clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ask the Experts: Minor League Q&A with Kyle Reis & the VEB Podcast (Plus a Payroll Update)

Got a question for Kyle, Blake, and Adam? Ask away! Plus I have the final numbers for the Cards’ Opening Day payroll.

Toronto Blue Jays v. St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s Tuesday morning here. I’ll admit that I’m still a bit perturbed by last night’s (Monday) loss to the Colorado Rockies. I know, I know. It’s just one random game in April where pretty much everything went poorly. Not every game will be like that. They’ll be fine in the end. Everything is magnified at the beginning of the season. The Cardinals will be ok.

As the big league team scuffles, it feels like a really good time for us to turn our attention to the minor leagues!

On Thursday night, Kyle Reis will join our own Blake Newberry and Adam Akbani to do a little minor league preview podcast! We’ll go through each level of the minors, from the stacked AAA Memphis team down to the exciting players still buried in the complex. And we’ll take your questions!

Got a question for Kyle, Blake, and Adam? Ask away in the comments!

I know you will have questions because the dialogue during Gabe’s top prospect series was pretty intense; especially in that middle 5-15 group of prospects who could probably be ranked in any order depending on what you prioritize.

To help guide your questions, I’ll include the roster assignments for each level of the minors.

AAA Memphis

AA Springfield

A+ Peoria

A Palm Beach

We will record the podcast on Thursday night, so get your questions in now! We can’t promise that we’ll get to all of them, but we’ll do our best. Thank you to everyone who participates!

This little housekeeping post provides a good chance for me to take care of some other necessary business. Most of you know that I’ve faithfully tracked the Cardinals’ payroll over the past few years here (and about fifteen years overall.)

I focus on Opening Day payroll as that number has the biggest impact on the budget and approach that the team takes during the offseason.

Opening Day has come and gone and the Cardinals have set their roster. That means it’s time for a final payroll update for the 2023 season. Here are my final numbers:

Notice that this chart includes several players who were not actually on the opening day roster because of injuries or minor league options. It’s not so much the names that matter. It’s the salaries those names account for.

So, Paul DeJong goes on the list. Jordan Walker goes off. Why? Because DeJong’s $9.17M salary is way more significant for payroll calculations than Walker’s $720k salary. All those salaries would all come together for the 40-man final payroll after the season, but I have never bothered to track that since it has almost no ramifications on off-season planning and budgeting.

Now, to the obvious questions. Is that final total of $177.5M more or less than last year?

Simply put, it’s more. How much more? That’s difficult for me to say because the method of calculating Opening Day payroll changed.

Before this season my approach was to include all payments and income received for players in the year that they were made. So, if a player had deferred money coming out of their salary, I would subtract that number. If another player had deferred money being paid, I listed that money as payment.

The Cardinals, through Derrick Goold and his excellent reporting over at the Post Dispatch, have made it clear that’s not how they operate. Salaries are salaries regardless of when the money is paid. Income from other teams doesn’t always factor in, especially when it is designated to cover the salary of a player in previous or future seasons.

(Of course, it’s Nolan Arenado’s extremely confusing and convoluted contract that’s causing all the trouble. It’s worth having his bat and glove around but he sure makes this payroll thing a miserable task.)

In other words, all my previous work is officially outdated. There’s no going backward. And I’ve already proven you can’t trust previous years from national sites – Cot’s, Fangraphs, and Spotrac – because of the very scenario I described above.

So, the Cardinals’ payroll is up based on last year. Probably by quite a bit. But I don’t know the exact total.

While I can’t say specifically how much the Cardinals raised payroll this season, I can say that the Cardinals fell far short of the budget projections that I expected, despite choosing at the last minute to pay one of their players more money than they had to.

On March 24th, the Cardinals agreed to an extension with veteran starter Miles Mikolas that will lock him up for 3 years, including this season, at $55.75M. That amount includes a $5M signing bonus that will be paid in July of this season.

Mikolas was set to earn $15.75M plus another million-ish in signing bonus. That’s where we got the rounded $17M figure we’ve used to this point.

They will now pay him a base salary of $18.75M this season plus the signing bonus. By my math, that’s $23.75M.

And here we go again... That signing bonus money is scheduled to be paid this season. Shouldn’t that count against current payroll in this season? If deferred salary counts in the year it’s NOT paid but is accounted for, then surely bonus money should count in the year it’s paid. Right? Everywhere I looked – Cot’s, Fangraphs, and Spotrac – lists Mikolas’ salary as $20.4M, which would include a prorated portion of his $5M signing bonus spread over all three seasons.

It’s possible that for Luxury Tax purposes signing bonuses are automatically prorated over the life of a contract. That would explain what those sites are doing.

So, since I don’t know the correct approach here and was not able to confirm it through any of my usual journalistic sources, I’ve decided to just prorate the total to stay consistent with the publicly available information. Arenado’s contract is unusual. Signing bonuses are not. It’s not a stretch to think that Fangraphs, Cot’s, and Spotrac know how they should be applied.

(Plus, going along with those sites saves me from the endless arguments here and on Twitter from people who clicked on Fangraphs once and are suddenly payroll experts.)

$20.4M goes into Mikolas’ slot from this year, up from the original $17M base. That takes the Cardinals to $177.51M for Opening Day, down about $7.5M from what I projected. Most of that money saved came from playing games with Contreras’ salary to kick his money into the end of his deal. The whole Bally situation might have something to do with it, too.

Of course, the Cardinals know that they are under budget. They’ve all but admitted that. They’ve also all but admitted they plan to use some of that at the deadline to fix the problems with this team that will crop up during the season. Expect them to head to the market again and trade some mostly fringe prospects for an aged lefty starter or two.

And time is a flat circle. We’re right back where we started.

Want to know what fringe prospects the club might trade for this year’s version of Quintana, Happ, or Lester? Ask Kyle, Blake, and Adam! I guarantee they will have ideas.

The answer is Moises Gomez.

Thanks for reading and for asking such great questions!