Cardinals managed to win one of three games against the Pirates after taking two of three from the Phillies pushing further along the question of what the Cardinals will do at the trade deadline. They haven’t made any forward progress to be certain, but they also sit just five games out of first place against a team that doesn’t look to have staying power. The Cardinals haven’t been playing well, but they aren’t out of it. We don’t know if the Cardinals will be buyers or sellers, but their payroll situation should change in either case.
In terms of long-term obligations very little has changed since the beginning of the season. The team signed Dexter Fowler and Bret Cecil in the offseason and committed more guaranteed money to Yadier Molina, Carlos Martinez, and Stephen Piscotty as the season was getting underway.
Since the start of the season, Jonathan Broxton and Jhonny Peralta were let go, but their contracts were already guaranteed for this season and are owed nothing past this season. Matt Adams was traded, but the Cardinals included an undisclosed amount of cash in the deal. Adams was arbitration-eligible for one more season after this one, so there is a slightly less assumed commitment for next season. While not a big deal either way, for these purposes, we will go ahead and assume the Cardinals are paying Adams his full salary.
Cardinals payroll from 2016 to 2017 remained essentially unchanged. The team spent $20 million to $30 million last year on the draft and international spending while this year they will be capped at around $7 million total for both. The Cardinals have money to spend. It’s not really a secret. They’ve attempted to go after some big fish over the past few years but come up short, and they’ve guaranteed a bunch of future dollars to younger players and Yadier Molina, but nothing too burdensome.
The Cardinals have a new television deal that begins next year and might provide a boost around $15 million to $20 million or so. So we have baseball spending down about $20 million and income for next year likely up about $20 million. The Cardinals would seem on the verge of a pretty sizable increase in spending for next year.
The Cardinals problem is still the incredible difficulty in finding upgrades due to roughly average players at every position. For the most part, those players are controlled for multiple seasons. The Cardinals present and future payroll guarantees are shown below.
For those interested in Tommy Pham’s status, he could have been put on the Bowman/Garcia line.
Right now, the Cardinals have $117 million committed to payroll next season. Add in arbitration, and we are looking at probably $20 million more, leaving expected committed money at about $10 million less than what the team is spending this season.
In terms of trades that could be made this season, the only reasonable sale that would have an impact on next year would be if the team moved Trevor Rosenthal, who is looking at an $8 million to $10 million salary for next year. If the Cardinals do sell, he’s a player that could bring the most back and have an impact on payroll next season.
If the Cardinals choose to buy, future payroll obligations will not likely be a deterrent to any acquisition. The team is in no danger of losing any current contributors in the near future on the position-player side, which means, as has been the case for the last few years, if the Cardinals are to get a clear upgrade, they need to find an expected four-win or more player. Last year’s free agent class offered just one of those players in Justin Turner, but apparently, he really wanted to stay in Los Angeles.
The Cardinals opted for Dexter Fowler, who has been a slight upgrade. This year’s free agent class brings more of the same with Mike Moustakas and Zack Cozart likely the closest thing to decent upgrades over the Cardinals current roster. All of which is to say that if the Cardinals want to have a much better team next year, they are going to have to trade for it.
If they can start now, they should, whether that means acquiring more prospects for players like Rosenthal, Seung-Hwan Oh, and Lance Lynn in order to make a bigger trade now or in the offseason or simply using a lot of the prospects they have now to acquire someone with control beyond this season to give them a shot at the playoffs this season and greatly increasing their chances for 2018.