The St. Louis Cardinals always play it safe. They haven't given out long contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They prefer to promote within the organization and not work from the outside. The Cardinal Way preaches hard work, homegrown talent, and tight-lipped personnel.
But what if, for one year, John Mozeliak went all-in? What if he traded away prospects and MLB depth for rental players with MVP and Cy Young potential? What if the Cardinals built a true superteam for just one year? Well, given rumors about players who are available this offseason, we can try and imagine a lineup where the Cardinals did go all-in.
On the surface, it appears as though John Mozeliak has already been a little reckless with the signings of Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. Those two pitchers do provide plenty of experience, drive, and innings, but the confluence of moves was a bit perplexing to some fans.
1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto
2. Dylan Cease
3. Miles Mikolas
4. Kyle Gibson
5. Lance Lynn
Juan Soto - Left field
Paul Goldschmidt - First base
Luis Robert - Center field
Nolan Arenado - Third base
Willson Contreras - Catcher
Lars Nootbaar OR Jordan Walker - Right field
Luken Baker/Alec Burleson - Designated hitter
Brendan Donovan - Second base
Tommy Edman - Shortstop
Alec Burleson - outfield
Ivan Herrera - catcher
Thomas Saggesse - infield/utility
Richie Palacios - infield/outfield
Justin Lawrence (from the Rockies for Tyler O'Neill and a prospect)
Wouldn't that be a nice team? The Cardinals would immediately go from a last-place team to a World Series contender overnight. The issue, however, is the trade capital that the Cardinals would have to sacrifice. Additionally, Bill DeWitt would have to be comfortable extending beyond his usual financial constraints.
Dylan Cease is projected to receive $9 million in arbitration, Juan Soto is projected to receive $33 million in arbitration, Luis Robert Jr. is currently on a very manageable 6-year, $50 million deal ($12.5 million in 2024), and Yoshinobu Yamamoto is projected to sign a contract around eight years for around $200 million ($28 million AAV approximately). Altogether, that makes for around $84.5 million in salary additions for 2024.
Add in the $23 million for Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, and the offseason salary additions balloon to around $107.5 million. That would place the Cardinals' payroll near $250 million, which will not happen. The 2024 Competitive Balance Tax is set at $237 million, so DeWitt will want to stay below that number. In my grand vision, Steven Matz and his $11 million go away this offseason plus Tyler O'Neill and his projected $5.5 million salary. Dylan Carlson is due around $2 million this offseason through arbitration, and I expect him to be a part of a trade. The signings of Gibson and Lynn complicate the math here.
St. Louis could save some additional money by trading certain current players. In my eyes, it will take a combination of Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar (or Jordan Walker, Chicago's choice), and Tink Hence to land Dylan Cease and Luis Robert. In order to get Juan Soto, The Cardinals will have to give up Masyn Winn, Dylan Carlson, and Tekoah Roby. Perhaps, Mozeliak could coax San Diego into sending $10 million over with Soto to offset some costs.
With the subtractions of Matz, O'Neill, and Carlson plus the $10 million from San Diego, St. Louis will save $28.5 million. That drops their salary additions to $79 million. Using projections from Derrick Goold at the Post Dispatch, St. Louis's overall payroll will be around $210-$215 million after trading for Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, and Juan Soto in addition to signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
St. Louis loses three of its top six prospects in one offseason in addition to high-caliber starters. That sort of prospect dumping will hurt the team. The benefits, however, are that St. Louis gains two bonafide aces in Dylan Cease and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they get their center fielder for the next four years in Luis Robert Jr., they'll have perhaps one of the best hitters in baseball for one season in Juan Soto, and they maintained their stout infield defense with Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan.
These deals will compromise the Cardinals for 2025 and beyond, but there is the possibility that St. Louis is able to sign Cease to an extension, they'll have Yamamoto for his prime ages of 25-33 years old, and Luis Robert Jr.'s contract is exceptionally team-friendly.
St. Louis will be a World Series contender for a couple of years should these deals happen. It goes against everything John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt believe in, but if they wanted to make a splash this offseason and excite fans, this would be the way to do it. The payroll will likely surpass $200, but ticket sales and playoff revenue will increase drastically, and the signing of Yamamoto will allow the Cardinals to tap into the Japanese market, which has proven to be lucrative for teams in the past.