Know Your Enemy – St. Louis Cardinals

This is the fourth in a series of 5 articles that will try to get Pirate fans inside the organizations of the Pirates’ NL Central opponents.  I explained the rationale behind these articles here and previously reviewed the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and the Milwaukee Brewers.

This article will look at the gold standard of the NL Central in recent years: the St. Louis Cardinals.  While the Cubs may have the most supportive fans, perhaps no city in all of MLB has more knowledgeable fans than the Cardinals.  It may be the best baseball city in America.

Payroll Committments 2011-2014 (does not include arbitration or min-scale players)

2011 — $68.089 million

2012 — $31.788 million

2013 — $17.950 million

2014 — $17.000 million

That $17M in 2014 belongs to Matt Holliday and extends out to 2016, with a vested option year in 2017 during his age-37 season.  Yeah, we’ll be discussing that throughout this article.

Estimated Payroll 2011 (includes arb and min-scale estimates)

All players with asterisks (*) next to their names have estimated salaries.  If a player is a first year guy, $400K, two years $425K, three years $450K.  For a 3 year arbitration player, arb-1 is 40% of their market value, arb-2 is 60% of market value, and arb-3 is 80% of market value.  Again, these are only my estimates.

C — Yadier Molina $5.313M

1B — Albert Pujols $16M (option will be picked up)

2B — Skip Schumaker $2.7M

SS — Brendan Ryan $800K (*)

3B — David Freese $425K (*)

LF — Matt Holliday $17M

CF — Colby Rasmus $450K (*)

RF — Jon Jay $400K (*)

SP1 — Chris Carpenter $15M

SP2 — Kyle Lohse $12.188M

SP3 — Adam Wainwright $6.688M

SP4 — Jaime Garcia $450K (*)

SP5 — Blake Hawksworth $425K (*)

Bench — Allen Craig ($425K *), Tyler Greene ($425K *), Nick Stavinoha ($425K *), Jason Larue ($1M *), Corner OF ($2M *)

Bullpen — Ryan Franklin ($3.5M), Jason Motte ($450K *), Kyle McClellan ($850K *), Mitchell Boggs ($425K *), Dennis Reyes ($2.2M *), Trever Miller ($2M opt), Fernando Salas ($425K *)

The team should also not be picking up the option for Jeff Suppan, so that will add $2M to the total.  The grand projected total for this lineup is $93.964M.

Historical Payrolls 2005-2010

2005 — $92.1M (100 W – 62 L) *made playoffs

2006 — $88.9M (83 W – 78 L) *made playoffs, won World Series

2007 — $90.3M (78 W – 84 L)

2008 — $99.6M (86 W – 76 L)

2009 — $88.5M (91 W – 71 L) *made playoffs

2010 — $94.2M (69 W – 61 L, as of 9/1/10)

The Cardinals have been very consistent with their payrolls in recent years, keeping in the band of the very high 80’s to the mid 90’s (with the one $99M year).  As you can see from the Estimated Payroll 2011 section, there aren’t a lot of openings for the Cards and they are already projected to be just under $94M.

The real interesting dilemna occurs in 2012 and that’s what will be discussed in subsequent sections.

Bad Contracts

Who thought giving Kyle Lohse a 4 year – $41M deal was a good idea?  In 2011 and 2012, Lohse will be making $12.188M (his signing bonus was spread over 4 years).  Not only is he not good (1-5, 6.79 ERA, 1.768 WHIP), but he could also prevent the Cards from picking up Carpenter’s option in 2012.  I’ll discuss 2012’s payroll crunch in the What Should They Do section.

Matt Holliday’s contract, in 2010 at least, is not a bad contract.  The reason it is in this section is because of the length of it.  Holliday will earn $17M through 2016 (his age-36 season) and will automatically vest for $17M in 2017 if he finishes in the Top 10 of the MVP race.  I don’t understand the length of it, especially when by all accounts the Cards were bidding against themselves.  Holliday is good, but I don’t know if he’s that good to warrant this type of deal.  The only redeeming factor is that the salary is a flat $17M through the course of the deal, so maybe with inflation this deal will be reasonable in 2016.

