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Making 1/3 of a Billion Commitment to the Cardinals

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.

  1. Sign Dexter Fowler.
  2. Sign Yoenis Cespedes or Edwin Encarnacion.
  3. “Make a run” at Kenley Jansen.
  4. 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-ab-usa-200Cespedes, 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.

Addition Pos Years Total 2017
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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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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24 Responses to “Making 1/3 of a Billion Commitment to the Cardinals”

  1. crdswmn says:

    LOL.

    I haven’t read a thing Ortiz has written since the first column he wrote questioning the morality of the Cardinals for drafting Delvin Perez. I won’t be reading this one either.

    The PD hit rock bottom when they hired this douchebag.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      This writer is the worst associated with the post dispatch as regards the cardinals. I too have a policy of ignoring him.

      The P D has had a variety of talents. Some very perceptive, some more superficial, but this guy is the first who Seems hostile toward the team. It’s odd that his stuff is approved by an editor

  2. Brian Walton says:

    I initially saw a lot of positive support for the proposal on Twitter, but sensed the discussion lacked context. Here, I am simply explaining what it seems like the proposal would really entail and why after looking at the details, I think it would be a bad idea. Some agree. Some disagree.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    The first step taken by the cards in signing Cecil is prudent. The world champs have two lefty sluggers, so we needed another southpaw reliever to match against them. We paid a fair market price, no bargain.

    Sale and fowler would also be expensive, so it remains to be seen if the cards can land them. It did not reflect poorly on the team when it got outbid for David price.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Crdswoman can have a pithy way with words. I don’t call anyone a douchebag, but if I did, look out Ortiz. He is as clueless as can be. Yikes.

  5. blingboy says:

    Nice of you to do Ortiz’s job for him, Brian. I like his hot stove wish list as much as any but at least we can now contemplate it in a useful way.

    Since the premise is that the Cards’ objective is to compete with the Cubs, it is a waste of time and effort. What Mo means by “competitive” can be achieved without spending that kind of money. We were, after all, “competitive” last season and surely we will be again. DeWallet can stand down, the barbarians are not at the gate.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I don’t think I was doing his job as this most likely was not the desired outcome from the column.

      As I already noted, attendance and ratings were down in 2016. Season ticket renewals should be the next indicator of whether fan interest is declining.

      • blingboy says:

        IMO, the strategy is to stay the course and wait for the cubs to come back to earth. Today’s fan base is not going to be interested in that. I suspect that MLB in general is going to see declining attendance and ratings for the same reason. There is nothing compelling about a game constantly interupted and delayed and reviews. What should be the most exciting moments upon which the outcome turns are completely deflated as we wait to find out if we are to display exuberance or agony. And with nothing to argue about afterwards. Complete nonsense from an entertainment standpoint. As I have said before, it is not a baseball game, it is two teams meeting to generate stats.

      • blingboy says:

        Well anyway, thanks for putting some meat on the article. As always, the effort and insight are appreciated.

        Would you be willing to speculate as to which position seems a likely candidate if the org does make a big move?

  6. JumboShrimp says:

    Love Jansen as a pitcher. Would not want to offer five years for any peer reliever, however.

    I could go five years on fowler.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      I should adjust or clarify the earlier post.

      Chris sale would be a more valuable acquisition than fowler.

      I don’t like giving up high round picks. In 2904, fowler was not a real high pick. Let’s not sacrifice the future for 2017.

      I would be willing to go with a platoon of Wong and Pham in center. Wong is under contract and Pham actually is a cf.

      The cards should NOT give up Alex Reyes for anybody in a trade.

  7. Brian Walton says:

    P-D columnist Ortiz has a revised plan for the Cardinals.

    1) Acquire Chris Sale or Chris Archer in trade. Anyone except Alex Reyes is fair game to be included.
    2) Sign Dexter Fowler.
    3) Sign Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman.

    He offers no explanation of why he thinks this is enough to overtake the Cubs. He decides that getting just one of the three means the wild card is the best the Cardinals could do in 2017 and that is what he expects will happen.

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/jose-de-jesus-ortiz/ortiz-cards-must-go-big-or-go-home-this-winter/article_444b95a9-bbf5-5987-a599-b315271a9666.html

    • blingboy says:

      How things end up this season is probably going to depend mostly on what kind of season the Cubs have. If they win 103 again, we are not going to challenge that. If they win 93 it could get interesting at least.

      • Brian Walton says:

        The question on the table now is what should be done this off-season. Because of the new CBA and specifically, the compensation rules and the questionable quality of this year’s free agents vs. asking prices, some clubs may wait until next year or the year after to “Go Big”, using Ortiz’ term.

        If the Cards end up going that way, those who don’t understand or don’t care about the business side or just like to stir the pot will accuse the Cards of tanking or at least not trying to win – a major oversimplification of a complex situation. Tough decisions with no clear answers, despite how simple some paint it to be.

        Bottom line, even if the Cards did nothing at the winter meetings, I don’t think hope for 2017 would be lost.

    • jj-cf-stl says:

      no, to 1), 2) & 3)
      Ortiz struck out, on my score card. i’d rather….. and this is just an example; granderson / flores for peralta / siegrist. whoever is light adds an appropriate prospect. wright may be toast and the nym may entertain adding peralta. familia may be suspended and mets need another late inning bullpen arm.

      i’d rather rent a CF than go long on fowler and pay comp. adds two lh bats, and moves a FA-to-be, for the same, in this proposal. just an example. flores / siegrist are both arb1’s with expected same salary.

      I like gyorko at 3B long term. lhp lyons replaces lhp siegrist in a couple months and there is plenty of offseason to go after a 7th inning guy if Mo deemed necessary.

      if Mo wants to go big on an expensive closer, i’ll let that be his idea.

  8. Brian Walton says:

    For the record, my take is very different from Ortiz’.

    I would like to see a better CF, but I am not locked in on Fowler. I question the price in dollars, years and draft pick loss and suspect there are better options out there. If it came to that, I would not be crushed if the Cards instead went for an athletic LF and kept Grichuk in CF. It all depends on what is available.

    I would like to see the Cards acquire a better third baseman or perhaps shortstop, focusing their attention and resources on offense, rather than pitching.

    Adding another ace pitcher would always be nice, but probably not at the price it would take. I am not unhappy with the rotation as is. Lance Lynn and Alex Reyes are a couple of pretty nice additions for 2017.

    I believe that five years and $90 million or thereabouts for a closer is a bad use of money. Oh is very good at his job and the pen already has a lot of different set up options, including Wacha and Rosenthal and potentially Weaver, Gant and Gonzales if needed. Those financial resources should be used elsewhere (see offense above).

    • jj-cf-stl says:

      if jd Martinez were a stl corner OF, i’d be ok w/grichuk in CF. jd would be a rental, 11.75mil, and no idea of the trade package cost. det wants to get young and shed salary, so pre-arb and prospects probably on their radar.

      am sure stl fans would not like the cost, but how well will we like possibly missing the postseason again? a legit middle order bat surely helps the push for the postseason, which is why sfg is also checking in on him.

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