The St. Louis Cardinals have a long and active offseason ahead of them in their efforts to rebuild their pitching staff. The checklist of three starting pitchers and two relievers will take aggressive and creative moves to pull off, but it's more than possible if the Cardinals truly commit to their goals.
Skepticism is understood, as historically, the Cardinals do not spend big or make multiple big-time moves in any given offseason. Every couple of years they will swing a trade for a star or sign a Willson Contreras, but otherwise, they tend to be pretty conservative on both the free agent and trade market.
In this story, I will be detailing what I believe the perfect offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals would look like. Here are a few caveats off of the top...
1. This is the perfect offseason, not the most likely offseason. It's an optimistic look at what the Cardinals can do. So no, this story won't make a case for them signing three of the top guys and trading for an ace, because that's just not realistic. But this story will also keep the Cardinals' eyes aimed high, so the eventual payroll they will end up with here is on the high end of what they could possibly do.
2. The Cardinals' offseason moves are all directly linked to each other. Depending on what free agent they sign first, it will directly impact the other starting pitchers they could look at signing or trading for, and vice versa. This makes it extremely difficult to truly predict what the Cardinals will do, but this is my ideal path for them.
3. There are some free agent and trade targets who do not make this list that I would LOVE for the Cardinals to sign, but I took the approach of aiming for the best overall offseason, and not just aiming for the free agent or trade target I like the most. Given the implications of each move, I felt like this string of events would be the best possible scenario for the Cardinals between now and February.
4. Lastly, this story isn't trying to convince you that they will do all of these things. Instead, it's trying to expose any false narratives that the Cardinals' can't swing big this offseason, and instead calls them to a higher level of accountability, rather than being okay with them settling.
Let's take a moment to set the groundwork for what kind of budget they are looking at here.
For this story, I'm leaning heavily on the reporting of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold, and the reported payroll the Cardinals have as of today, as well as what he thinks they have access to in terms of salary flexibility.
In a recent chat he did at STLToday.com, Goold was asked about how much the Cardinals have to spend. He placed their current payroll somewhere between $136m-$141m when you include arbitration raises. Let's roll with $141 million to be conservative here. He then pointed out that if they are serious about competing with the best of the National League, they should get their payroll up to or slightly above $200 million by the end of the offseason. Let's roll with $200 million here. Again, this is an optimistic look at what the Cardinals can do, as they may choose to sit closer to $190 million instead.
If they currently are spending $141 million on their roster and can spend up to $200 million, that gives them about $59 million to spend in free agency. But there are a few more ways they can free up some more money as well through non-tenders and trades. Using MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projections, I will have the Cardinals free up another $14.5 million by non-tendering Dakota Hudson, Andrew Knizner, Jake Woodford, John King, and Jacob Barnes (who they did after Goold's comments), as well as trading away Tyler O'Neill (more on that later).
$59 million in current spending available plus an additional $14.5 million through non-tenders and trades puts the Cardinals' potential spending here at $73.5 million this offseason if they reach a payroll of $200 million. For the sake of being a bit more conservative, let's cut that spending down even more to $70 million.
With $70 million in budget available and the offseason in front of me, here is how I would orcherstrate the perfect offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals.