Derrick Goold, a fantastic (in my mind) Cardinals’ beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, does my favorite non-Birds on the Black related Cardinals podcast called the Best Podcast In Baseball, the most recent of which I linked. This particular edition had him discussing various baseball things with co-columnist Ben Fredrickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Goold comes to a conclusion near the end that is particularly fascinating to me regarding The Not-So-Distant Unsure Future of the 2020 Season. You really should give it the 70-minute listen prior to reading this, but the TL:DR (or at least TL:DL) version of it is this.
The Cardinals have a ton of potential payroll flexibility for the 2020 season and can “etch-a-sketch” their roster and PIVOT in a completely different direction.
Goold’s reasoning behind this is as such. The Cardinals roster in 2019 as currently stands is a $160M (approximate) roster that still has payroll flexibility and that they are unsure if they can make up enough ground in the NL Central to even make the playoffs, much less win the division. They have assembled a group of players that, by all (on paper) accounts should be enough to contend for the division title and maybe even take it. Whether they will play up to that potential is of course always the question.
He also mentions that the Cardinals have a lot of that ~$160M payroll this year tied up in players who can be gone after the 2019 season. In fact, they only have ~$87M tied up in 7 players, would owe arbitration to 5 more, and would have 13 players playing for league minimum were they to not sign anyone. That’s basically a guaranteed $100M on 25 men.
If the Cardinals are doing a great job this year, they can raise that by $16.5M in picking up Matt Carpenter’s extension, by $12M more in picking up Jedd Gyorko’s extension, by $4M more in picking up Luke Gregerson’s extension. I believe that one of those (Carpenter) is more likely than the other two combined, personally. The team could also re-sign Goldschmidt (a certainty if they’re playing well, I believe) and Ozuna (less of a certainty) and Mikolas (I think he’ll be re-signed by the end of spring training). Michael Wacha, I believe, will test the free agent market come next November.
If the Cardinals are out of it come playoff time, they could PIVOT and roll into the offseason looking at this type of roster:
C - Molina ($20M) and Knizner (min)
1B - Jose Martinez (Arb 1)
2B - Kolten Wong ($10.25M)
3B - Yairo Munoz (min)
SS - Paul DeJong ($1.667M)
LF - Adolis Garcia (min)
CF - Harrison Bader (min)
RF - Tyler O’Neill (min)
IF - 2 of Ramon Urias (min), Edmundo Sosa (min), Tommy Edman (min)
OF - Dexter Fowler ($14.5M) and 1 of Drew Robinson (min), Lane Thomas (min), Justin Williams (min)
SP - Carlos Martinez ($11.7M), Jack Flaherty (min), and 3 of Dakota Hudson (min), John Gant (Arb 1), Alex Reyes (Arb 1), Genesis Cabrera (min), Austin Gomber (min), Ryan Helsley (min), Daniel Poncedeleon (min)
RP - Andrew Miller ($11.5M), Brett Cecil ($7.25M), Dominic Leone (Arb 3), Chasen Shreve (Arb 3), Jordan Hicks (min), and 3 of Mike Mayers (min), John Brebbia (min), Giovanny Gallegos (min), Tyler Webb (min) + any of the starters not chosen to start from above
I mean...that’s basically the same pitching minus Miles Mikolas (he’d be missed), Michael Wacha (I think he’s gone anyway), Adam Wainwright (his leadership will be missed, let’s see how he pitches this season), and Luke Gregerson (not a loss at this point). The problem is that it’s also minus the three guys you’re counting on to be your best hitters this season and two guys who have won gold gloves in the past. It’s also minus your top backup infielder who has 61 HR in just over 1,300 PA with the club and can play all 4 infield spots.
Then again, you’d have nearly $60M to play with just to get back to this year’s payroll AND you’d be at less than 1/2 of the luxury cap. I am simply struck by the myriad directions the team could go at that point.
The team could go into a complete rebuild.
The team could go into a “quick” rebuild/retool.
The team could re-sign those who played well and get rid of those who didn’t and patch together the rest of the roster into another potential contender.
The team could pivot towards a list of free agents that potentially has on it Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, JD Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Jason Heyward, Yasiel Puig, Khris Davis, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, Alex Wood, Dellin Betances, Kenley Jansen, and Will Smith.
The 2020 season is full of potential - not in terms of World Series potential, necessarily - but in terms of opportunities of MANY different paths that the team could take. It’s fascinating to me all of the direction in which the Cardinals’ roster could PIVOT.
If the Cardinals' 2019 season is seen as a failure, which of the 4 above options would you like to see them pursue?