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Is it a mistake to not try harder for Machado or Harper?

Breaking down the Cardinals’ non-pursuit of the two biggest names in free agency

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

In a story by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak is quoted as saying that additions to the roster now ‘would just make things tougher.’

Isn’t that the kind of problem a team should want?

In regards to Harper, there’s a little validity to that statement. Even though it’s still wrong. I will agree that the current outfield roster is a bit full. However, this isn’t some run-of-the-mill free agent we’re talking about. Bryce Harper would be the best hitting outfielder on your team on day one of camp were he to sign.

Same goes for Manny Machado. Having to find something to do with Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong, or Paul DeJong because Machado is joining the team sounds like an excellent problem to have.

Mozeliak is also quoted as saying in regards to the moves to acquire Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller, ‘we identified what we wanted to do and we feel we’ve been able to accomplish that.’

Why doesn’t the front office feel like they need to continue to upgrade the roster with the two biggest names on the free agent market?

With Goldschmidt’s free agency looming in the not-so-distant future and a payroll that is right now the second-highest in team history at about $152M for 2019, the Cardinals are poised for an all-in effort. Why not go for it all and bring in a Harper or Machado to really attempt to push it over the edge?

If either Bryce or Manny get the close-to-$30M annual salary they both allegedly seek, that would push the Cardinals salary this year to around $185M, which is still below the luxury tax threshold of $206M. Even pushing their payroll to around $190M, a move of that magnitude would still only make the Cardinals the fifth-highest payroll in the game.

So let’s recap everything so far. The Cardinals fell short of the postseason. Then, they go out and make a few moves in free agency and via trade to hopefully get back to the postseason in 2019 and beyond. After all of that, the team has a lessor payroll than the year before. A lower payroll after four seasons of increases each year, when your contemporaries are going the other direction.

The two teams that finished ahead of the Cards in the Central both have spent more money than last year to reconfigure their squads. The Cubs have jumped up about $14M while the Brewers are up about $5M. What message does it send to the fans that you’re spending less money season to season, while the team still isn’t making the playoffs and your division counterparts aren’t getting worse AND spending more money?

Now about that potential Goldschmidt extension. I won’t rehash the numbers in it, but a column here on VEB the other day broke down all the numbers on Goldschmidt. Offensive and defensive progressions and whatnot. In that column, the stats point towards Goldschmidt getting around five years and $100M.

If you get Goldschmidt to sign for an extension for 2020 and beyond for around that $20M or so per season, adding that Harper or Machado salary will put the Cardinals around $170M in 2020 after a few unrestricted free agents come off the books. Those UFAs include Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright. If you take their current salaries and even give a slight raise to all three you’d then be pushing that luxury tax threshold pretty hard, if not blowing past it. All the meanwhile you’re not able to do much else with the roster.

Faced with that situation, I really don’t think you can have both Goldschmidt and either Harper or Machado long-term and keep a lot of these same players around them. So this comes down to this season.

Now, one more thought about that extension. Until Goldschmidt signs an extension, you have to at least prepare for the fact that Paul will only be here for 2019 and move on. In the same column I referenced above, this idea was approached with a sentiment I agree with. You can definitely have both Goldschmidt and Harper/Machado this season and maybe beyond if done right.

As a front office, you have to at minimum, explore the idea. Kick the tires on either Harper or Machado and find out what exactly it would take to get them to sign. If it doesn’t work out, then so be it. But if it’s true that Mozeliak and the rest of the front office hasn’t pursued them because of the idea you can’t have both for at least one season, that’s potentially a huge mistake.

Again, why can’t you have both?