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The $75 million 2014 St. Louis Cardinals

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
C Carpenter Westbrook Wainwright

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.

Kolten Wong and Pete Kozma (or Ryan Jackson if you prefer) become the new middle infield starters with Oscar Taveras slipping into right field for Beltran.

The bench includes four farm system products – Tony Cruz, Daniel Descalso, Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter – plus the second season of Ty Wigginton.

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
Garcia $7,750,000
Lynn $500,000
Kelly $500,000
Rosenthal $500,000
Miller $500,000
Catcher (1)
Molina $14,000,000
Infield (4)
Craig $3,250,000 1st yr arbitration estimate
Wong $500,000
Kozma $500,000
Freese $4,500,000 2nd yr arbitration estimate
Outfield (3)
Holliday $17,000,000
Jay $2,750,000 1st yr arbitration estimate
Taveras $500,000
Reserves (5)
Cruz $500,000
Descalso $1,000,000 1st yr arbitration estimate
M Carpenter $500,000
Adams $500,000
Wigginton $2,500,000
Bullpen (7)
Motte $7,000,000
Boggs $2,500,000 2nd yr arbitration estimate
Rzepczynski (L) $1,500,000 2nd yr arbitration estimate
Choate (L) $3,000,000
Salas $1,000,000 1st yr arbitration estimate
Wacha $500,000
Martinez $500,000
Westbrook $1,000,000
Total $74,750,000

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.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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20 Responses to “The $75 million 2014 St. Louis Cardinals”

  1. Brian Walton says:

    Sorry, crdswmn, I imagine this article ruined your Sunday. Please repeat after me, “this is just a test”… 😉

  2. Bw52 says:

    Brian-i see you don`t have Eduardo Sanchez RHP listed ……………………..has he fallen that far out of favor ? Cleto?Matt Carpenter as the main OF reserve?

    • Brian Walton says:

      I could have listed Sanchez as he is still on the 40-man roster. I am just not confident he is going to master his control issues. If you refer to our 2013 top 40 prospect list, you will see that Siegrist, Gast and Freeman are now ranked ahead of Sanchez with Cleto and Fornataro bunched with him.

      Remember that with Carpenter, Adams and Wigginton on the roster, Craig can also fill in in the corner outfield. Taveras could back up Jay. But putting Robinson or Chambers on the team instead of Adams would not change the bottom line money-wise; I just think the bench would not be as potent offensively.

      This exercise was not about predicting the exact names of the complimentary players in 2014 as much as it was to indicate that the club has a number of decent minimum-salary options if they chose to do it.

  3. crdswmn says:

    Some woman posted a pic of herself groping or attempting to grope David Freese. Why are people so revolting?

    The tweeter is not the woman in the picture.

  4. Bw52 says:

    That could be a accurate forecast of things to come.Nothing is written in stone that AW works a deal out with the Cards.

  5. blingboy says:

    ” . . . the Cardinals have no motivation whatsoever to drop payroll from the current $110 million-plus range.”

    In what sense is an extra $35Million in the owners pockets no motivation whatsoever?

  6. CariocaCardinal says:

    Drinking the Westie kool-aid are we?

    With the exception of Wainwright or another top of the line veteran this may not be far off from the actual roster. Just shows how much payroll flexibility the Cards have since I can easily see payroll going to $125 million in the next couple of years.

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