St. Louis Cardinals: Two years away from financial freedom

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 09: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after scoring his second run of the first inning against the Atlanta Braves in game five of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 09, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 09: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after scoring his second run of the first inning against the Atlanta Braves in game five of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 09, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals are currently hamstrung by a couple of bad contracts. However, in two years, they will be free of most obligations.

Truth be told, our competitor, Viva el Birdos, does a really great job of updating a payroll matrix showing the payroll obligations of the St. Louis Cardinals a couple of years down the line. They have a very well done graphic that they make and all this good stuff.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to make those graphics, and I don’t want to provide a global look, I want to focus on one aspect of the current financial situation of the St. Louis Cardinals.

All of the data given today comes from spotrac.com that has all financial data for every sports team and projects down the line a bit.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times (but haven’t written an entire article on it) that this year is going to be one of the most boring offseasons the Cardinals have had for at least the last couple of years. People like to jump on the narrative that John Mozeliak sucks and he never does anything to help the team, but the past two offseasons, he has made huge additions to the team.

Before the 2018 season, the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna, who had been a .300+ average, 120+ RBIs, 35+ homer batter the year before. Last year, when Ozuna took a step back, the Cardinals acquired the superstar Paul Goldschmidt and stud reliever, Andrew Miller. Arguably the best hitter and best reliever available.

It’s really been bad luck for Mo that none of these three huge acquisitions have performed at the level they did in the past, but lots of people blame the down years of these three players on Mo.

To do these big things, Mo had to have the salary cap room to do so. While the Cardinals are nowhere near the MLB cap, the DeWitt’s have their own self-imposed cap that Mo has to follow. This cap is still top-10 in baseball.

In the last two winters, Mo has had room to work. This year, he doesn’t.

After the announcement that salary was going to stay near the $157.5M that the team was at last year, Mo will have to be creative to cut salary if he wants to do anything as the team’s current obligations have the payroll sitting at $152.641M.

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The bulk of this year’s payroll is going to Paul Goldschmidt ($26M), Yadier Molina ($20M), and Matt Carpenter ($18.5M). Other big cap hits include Dexter Fowler ($16.5M), Andrew Miller ($11.5M), and Brett Cecil ($7.25M).

Most of the players on this list had very down years in 2019. I would put a lot of money on Goldy being a good bit better in 2020, the same with Carpenter and Miller. Cecil is complete dead money at this point and Fowler, while probably overpaid, gave some good production in 2019.

Looking ahead to 2021, the total payroll falls to $106M. You are going to have to start dealing with arbitration on a lot of the young players and the team will probably keep Yadi (who comes off the books technically after 2020) around. Brett Cecil and Andrew Miller come off the books too. That final number will come up, but it does give the team some breathing room.

Looking ahead to 2022, and the page is almost blank. The Cardinals are only obligated to just under $67M in 2022 as that’s when Fowler, Carpenter, and Wong both come off the books. The team will probably extend some players, but they will no longer be trapped under the contracts of Fowler and Carpenter.

There will be plenty of players that the team is going to extend and have to pay more in arbitration so again, that number isn’t super realistic, but the team will have plenty of payroll to spend, even if they keep the same salary cap they have now.

Not only are the Cardinals going to have payroll flexibility in 2022, but they will also have plenty of holes to fill as about four of the current starting eight fielders aren’t under contract in 2022. So while the team may feel gridlocked right now, they will be free of it relatively soon.

This is something Mo himself has said and is one of the reasons why I believe the team will stay away from Marcell Ozuna. This period of bad contracts is going to help Mo make sure he commits money more intelligently in the future.

And for all of you who always go out and call for the team to sign every free agent, look how few big free agents the team has signed lately and how hamstrung they are right now. It just makes you think…

Next. Happy Birthday to Matt Carpenter. dark

Plenty of you will think that the DeWitt’s should raise that ~$160M salary cap, but looking around baseball, that is very competitive compared to what other medium-market teams have their cap at. There is an end in sight, but it will just take time. Mo can try, but it’ll be hard to get any other teams to take these bad contracts off the team’s hands for anything that doesn’t cause a riot. Just be patient.

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