Much has been written about the Houston Astros dropping their major league payroll to the $25 million vicinity in 2013. The primary motivation of the “take one step backward to move two steps forward” approach appears to be a desire to restock a farm system that had been among the lowest-ranked in MLB for multiple years. The major league team even prior to the trades was a 100-loss group, anyway. The key will be to get the youngsters to the majors relatively quickly and hope they are impactful.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in a very different place. The major league club continues to be a playoff contender while the highly-ranked farm system has been cranking out internally-developed talent to restock the big-league roster as needed.
As such, the Cardinals have no motivation whatsoever to drop payroll from the current $110 million-plus range. In fact, at Winter Warm-Up, team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. declared just the opposite. He made it clear that he expects the club’s expenditure for major league players to increase in future years.
Having noted that, it should be obvious that what is depicted in the following exercise is not going to happen. It is simply a “What if?” scenario.
How difficult would it be for the Cardinals to reduce payroll to $75 million in 2014?
The analysis below indicates it is possible to field what looks on paper to be a credible 25-man roster simply by letting impending free agents leave and replacing them with internally-developed players. No incumbents would need to be traded.
Again, I am not endorsing this – it is simply an exercise.
The greatest area of inexperience in 2014 would be in the rotation as the majority of the savings would be realized by the departure of three veteran starters. Chris Carpenter is likely done, anyway. Jake Westbrook has a mutual option for 2014 which could be bought out for $1 million. Losing Adam Wainwright would be the most painful and is not a move I would support unless his contract expectations become entirely unaffordable. In the real world, if that occurred, Westbrook would likely be kept around if he remained effective in 2013.
Other payroll-cutting moves would be easier. In this scenario, Rafael Furcal, Ronny Cedeno and Carlos Beltran would not be re-signed. Same with Edward Mujica, who will become a free agent for the first time this coming fall. If he continues to pitch well, his next deal could be substantial.
|Retired||Option declined||Free agents|
To replace those theoretically departing for 2014, the rotation could become Jaime Garcia plus four minimum-salary pitchers – Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller. Remember that this exercise is not for today. 12 months from now, each of these pitchers would conceivably have another full season of major league experience under their belts.
Five of the seven relievers would be holdovers, with two spots to be filled by youngsters up from the minor leagues. For this illustration, I chose Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, as they are the top two pitching prospects closest to the majors. The names could instead be Victor Marte and Maikel Cleto – or Kevin Siegrist and Eric Fornataro – or some combination of them or others, if you prefer.
Salaries in the table below include estimates for seven players expected to be arbitration-eligible this coming off-season. Four of them would be in their first year – Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Descalso and Fernando Salas. I made rough estimates of their 2014 salaries without doing an exhaustive analysis.
This 2014 St. Louis 25-man roster would have 12 players under three years of experience, all making a minimum salary (listed here as $500,000). 20 of the 25 players are entirely homegrown. The only exceptions are David Freese, Matt Holliday, Wigginton, and lefties Marc Rzepczynzki and Randy Choate. Though not assumed here, the million to buy out Westbrook could be saved by non-tendering Scrabble and replacing him with Sam Freeman or John Gast.
The three highest-paid veterans together would make up over half of this very slimmed-down payroll – Garcia, Holliday and Yadier Molina.
|Rotation (5)||2014 salary||Notes|
|Craig||$3,250,000||1st yr arbitration estimate|
|Freese||$4,500,000||2nd yr arbitration estimate|
|Jay||$2,750,000||1st yr arbitration estimate|
|Descalso||$1,000,000||1st yr arbitration estimate|
|Boggs||$2,500,000||2nd yr arbitration estimate|
|Rzepczynski (L)||$1,500,000||2nd yr arbitration estimate|
|Salas||$1,000,000||1st yr arbitration estimate|
In conclusion, this was simply an exercise to see if the Cardinals could reach a $75 million payroll target in 2014. Though it could happen, rest assured that it won’t. Still, knowing there are credible replacements emerging from the system as needed is very positive.