Opening day is just a few short days away and that means we have to put a cap on all of the offseason business.
I’ve spent more time than I wanted to talking about the complexities of the Cardinals’ payroll and roster. Part of that was necessity – the payroll situation surrounding Arenado’s contract is confusing and has led to an inordinate amount of conversation around the Cardinals. Since I’m just about the only writer out there doing those kinds of pieces, I feel obligated to see it through. Sorry if you hate math. Secondly, the roster itself is confusing with the two extra spots added for the month of April. If nothing else, I want you all to be informed.
So does our own Skyricesq, who returned to the fray just in time to catch you all up on pretty much everything you need to know about the Cardinals’ offseason maneuvering. His work stands alone. Go read it right here.
I’m not going to replicate his work. Instead, I’m going to build on it, detailing the roster in my normal matrix and then providing a little commentary on how I think this will play out.
To that end, there’s a small amount of news to catch up on.
#stlcards have reassigned Matt Liberatore and Blake Parker to minor league camp.— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) April 1, 2022
Parker not making the team is a very interesting piece of news for one of Brendan Donovan, Connor Thomas and Jake Walsh.
Blake Parker signed with the Cards while I was traipsing around Chicago. Missed that one completely until I saw Jeff Jones’ post. As Skyric noted, his presence implied that the Cards were going to break camp with 15 pitchers, assuming Jack Flaherty was headed to the IL.
Jones is (of course) right about the implications of Parker’s assignment to Memphis. It opens the door for someone to make the roster that we might not have expected a few months ago.
On the offensive side, that’s Brendan Donovan, the versatile infielder and lefty bat who should have a future as a utility infielder with a solid hit and walk profile. Spangenberg has comparable versatility and major league experience. I was leaning toward him making the squad a week or so ago, but he hasn’t had that much time this Spring in the MLB lineup. His playing time looks more like a guy the club envisions filling a spot at Memphis rather than at St. Louis.
On the pitching side, several options remain, including the lefty starter Connor Thomas, Jake Walsh (added to the roster before the Rule 5 draft that never happened), and Andre Pallante, the intriguing AA starter. With his status on the 40-man, Walsh would seem to have the advantage here. However, Thomas has a strong MLB projection – about the same as Liberatore. And the club might be more willing to give him an early look, especially if Flaherty has to head to the 60-day IL. Pallante’s arm is intriguing and the club hasn’t been shy about promoting some of their young starters to the MLB bullpen a year early in the past.
This isn’t a roster breakdown article, though. It’s a roster prediction article. So, here’s where I have the final 28 heading into the final week of Spring Training:
Jake Woodford will be the 5th starter. I know this isn’t officially decided yet. And I also know that, as Skyric said, he hasn’t started a Grapefruit League game. I chalk that up to the compressed schedule and the Cardinals’ desire to see more of an unknown commodity – Drew VerHagen – than a known commodity. The club talked up Woodford for the role last season. He’s had a good spring. He’s served in that role in the past. VerHagen hasn’t done much to displace it. So, it’s his. For now.
I think, though, that “starter” might be a bit generous for the role Woodford is going to play. I still expect his innings to be limited and for the club to use someone like VerHagen or Hicks for multi-inning outings behind him. That’s the best way to use his talents – limited as they are.
Brendan Donovan is the 28th Man. I’ve predicted all along that this spot would go to a pitcher. Here at the end, I’m switching gears. Why? Mostly because a few of the arms I expected to see on the roster have already been shipped away. Packy Naughton, for example, has a guaranteed spot on the 40-man roster and time in the MLB with the Angels. He was sent out a week ago. Walsh has had a terrible spring and would be a waste of a roster spot right now – usable only in blowouts. I don’t know why the team would add Pallante or Thomas to the 40-man roster right now when they have players on the 40-man that they could use. 40-man spots are precious commodities.
That brings me back to Donovan, who serves a useful purpose as a lefty bat off the bench who can play a bunch of infield spots. The club has said really good things about him. And he keeps getting time with the club. He’s their guy. It’s a good chance to give him some time before the roster contracts and the team has to make some harder decisions. See what he can do over a few weeks and then go from there.
Opening Day Payroll
On to payroll. The only change since the last version of this matrix is the addition of Albert Pujols. (And the corresponding subtraction of Juan Yepez.)
Note that this is “Opening Day” payroll and not some kind of prediction of final payroll. Pujols has some incentives built into his contract, but you won’t see any of them here. It’s just base pay as of Game 1.
You’ll also note that Reyes and Flaherty are included. Their salaries are guaranteed. Since this is a 28-man roster, I only included 28 players and all those who have guaranteed salaries. So, I have Woodford and Helsley in the 27 and 28 roster spots knowing they are locks for the roster. Brooks and Donovan don’t count as “Opening Day” payroll in this sense, even though they will (might) be on the roster for Opening Day.
Here are the numbers:
I’m not going to be that guy who says “I told you so” when it comes to payroll projections. But… you know. Back in October, I predicted the Cardinals would carry a $155M “Opening Day” payroll. I was sufficiently scolded by the internet for projecting such a low total.
With a complete roster and no additional moves expected, the Cardinals are coming in below those projections, at just under $151M.
I’m not all that surprised that the Cardinals came in even below my paltry sums. We’ve gone through the reasons multiple times in multiple places here on the site; you can find the latest conversation on the subject here. The Cards – heavily dependent on ticket sales – lost a ton of income the last two seasons and they’re going to recoup their losses, whether fans like it or not.
They are also a team heavily dependent on draft and development. They’ve virtually abandoned the desire to sign players to long-term contracts or to play at the upper ends of the free agent market. That means, despite loads of payroll coming off the books, they dabbled in the shallow end of the free agent market, held on to their prospects, and spent on marginal depth instead of adding depths of talent. Add in the lockout and this just wasn’t going to be a year where Bill DeWitt spent any money.
It probably does mean the team has some money to turn to around the trade deadline. It seems likely that Mozeliak will get a good look at his pitching staff, see what happens with Flaherty, and then fill in gaps later in the season – either with his own set of intriguing prospects or from outside.
For now, though, this is the team that the Cardinals will take home from Jupiter this week and open the season at Busch Stadium. It should be a good team. Not as good as I hoped it would be back before the lockout. But certainly good enough to reach the playoffs and push the Brewers a little. I’ll have more on that – including predictions on the season on Wednesday.
Have a great Saturday. Baseball is almost here!