Even though free agency has been slow and the talk of bargains grows, that doesn’t seem as likely on the pitching front. Yu Darvish seems to have a lot of suitors. Once Darvish makes his choice, those suitors, including the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, and potentially a mystery team or two. After Darvish, it appears that there are many teams interested in starting pitching and only Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobbs available. A bargain probably isn’t happening, so let’s consider the current options on a big move still available for the Cardinals.
Yesterday, Pegasus wrote about the potential of going all-in on trades, adding Chris Archer and Manny Machado. The exercise looked like a lot of fun in 2018, pretty fun in 2019, but considerably less fun as time went on. I’d like to revisit that piece, which is pretty logical, and see if we can’t make it a bit more fun.
In yesterday’s piece, the trades didn’t involve specific players, which is probably a more reasonable way to do things given predicting individual packages for players is a fool’s errand. In this case, I am that fool heading to the market. Let’s say the Cardinals trade for Chris Archer and the cost is Alex Reyes, Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, and Edmundo Sosa.
Now let’s say the cost for Manny Machado, instead of giving up prospects, the Cardinals give up a mix of major league talent and minor league talent. In this case, that’s Luke Weaver and Austin Gomber. This is essentially the Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins trade for Jason Heyward. Luke Weaver is a ton to give up given that he still has six years of control and he is coming off a good season where he proved he could get major league bats out. He doesn’t have the same prospect pedigree of Shelby Miller, but he does have a positive major league experience thus far.
Losing Weaver and Reyes is a pretty big blow for the rotation, but Chris Archer is really good and signed cheaply for four years. Manny Machado is also really good, and the two moves put them at least even with the Cubs if not in front of them. In payroll, the two moves hardly make a dent, especially for competitive balance tax purposes as Archer’s number for the next two seasons is only around $4 million before his options start.
For tax purposes, even with adding extra benefits at the end of the season, the Cardinals payroll would only be about $171 million. That’s why they should then sign Yu Darvish to a 7-year deal for $150 million. Seven years is too long for a 31-year-old pitcher, but $22 million is also very cheap for a player of Darvish’s caliber and spreading the money out over an extra year helps prevent getting above the tax amount.
So now, what does the future look like for the Cardinals. In the exercise yesterday, the Cardinals are a 94-win team now and then an 89-win in 2019. In the scenario above, the Cardinals probably don’t sign Josh Donaldson, letting Jedd Gyorko move back from a utility role to starting third baseman. The Cardinals still seem likely to be a team above 90 wins with a payroll around $162 million.
It was in 2020, where things got a bit tricky yesterday, with rotation holes and declines hurting the club. In this scenario, Martinez, Archer, Darvish, Flaherty, 5th starter doesn’t seem so bad. The tax payroll is set at $162 million with options for Carpenter and Gyorko picked up and arbitration raises for a few other players. The tax number will be $208 million leaving the Cardinals with a ton of money to replace the departing Ozuna or sign him to another contract.
By 2021, the team will need to find replacements for Carpenter and Gyorko, but Martinez, Archer, and Darvish would still be anchoring the rotation with some combination of prospects and budget signings still providing solid production. The team would have very little in the way of committed salaries, and would then have had three years to build up the farm system for trades on internal replacements.
Yesterday’s post certainly wasn’t a worst-case scenario, and it was fairly realistic. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other available paths. Spending a bit more money in 2018 greatly increases the Cardinals chances of making the playoffs, but it also buys a little time to regroup in following years.
The Cardinals could trade for Archer and Machado and not have a barren farm system. They could sign Yu Darvish and not go broke financially. They could do all three and build a bridge to future teams and provide a significantly greater shot at a championship over these next two seasons.
I realize none of this is very likely, but for a team that has spoken about moving forward financially, the Cardinals are still a team looking at a decreased payroll from last season. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals have to do something foolish, like sign a reliever, but in concert with a few trades, Yu Darvish could make a lot of sense. Players are going to sign and pitchers and catchers are going to report soon, an then we will be talking about expectations for players and the season, but for at least a little while longer, we are still in speculation mode.