St. Louis Cardinals: Onward Ho!
While the Redbird Nation rightfully celebrates its World Series championship, I'm going to jump ahead and take an in-depth look at the future of the Cardinals.
Mulder missed all of July, came back and got ripped in two abbreviated starts in August and underwent shoulder surgery in September. Isringhausen went down with a bad hip and also had a season-ending operation the same week as Mulder.
It took everything the team had just to hold off the Houston Astros at the wire and put itself in a position to win the city's first World Series championship in 24 years. Suffice it to say that more people saw it coming in April than in September.
With that backdrop, let's drill down into the roster and examine how things stack up for next year. The Cardinals have eight players under contract for a total commitment of $58.2 million. (The team's opening day payroll in 2006 was approximately $89M.)
Player Salary Status Albert Pujols $15.00M Signed thru 2010 (club option for 2011) Scott Rolen 12.00 Signed thru 2010 Jason Isringhausen 8.75 Signed thru 2007 (club option for 2008) Chris Carpenter 7.00 Signed thru 2007 (club option for 2008) Juan Encarnacion 5.00 Signed thru 2008 Braden Looper 4.50 Signed thru 2008 David Eckstein 4.50 Signed thru 2008 Ricardo Rincon 1.45 Signed thru 2008 $58.20M
The Cardinals also control a number of players, including pitchers Randy Flores, Josh Hancock, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, and Adam Wainwright; catcher Yadier Molina; infielder Aaron Miles; and outfielders Chris Duncan, John Rodriguez, and So Taguchi. Other than Taguchi ($825,000), all of the above players earned no more than $400,000 (with 10 of the 12 within 10% of the minimum salary of $327,000). Only Taguchi and Miles are eligible for arbitration.
Player Salary So Taguchi $1.000M Yadier Molina 0.800 Adam Wainwright 0.650 Anthony Reyes 0.500 Chris Duncan 0.500 Aaron Miles 0.500 John Rodriguez 0.425 Randy Flores 0.425 Josh Hancock 0.425 Tyler Johnson 0.425 Josh Kinney 0.425 Brad Thompson 0.425 $6.500MFlores, Hancock, Johnson, Kinney, and Thompson should all draw similar salaries, somewhere in the range of $400-450K. In the meantime, I doubled Molina's and Wainwright's 2006 salaries and bumped up Reyes and Duncan by 50%. If one player makes a little bit more or less than these projections, it won't have much effect on the team's total.
Should Bill DeWitt, Jr. choose to maintain a payroll in the neighborhood of $90 million, it will mean that the organization can spend approximately $25M to fill out its roster. Let's take a peek at which holes need to be filled before speculating as to where the money should be spent.
C: Molina 1B: Pujols 2B: Miles 3B: Rolen SS: Eckstein LF: Duncan Rodriguez CF: Taguchi RF: Encarnacion SP: Carpenter Reyes Wainwright RP: Isringhausen Looper Rincon Flores Hancock Johnson Kinney ThompsonOne of the first orders of business is to make a decision on whether or not to exercise the option on Jim Edmonds. The Cardinals can re-sign the 36-year-old center fielder for $10M or buy out his contract for $3M. As such, the real cost to bringing back Edmonds for one more season is $7M. Can Walt Jocketty find a suitable replacement offensively and defensively for that kind of dough? I highly doubt it. As a result, I believe it makes sense to keep Edmonds in the fold.
The club also needs to decide Wainwright's future. Should they keep him as the closer or convert him to a starting pitcher? If Wainwright can be successful throwing at least 100 pitches per outing, wouldn't it be a better use of his talent to make him a starter? Sure, he may not be able to throw that hammer curve and a 94-mph heater all game, but 91-93 with a "plus-plus" breaking ball should work just fine.
Once Wainwright's fate is determined, management will know how many starting pitchers are needed. Re-signing Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver may be the path of least resistance although I would be surprised if the budget is such as to accommodate both. Suppan is an average pitcher who could easily command a three-year, $21-24M deal as a free agent in a market that is ripe with cash. Weaver is represented by Scott Boras and is likely to seek a similar deal even though he would have been hard pressed a couple of months ago to find a team that would be willing to give him anything more than a one-year, $3-4M "take it or leave it" offer.
A starting rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright, Suppan, Reyes, and a low-cost option would be a reasonable fivesome. The bullpen is a different matter. Isringhausen, 34, is coming off his second hip operation in two years and may not be ready when the season opens next spring. If Izzy is healthy, the Cardinals should try and get one more year out of him. Otherwise, Jocketty might be well served to trade the defensively challenged Duncan to an AL team for a set-up man who could step into the closer role if given the opportunity. Brian Gunn has suggested Pat Neshek or Fernando Rodney as the type of relievers the Cardinals may wish to target.
OK, let's see where St. Louis stands with respect to that $25M in discretionary funds. Give $7M net to Edmonds and $7-8M to Suppan, leaving $10-11M for three other players - a starting 2B, a #5 SP, and perhaps a LF (to replace Duncan if traded).
Ronnie Belliard made $4M last year. I don't think the Cardinals will allocate more than that for a second baseman. Belliard didn't hit too well in his stint with the 'Birds but should be good for .270/.330/.400 type production. Other options include Craig Biggio, Ray Durham, Adam Kennedy, and Mark Loretta. Biggio, Kennedy, and Loretta all made between $3-4M last year.
With the remaining $6-8M, I might be inclined to offer Luis Gonzalez $5M for one year with a club option for 2008. Gonzo supposedly wants to stay in the NL and may value the opportunity to get back to the World Series one more time. He is obviously in the decline phase of his career but still hit .264/.345/.427 on the road. Another slightly younger and more athletic possibility would be Jay Payton (.296/.325/.418), who might be able to command a 2x5 offer.
As far as the fifth starter goes, reaching out to Mulder with an incentive-based deal seems like a prudent course of action to me. If he doesn't pan out, Jocketty could try to pick up someone else off the scrap heap or give Brad Thompson a shot. The latter throws strikes and induces a lot of groundballs. There are worse options than him.
Shake it all up and it's possible that the 2007 Cardinals could be just as good as the 2006 model. Such a team, if healthy, should win more than 83 games but not necessarily another World Series championship.
Update: For more on the Cardinals, be sure to read Brian Gunn's How the Cardinals Shocked the World and Won the World Series at The Hardball Times and Larry Borowsky's Right as Rain post at Viva El Birdos that details how the pitchers stepped up during the playoffs.