St. Louis Cardinals Offseason Primer: Free Agents, Payroll, Offseason Needs

The Cardinals have a lot of work to do this offseason if they want to return to being the class of the NL Central again.

St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers / John Fisher/GettyImages

Make no mistake about it, the 2023 season was a total disaster for the St. Louis Cardinals. They had a prime opportunity given the state of the NL Central this season and they responded by finishing 20 games below .500 and in last place. By all accounts, this offseason should be an active one as a result with a big focus on getting the pitching staff back into a less embarrassing state.

With that in mind, here is a quick glance guide to the upcoming Cardinals offseason.

Cardinals projected payroll for 2024

Estimated 2024 payroll: $143,886,635
Estimated 2024 luxury tax payroll: $162,025,554

Assuming that they are willing to spend, the Cardinals should have plenty of money to spread around this offseason. St. Louis typically isn't a threat to exceed the luxury tax, but keeping in mind that the 2024 luxury tax threshold is $237 million is worthwhile nonetheless. Given the sheer amount of needs St. Louis has on the pitching side, they will probably need to get their payroll to around $200 million to become competitive again which is, well, a lot of money. That should make the Cardinals players for the top arms on the market not named Shohei Ohtani while still giving them some cash to fill roster holes with less expensive guys.

Cardinals free agents

Adam Wainwright
Drew VerHagen
Taylor Motter
Tres Barrera
Jacob Barnes
Cory Spangenberg

The biggest change on the roster from the end of the season is Adam Wainwright's retirement. His $17.5 million coming off the books is no small deal and is by far the biggest cost savings entering the offseason. VerHagen could feasibly come back on another cheap deal to round out the bullpen, but there are probably better options out there that will cost about as much. The rest of the guys are roster filler and very expendable.

Cardinals players eligible for arbitration

Tyler O'Neill
Dakota Hudson
Tommy Edman
Ryan Helsey
Andrew Knizner
Dylan Carlson
John King
JoJo Romero
Jake Woodford

The Cardinals do have a fair number of guys set for arbitration heading into 2024 including some high profile names. The first name that obviously sticks out is Tyler O'Neill whose future with St. Louis has been openly speculated about for a while now and who is about to have his last year of arbitration. Tommy Edman is very likely to get a healthy raise in his second arb year as well. Ryan Helsey's arbitration estimate currently sits at $3 million in Spotrac, but it wouldn't be crazy to see him get more than that or if St. Louis decided to give him a contract extension.

Cardinals offseason needs

It is all about the pitching staff for the Cardinals this offseason. St. Louis has to add multiple starters via free agency or trade even if one counts themselves amongst the most optimistic about Tink Hence's chances of playing for the Cardinals in 2024. The Cardinals bullpen is also pretty thin these days given that they traded Chris Stratton and Jordan Hicks away at the deadline, so they should be checking in on the better arms on that side of the free agent market since that is one of the few positions that has quality on the free agent market.

Once they check those boxes, they could potentially move on to the outfield depending on how they feel about Dylan Carlson and O'Neill as well as potentially exploring the catching market, although free agency may not be the best place to find upgrades this particular offseason.

Cardinals players eligible for the Rule 5 draft of note

Sem Robberse
Ian Bedell
Adam Kloffenstein
Pedro Pages

The Rule 5 Draft is a weird process, but the easy way to explain it is that players who have been in the minor leagues for 4-5 seasons (the exact number depends on how old the players were when they signed) and aren't on the 40-man roster are eligible for selection. The goal is prevent teams from indefinitely stockpiling prospects without giving them opportunities to play in the big leagues. The Cardinals have a lot more players actually eligible for the Rule 5 than this, but these are the players on MLB Pipeline's top 30 Cardinals prospects list that are eligible unless St. Louis adds them to their 40 man roster to protect them.

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