In player payroll alone, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals cost somewhere around $126.3M, and you may be hard-pressed to find anybody who thinks that the Cardinals failed to get a decent return on that investment. The publicity that accompanies a playoff run alone is probably worth millions in advertising and marketing dollars. Win it all like the Cardinals did, and the publicity becomes magnified by the collective happy feelings and good will of Cardinal Nation. Those feelings lead to merchandise buying and ticket sales. Ticket sales lead to road trips to St. Louis, and those road trips result in hotel stays. You meet Charlie Sheen and a Kardashian during that hotel stay. You, Sheen, and a Kardashian end up playing Twister in the lobby while filming a Fiat commercial. Don’t end up in a Fiat commercial. Okay, that probably won’t actually happen. The more likely end result is millions of dollars in “found” money that ownership can ship off to Gringotts Bank for safe keeping.
After all, Cardinal’s GM John Mozeliak needs something held back for a rainy day. The team technically has everyone on its roster locked down, although not all have finalized deals with financial terms disclosed as of this time. Presently, the total payroll commitment stands at $108,382,000.00. Unless something unexpected occurs between now and mid-April, the Cardinals should hit opening day somewhere around the $118M (and change) mark. IF last year provides any indication, a conservative estimate projects the team to the $132-135M neighborhood for a payroll ceiling.
For some Cardinal fans, that projection begs the question “Why no Roy Oswalt?” The simple answer is that the Cardinals don’t need Oswalt along with the $7-10M price tag and injury concerns that accompany him. The more complex answer is that the Cardinals do not want to afford Oswalt, and there is a huge difference between “can’t” and “do not want to”. When the Cardinals first began having casual discussions with Team Oswalt, the team had yet to see any of the organization’s pitchers throw even a semi-meaningful pitch in a structured setting. Now that some of the aforementioned semi-meaningful pitches have been thrown and analyzed like the Zapruder film, it is safe to say that most perceived need for Oswalt has dissipated.
It is not that any particular pitcher or pitchers needed to distinguish themselves to a given point in order to allow the Cardinals to discount Oswalt. The current arms in camp simply needed to show up healthy. The Cardinals have short term options for an extra starter that are good enough that the team can take a pass on Oswalt for now. With Lance Lynn, Kyle McClellan, and JC Romero in camp, the odds are good that someone can provide 5 or 6 innings every 5th game if needed. This keeps Mozeliak from tying his own hands by committing the bulk of that reserve fund. If he isn’t forced to tap that fund unexpectedly, he may be in position to make a move before the trade deadline that may be needed.
Naturally, it’s nearly almost better to be a “buyer” than a “seller” near the deadline, and Mo keeps positioning the team to be buyers. His ability to maintain payroll flexibility while balancing both short and long term goals makes him one of the better executives in baseball in my not-so-humble opinion. Consider that the Cardinals have $81.75M committed to the 2013 payroll, and that accounts for several starting position players and at least 3 starting pitchers. With only a few potential free agents and a couple of arbitration players of concern, the payroll outlook just gets better and better. Of course, one of those arbitration-eligible players at that point could be David Freese.
If Freese stays healthy this season, it would be no surprise for the Cardinals to try and lock him up to a long term contract that buys out his arbitration years and maybe a couple of his free agent years as well. As long as he remains a .300 hitter with power, he could be looking at a rather significant payday along the lines of Evan Longoria‘s deal with the Rays. I’ll go on record now with a really uneducated guess of something like 5 years $50M with an option year or two that could push the total deal to somewhere around $72-75M. Let’s just hope he stays healthy enough to compel people to write about whether or not he is worth it.
Perhaps the greatest luxury associated with the projected payroll flexibility for the Cardinals is that the team could theoretically go after a prime time free agent, if one hits the open market. Interestingly enough, Joey Votto could come available after 2013, and it would foolish not to at least kick the tires on him if only to push the asking price higher. However, I’ll go on record right now with a prediction that Votto and the Cardinals will not match up on a deal. By the time Votto gets to the 2014 season, he will be 29. Based on the precedent set by the Prince Fielder contract (9 yrs / $214M), I can’t imagine Votto getting anything less as long as he stays healthy. Considering the tone of the Pujols negotiations, I just don’t see the Cardinals going 8 or 9 years on anybody.
Besides, the Cardinals have no shortage of potential first basemen in both the near and distant future. Allen Craig, Matt Adams, David Freese, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday are all potential candidates to man the position at one point or another. No doubt that some of the faithful would expect Yadier Molina‘s name to pop up in that conversation, but Yadi might be the one guy who simply cannot produce the kind of power numbers the team has come to expect from the corner infield positions.
TIDBIT: If I’m correct about any of this, I hope everyone remembers that I predicted an 2012 opening day payroll of $118M, a payroll ceiling of $132-135M, a long term deal for a healthy Freese in the $10M/yr neighborhood, and no Votto in St. Louis even if he becomes a free agent. If I’m wrong (which is way more likely), I hope that everyone remembers that I typed a lot of words.
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