The Cardinals just got a little bit of their future settled by signing Kolten Wong to a contract extension worth $25.5 million guaranteed over the next five years with an option for 2021 at $12.5 million. In my initial reaction to the signing, I summed the signing up like this:
A five-year contract with an options would buy out two free agent seasons as well as his three arbitration years and this season where he was set to make the minimum. The free agent seasons are the keys for the Cardinals as the Cardinals could have gone year to year with Wong through the 2019 season with no guaranteed money. This sends a clear signal that Wong is part of the future for the Cardinals, although the Allen Craig trade showed that continued production is necessary to remain a part of the future. The Cardinals clearly believe in Wong, and the money is not likely to be large enough to have any bad long-term ramifications for the team.
Over at FanGraphs I dug a bit deeper, but reached pretty much the same conclusion:
The deal is not quite a low-risk, high-reward signing, but it could be classified as low-risk, medium reward. Since he was drafted, Wong has been a high-floor player with a decent hit tool and average defense at second base. Looking at Wong's total body of work, he's performed like a very average player. And while there's certainly room for improvement, his ceiling isn't incredibly high. In other words, he's not the type of player who'll cause a team to rejoice that they locked up two free-agent seasons, but there's probably a greater-than-50% chance that the Cardinals would have been paying Wong something close to $25 million for his arbitration years either way. Guaranteeing that amount now in exchange for two free agent years is an easy decision for St. Louis.
I might have sold Wong a little bit short in my piece at FanGraphs, and though I would not want to be accused of writing a puff piece, Wong has performed like an average player thus far. His ceiling is certainly higher than he has shown, but it is his high-floor that makes him valuable now with his ceiling potentially adding value to the contract as well as Wong's future earnings.
The Cardinals did not sign a star-level player or anyone close over the winter. Mike Leake was signed for five years and $80 million, but no other player received more than $10 million in total guarantees. Together, signing Jonathan Broxton, Seung Hwan Oh, and taking on some of Jedd Gyorko's salary has raised the total money owed this season above $140 million. As for the future, the Cardinals appear to have plenty in reserve.
The chart below includes all Cardinals' contracts over the next few years. I do not have salary information for Oh so I estimated. Most of the data comes from Cot's Contracts. Please note that payroll for this season includes minimum salaried and arbitration-eligible players while the years after include only guaranteed money.
While the Cardinals do have Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia's options to contend with for 2016, even with raises for arbitration, the team still seems to be pretty well set for the future when it comes to payroll flexibility. They obtained some certainty with Wong. Given the money they have, locking up younger members of the rotation in Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez would appear to be solid investments.