons ago I would have called picking up Holliday's option a no-brainer. One of the most consistently productive bats in all of baseball over the past decade, Holliday was a brilliant signing, as the Cardinals made him the centerpiece of a club that has, year in and year out, contended for World Championships, even as Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols both left town for ruining the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing second fiddle to Mike Trout, respectively. Now, though? I'm not so sure. It still seems likely the club will still want Holliday around enough to pick up that option after just next season, but it's certainly not a fait accompli at the this point.

And that, honestly, is partially about Holliday's age and gradually declining physical skills, but more about the ridiculous outfield depth the Cardinals have cultivated. I still have significant reservations and concerns about the long-term viability of Randal Grichuk's performance, considering some of the very shaky numbers it's predicated upon, but there are also some things about him that have made me think there just might be a plus-level major leaguer there. By the eye test, he looks to be an above-average center fielder. (For what it's worth, the numbers agree with that, though in such small samples as to be nearly meaningless.) He has remarkable power, to the point that a) I think he will always hit for a well above-average ISO and should maintain an above-average BABIP (though certainly nowhere near his current .377 mark), as well as forcing pitchers to work more carefully to him going forward, which I hope will lead to a higher walk rate. He's always going to strike out a ton, but not too long ago I compared him to Colby Rasmus. And really, would any of us balk at having Rasmus back in center field, on an affordable deal, particularly if it came without any daddy drama? Or manager drama, for that matter? At the very least, if Grichuk is the fielder he looks to be in center, even middling offense would make him a very valuable player.

Jason Heyward's production this year, as well as the Cardinals' investment in bringing him here and their financial future, makes me think he will be a fixture here for a long time. It's going to be expensive, and the contract is going to be long, stretching well into the new TV deal era, but I think Heyward is the kind of player you build around, and the type of player the Cardinals want to build around.

So that's center and right fields, at least written in pencil for the near future. After watching Stephen Piscotty in the big leagues the past couple weeks, does anyone doubt he's a major leaguer? And probably a pretty good major league hitter? He's 24, is an above-average defender in the outfield, and has put up wRC+ numbers of 125 or higher pretty much throughout his minor league career. He isn't the hitter Matt Holliday is, but on balance, with much better defense and a solid bat, is Piscotty that much worse overall than Matt Holliday of 2017 is likely to be? Anthony Garcia is walking over 14% of the time -- and more often than he strikes out -- in Double A this year, at 23. His ISO is near .200; his wRC+ is ~150. I'm a believer in Garcia; you can be skeptical if you like, and I wouldn't blame you. But he profiles in a somewhat similar fashion as Holliday, actually, as a left-field bat-first player with elite on-base skills and a high slugging but not necessarily driven by home runs power profile.

There are more names, of course, but the point is this: the Cardinals have a lot of players capable of putting together representative performances in the outfield, I believe. And unless the DH comes to the National League before 2017 (which isn't impossible; the current CBA expires after 2016, I believe), Matt Holliday is probably going to be giving back a lot of the value on defense that he creates with his bat. Could he still hit well enough to be a very valuable player in 2017? Sure. Could the Cardinals also look at him, and at the outfield depth, and decide that a younger, more well-rounded (not to mention cheaper), solution might actually be preferable? It's possible. More possible than I would have thought a couple seasons ago, certainly.

Jhonny Peralta's increasingly-brilliant-looking contract expires after 2017, and I can't imagine he'll be back beyond that. In spite of what I just said about the brilliance of the deal, and Peralta himself being an extraordinary player, he's also 33 years old, and will play the final year of his contract almost entirely at 35. Signing middle infielders in their mid-30s is probably not a great idea, and so I expect Jhonny to depart after 2017. (If the Cardinals had a monster SS prospect roaring up through the levels I would say I could see Peralta being traded after, say, the 2016 season also, but there are no shortstops in the system currently who make me feel that way, even if Edmundo Sosa is intriguing.)

Yadier Molina could be another player to still be with the Cardinals in 2018; he has a mutual option for that season after his current five-year, $75 million deal is up in 2017. Will he be worth $15 million by then? That's...not completely obvious at this point. Molina just turned 33 in July, and will have caught close to 5500 regular-season games by the end of this year, not to mention enough postseason tilts to nearly constitute another full season. His offense has also tailed off badly the last couple seasons (I really, really miss 2012 Yadier Molina, don't you?), primarily due to his power deserting him. There are a monstrous number of innings on those knees; do we believe Yadi at 36 will still be playing 130 games a year? Or 120? Or 100? Perhaps it would be good for him to be here to mentor the next Cardinal catcher, in the way Matheny did (albeit for only one season), for Molina himself. So, I could see him still on the books in 2018.

Jaime Garcia has a couple options after this year for 2016 and '17. The '16 option I could see being picked up; the '17 option is blurrier. I can't imagine him being back for 2018 under really any circumstances.

Lance Lynn is signed through 2017, for a very reasonable price, and I'm sure will leave after that. And, really, if the Cardinals were to do something like, say, sign David Price this offseason to head the rotation of the near future as the payroll escalates, I could actually see Lynn becoming the club's big trade chip next season or before 2017, as a rotation with Price Wainwright, Wacha, and Carlos Martinez in it just might weather the loss of Lance Lynn without missing much of a beat. But that's a discussion for another day.

