Criticism of a team’s payroll tends to grow when a team is not performing well. The St. Louis Cardinals raised payroll by a decent amount last offseason after winning another division title and advancing to the playoffs for the fifth straight season. That raise in the payroll, caused in part by the signing of Mike Leake and a host of internal raises was not enough to make the playoffs this past season so the Cardinals payroll has come under increased scrutiny.
We’ve discussed these types of issues before. Some are well-founded, others are not. The Cardinals have spent a considerable sum of money to get Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil to sign with the Cardinals. The team currently seems satisfied with the present roster, but there are a ton of players still available, either through trade or in free agency, that I would imagine the Cardinals are staying flexible depending on the opportunity.
While the offseason might be considered a success given that the team found itself a leadoff hitter and center fielder as well as solidified the bullpen, it’s hard to see this team as presently constructed as much better than the one the team had last season. Fowler is an upgrade over Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss in the outfield, but the gain is not a significant one.
The Cardinals had a 90-win talent team last season, and it’s not hard to see them doing the same this season. While I’m of the opinion that the team should do more this offseason, we can take a look at where current and future payroll stand at the moment.
On Friday, I updated the current 40-man roster. The roster, which will eventually be narrowed to 25 by Opening Day currently looks like this:
*Kevin Siegrist is in fact arbitration-eligible and should be shaded in the light-orangish color.
For the purposes of the payroll this year, I’m going to include all guaranteed salaries, arbitration estimates as well as enough minimum salary players to get up to 25 players. In the image below, contract figures come from Cot’s Contracts, and arbitration estimates come from MLB Trade Rumors.
The list above is not my projection for the 25-man Opening Day roster, just a list to present how payroll should work for this season. Brayan Pena is shaded out as he has been released. For Randal Grichuk, Tyler Lyons, Stephen Piscotty, Matt Bowman, Tommy Pham, and Greg Garcia, the years they will reach arbitration are just estimates. They still need the time on the roster or disabled list to accumulate the service time necessary to reach arbitration.
As it currently stands, the Cardinals payroll at $146 million is almost exactly in line with where the team was last season on Opening Day. If the Cardinals did find a player they were interested in who would raise payroll, it certainly seems as though there is room to do so.
One thing to keep in mind regarding next seasons figure, if the option for Molina is picked up and all players currently up there head to arbitration, only around $15 million or so will actually drop from the payroll in 2018. As far as expected contributors next season, Jhonny Peralta, Lance Lynn, and Seung-Hwan Oh are the potential losses. Jonathan Broxton and Zach Duke will also be off the books.
After 2018, Adam Wainwright, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, and potentially Yadier Molina will be free agents. After 2019, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha, and potentially Jedd Gyorko will be free agents. That is a long time from now.
As you likely already knew, the Cardinals are in good shape financially and shouldn’t have a problem spending into the future. The signings of Mike Leake and Dexter Fowler might take away some flexibility, but there’s no reason the Cardinals couldn’t lock up another core player or find one outside of the organization if they chose to do so.