Cardinals: Latest payroll projections confusing, not promising

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 11: Bill DeWitt, Jr., principal owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, watches during batting practice prior to Game One of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 11: Bill DeWitt, Jr., principal owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, watches during batting practice prior to Game One of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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There was a lot of buzz to begin the offseason that the Cardinals would be big spenders. While this may be true, current projections muddy that.

The St. Louis Cardinals began the offseason on a sour note and had clear needs on the roster, with the biggest needing to be addressed through big money or blockbuster packages. According to recent payroll breakdowns, it is a bit confusing how they can get there.

Despite John Mozeliak opening the offseason by repeatedly saying the payroll would be going up, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just broke down the Cardinals payroll increases again, and as numbers currently stand, there is not all that much wiggle room for St. Louis. To be frank though, it’s complicated.

Per Goold’s reporting, the Cardinals currently stand at $165 million committed to their 2023 Opening Day payroll with only 24 of the 26 roster spots accounted for. Current estimates would see the club’s payroll rising from anywhere between $180-$185 million by the time the offseason is over. This does not account for potential non-tenders or trades, which could significantly impact the amount of payroll flexibility St. Louis has.

Some may ask whether or not this takes into account deferred money from the Nolan Arenado or Adam Wainwright deals, and yes, Goold does bake those into the number crunches.

So as things currently stand, the Cardinals have between $15-$20 million to spend on their new starting catcher and the last roster spot that they are looking to fill. It is highly unlikely that the club does not part with multiple players who are currently on their roster, but for now, that is the numbers they are working off of.

What does this mean for St. Louis? Well, again, it’s complicated. As things currently stand, they are not in a position to hand out any major contracts to free agents, or at least anything above that $15-$20 million threshold. Does that mean all hope is lost? Again, no, as the Cardinals, if they want to create salary space, can non-tender or trade away multiple arbitration eligible players, or even get bold and trade someone on a more lucrative deal. Any of these moves start to bump their available budget up.

So, keep an eye on any non-tenders or trades the club makes. Pay attention to both the outgoing salary and incoming numbers, as this will tell a lot about where and how the club may decide to spend. Depending on where and how they address certain needs, like catcher, may free them up to spend big elsewhere. Should St. Louis spend big money on their new starter catcher, like Willson Contreras, this would likely mean only minor moves outside of that, barring the aforementioned trades/non-tenders.

We are working on a story to breakdown how the Cardinals can, and probably will, free up salary for the offseason to make impact moves. But for now, it is important to see where the club currently stands, or at least how they perceive they stand.

Stay up to date on all Cardinals’ offseason moves, rumors, and budget updates all winter long through our Cardinals’ offseason tracker.

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