Jon Jay, if he isn't traded this offseason, will be gone after 2016 when his contract expires. He's redundant at this point, particularly if he isn't the hitter he has been in the past.

Matt Carpenter is currently the Cardinal under contract the longest, though 2019, so he will certainly serve as a bridge into the next era. He is owed less than $10 million annually each of the next two seasons, and then will see his salary escalate to $13.5 million in 2018, $14.5 in 2019, and then has a 2020 option year valued at $18.5 million. I expect he'll see that 2020 option season, but considering he'll play that year at 34 years old I'm not sure we should expect Marp to be here beyond that. Still, he is absolutely a commitment for the Redbirds with their new media deal.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. Those are the only players the St. Louis Cardinals are committed to even relatively long-term, and of those, only Carpenter is currently under contract beyond 2018. Jordan Walden has a 2017 option but looks unlikely to see that now because of arm health concerns going forward. Randy Choate is in the last year of his current deal. Matt Belisle and Carlos Villanueva and Steve Cishek and Mark Reynolds are all on one-year commitments, although Cishek is still under club control due to service time. He may be back, or could be non-tendered. Either way, he probably doesn't factor into the club's 2018 plans. Brandon Moss is under club control for 2016, but probably won't be back beyond then. The Cardinals don't really have any contractual commitments beyond 2016 in most cases, and '17 in a few.

Which isn't to say, of course, that the Cardinals don't have players who will be here in 2018 and beyond; far from it, in fact. Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Kolten Wong, Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty are all young players with the club this year I believe will likely be here as part of the next run of Cardinals success past this 2018 window we're talking about here. Carlos, Wacha, and Wong all look like building block players, in fact, and I expect all three to see contract extensions covering the next 5-7 years coming up very soon. Trevor Rosenthal is a more interesting case, as I could see the Cardinals wanting to keep him around long term, but as both a Scott Boras client and a now established closer, Rosenthal may end up pricing himself out of where the Cards seems comfortable going for their bullpen. If he were a starter, I would be more sanguine about Rosie being here for the long haul, but as a reliever it's a bit murkier a situation.

Jason Heyward is the other really interesting consideration here, obviously, and as I said earlier if you were to ask me what's going to happen with the J-Hey Kid in St. Louis I would say I expect the Cardinals to get him locked up long-term this offseason, probably for the next 8-10 years. Heyward will play the 2016 season at just 26 years old, has already amassed nearly 25 wins above replacement (fWAR, that is), in his career, and has been worth over 3 WAR just this year, in spite of a brutal start to the season. You don't let consistent, perennial 4.5-5.5 win players leave town if you're serious about building a championship club. As I believe the Cardinals are serious about that thing, I think they get Heyward done.

However, that's hypothetical future stuff. As it stands right this second, when looking at the 2018 season as the beginning of both the new television contract and a new era for the Cardinals financially (which might be putting it a bit too dramatically, but just go with me, okay?), the full contractual, financial obligations of the club going into that season are as follows:

  • Adam Wainwright -- $19.5 million
  • Matt Carpenter -- $13.5 million, plus 2019-2020
  • Yadier Molina -- mutual option, $15 million
  • Total: $48 million

As I said, there are lots of other players who will be getting contracts in the relatively near future. But for now, this current era of Cardinal baseball, and this core that has gotten the club so very far over the past several years, is essentially set to expire before the new TV deal really even begins.

So what do the Cardinals do? Well, everyone here knows I've been banging the drum for David Price for a long time now, and even moreso now that he's been dealt to the Blue Jays, who don't seem to be a fit for him long-term geograhically and will not be able to offer him the QO after the season, meaning he won't even cost the draft pick you might want to help build your next roster if you were, say staring down the end of an era.

If I were the Cardinals, I would double down (or even triple or quadruple, I suppose), on the run-prevention paradigm they've moved to the past few seasons, signing Price to a big seven year deal to anchor the rotation, lock up Martinez and Wacha on extensions through something around their respective age 30 seasons, and go from there. The idea being to count on the rotation to keep you in games night after night, month after month, while you try to percolate greater offensive talent up through the system to replace the outgoing Holliday/Molina/Peralta group. A young, talented outfield headlined by Jason Heyward and his annual ~5.0 wins would be an excellent start on that front, as would locking up Kolten Wong to anchor the infield for the next 5-8 years. I would consider putting Lance Lynn on the market, probably at the 2016 trade deadline, simply because he could be an enormously valuable piece and possibly return a future lineup cornerstone in a deal. You've already got Martinez and Wacha, and Price would cost only money. Talent is always a limited commodity, and Lynn could bring back a haul as a consistent 3+ win rotation horse.

Okay, this has gotten long. I had planned on this being a relatively brief, breezy Sunday morning post about the new TV deal and how the Cardinals don't have many contracts that go even through the beginning of that. Instead, I'm currently at 3300+ words. So, I'll just stop here and put this thing to bed.

Have a nice Sunday, everyone. Early game today, as the Cardinals try to rebound from being shut down by the immortal Jorge de La Rosa. Jaime on the mound,, whoever the Rockies have pitching for them. And before you think I'm just being dismissive, go look at the Colorado roster, and tell me how many of those pitchers I'm really supposed to know.