In his Sunday column for the Post-Dispatch, columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz outlined his four-step plan for the St. Louis Cardinals to close the current gap with the Chicago Cubs for 2017.
- Sign Dexter Fowler.
- Sign Yoenis Cespedes or Edwin Encarnacion.
- “Make a run” at Kenley Jansen.
- Acquire Chris Sale in trade.
Initially, I wrote this off as being totally unrealistic, as it is always easy to spend other peoples’ money. However, I decided to go a step further and put this proposal into a financial context. To do this, I used free agent contract estimates from ESPN’s Jim Bowden.
Cespedes, Jansen and Fowler are three of the top five free agents on the market and should each require five-year commitments, per Bowden. His estimates seem a bit light to me in both time and money, but let’s go with them as our assumptions.
Sale has a year remaining on his contract plus two option years that will surely be exercised.
Together, the four would add a whopping $71.3 million in 2017 payroll, perhaps pushing the Cardinals over the $200 million mark. In 2016, that was territory only occupied by the Yankees and Dodgers. (In case you missed it, neither of those top-spending clubs have won a World Series in recent history. In addition, both clubs far exceeded MLB’s Luxury Tax threshold, which was $189.6 million last season.)
The Cardinals’ aggregate commitment over the next five years would be $334.5 million. That is right. Over one-third of a billion dollars tied up in these four players.
|Yoenis Cespedes||OF||five||$129 MM||$25.8 MM|
|Kenley Jansen||CL||five||$87.5 MM||$17.5 MM|
|Dexter Fowler||OF||five||$80 MM||$16 MM|
|Chris Sale||SP||three||$38 MM||$12 MM|
|2017 total||$71.3 MM|
|Total commitment||$334.5 MM|
(For 2017, I assumed the average annual value (AAV) of the three free agents’ contracts plus Sale’s actual salary.)
The very significant cost of Sale’s acquisition in players is not estimated above and could also certainly have an impact on the actual 2017 payroll. One has to assume the trade would include a combination of current MLB players and top prospects leaving St. Louis for Chicago. The Cardinals’ current-state payroll commitment for 2017 could drop a bit, depending on which MLB players would be included in the deal.
Being more specific, one would think the trade would have to include one of the two starting outfielders – Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty – since Fowler and Cespedes are exclusively outfielders. An alternative could be to put Piscotty at first, but that would lock Matt Carpenter out of first base. Of course, Carpenter could be offered up as part of the package sent to the Sox, instead.
Perhaps signing Encarnacion instead of Cespedes would enable the Cards to keep their current outfielders in place, but it would still block Carpenter from first. That seems a far less-desirable option.
At the end of five years, Encarnacion will be almost 39 years old. Unless the designated hitter is added to the National League, which is far from a sure thing, by taking Encarnacion on, the Cardinals could get stuck in another Matt Holliday-in-decline situation with no way out this time.
In addition, the Cardinals would end up sitting out of the early part of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft due to draft picks forfeited by the free agent signings. That might not be the end of the world for the organization’s player development pipeline, as the club is spending extensively in the international market this July 2nd period.
The real question, of course, is whether to go for broke now. Personally, I don’t see it as smart business.
I get the bigger picture being presented is that the Cardinals need to spend money to improve, but I am very unsure that this proposal is the right blueprint for success.
By adding three major five-year commitments now, the Cardinals would not be positioned well to compete for upcoming free agents the next few years – talents like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Shohei Otani and Nolan Arenado. Granted, we don’t know if they will all hit the open market, but if the Cards spend big now, one can probably forget about them making major additions for the foreseeable future.
As we have seen with the Dodgers (last title 1988), Yankees (2009), Angels (2002) and others, spending one’s way to the top rarely works out. The downside is potentially handcuffing the Cardinals with a series of bad contracts, something they have been able to avoid to this point.
As in most everything, finding the right spot in the middle is the challenge facing the Cardinals ahead. The point on which we can probably all agree is that doing nothing is not the preferred answer.
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