Potential Help From the Minor League System

It’s hard to fault a team that has invested so many dollars and resources into the major league club, but for years the Cardinals have had a bottom tier farm system.  Because of their long time success, they are for the most part drafting in the second half of the round so the truly elite do not usually fall that far.  But the Cards have not really tried to draft any “tough signs” that may have fallen in later rounds.  By and large, the pitchers they draft are usually low upside, back of the rotation types or future relievers.

Of course, the Cards do find diamonds in the rough (Albert Pujols) and patiently wait while others draft high school CF’s (Upton, McCutchen, Maybin, Bruce were gone before Rasmus) and high school SP’s (Hobgood, Wheeler, Turner, Matzek, Purke, and James all went before Shelby Miller).  For the most part, though, the system is dry on potential stars aside from Shelby Miller.

After going through the rosters of the 4 full-season teams of the Cards, here are the guys who can be starters, not bullpen/bench guys, and the estimated time of arrivals:

  • Daniel Descalso, 2B (AAA in 2010), est. arrival 2011
  • Thomas Pham OF (A+/AA in 2010), 2012
  • Matt Carpenter 3B (A+/AA), 2012
  • Aaron Luna OF (AA/AAA), 2011-2012
  • Pete Kozma SS (AA), 2012
  • Nick Additon RHP (AA), 2012
  • Arquimedes Nieto RHP (A+/AA), 2013
  • Matthew Adams 1B (A), 2014
  • Joe Kelly RHP (A), 2014
  • Shelby Miller RHP (A), 2013

Shelby Miller has put up a massive 12K/9IP this year.  Frankly, I’m surprised the Cards didn’t promote him up to the pitcher’s haven known as Palm Beach for a few starts just to accelerate his progress.  The Cards would love to drop him in with Wainwright and Garcia so they won’t miss a beat when Carpenter departs after 2012 most likely.

Although not listed above because he was not on a full season team roster, the Cards drafted Zack Cox from Arkansas in 2010 and gave him a Major League contract.  The clock will start ticking on his progression and he should fill a position of need for the Cards (either 2B or 3B) by 2012 or 2013.

What Should They Do? — As shown above in the Estimated Payroll 2011 section, the Cards are pretty set with what will be a winning 25 man roster.  They can add a piece or two throughout the year as needed.  The more interesting scenario for the Cards is what to do for the 2012 season.  In 2012, if the Cards pick up the options on Carpenter ($15M), Molina ($7M), and Wainwright ($9M), go to arb-1 with Rasmus ($3.5M est) and Garcia ($3M est) and keep Holliday ($17M) and Lohse ($12.188M), plus start a new deal with Pujols ($25M est), that will be over $91M for 8 players.

Ownership will have to willing to spend into the $115M range to keep that group together and field a semblance of a team behind them.  At this point, it is unclear if they are willing to do that, so that may mean that unless Lohse is off-loaded, Carpenter’s option may not be picked up.  That’s why it is so vital for the Cards to try and develop cost-controlled above-average talent.  A $400K contract is like a free player when you are dealing with the salaries shown above.

For the 2011 season,they should non-tender: Josh Kinney.  Yeah, it’s a pretty minor non-tender, but I don’t see the need to pay him anything over minimum and he’s first year arb-eligible.

For the 2011 season, they should not re-sign: Jeff Suppan, Jake Westbrook, Brad Penny, Randy Winn, Felipe Lopez, Aaron Miles, and Mike MacDougal.  These are all guys that can be replaced with cheaper options.

What Will They Do? — Aside from feverishly trying to convince 29 other MLB teams that 2008 was not that long ago for Kyle Lohse, the Cards really only need to pick up Pujols’s option and put some window dressing on this team.  They must resist all temptations to trade Shelby Miller for a short-term fix.

Trending Up, Trending Down, or In Flux? — It sounds weird when discussing the Cardinals and how consistent they have been, but I consider them to be in flux.  Unless ownership is willing to push the payroll into the $115M stratosphere, I don’t see how they can have Pujols-Holliday long term AND build a legitimate team around them.

St. Louis will have to be smarter with their free agent money to make it work.  They can’t afford any more Kyle Lohse type of deals.  If St. Louis ever realizes that investing in the draft will help them procure cheap cost-controlled talent to offset the huge Pujols-Holliday contracts, the rest of the NL Central will be in trouble.

Up next: The Cincinnati Reds

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