Friday, December 9, 2011

The Cardinals Nest Egg

Albert Pujols is gone. That's yesterday's news. As the St. Louis Cardinals management, bloggers, and fans move forward, we can only wonder what looms in the future.

Once again I am extremely depressed there is not a resource with 40-man payroll projections similar to Pirates Prospects. The best option for general bloggers like me is to combine Cot's Baseball Contracts with MLBTR's Offseason Outlook. It's not pretty, but please cut me some slack.

The Cards currently have approximately $80 million allotted before any arbitration agreements or including anyone with less than three seasons of service time. If you include my rough estimates with MLBTR's decision to tender Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte, then their payroll increases to just over $90 million. Derrick Goold reported this from the winter meetings in Dallas: "Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the Cardinals will be targeting a $110 million payroll for 2012. John Mozeliak said not having Pujols as a part of that doesn't adjust the payroll downward." If this remains true, then they should have about $20 million worth of Pujols Fun Bucks to help repair the team.

MLBTR also suggests Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot are non-tender candidates, but there is no telling who the Cards will keep now that Pujols is off the roster. MLB Depth Charts indicates they should be shopping for a first baseman, shortstop, and left-handed reliever. They also want an extra outfielder to cover for Allen Craig while he is on the disabled list and provide backup for Jon Jay, or vice versa. It is extremely doubtful they will look at anyone in the catcher, third base, or starting pitcher market as they already have some of the best available locked in for next season. For the sake of trying to provide a balanced argument, I wanted to create a list of the best free agents still available who may be desirable to the Cardinals and sorted them by their WAR from last season with a value of one or greater.

I do not necessarily agree with acquiring a first baseman as they already have Lance Berkman and Craig who are both capable of playing first as well as a corner outfield position. The Cards also have prospect Matt Adams who most recently played AA ball in 2011 and will likely be promoted to AAA this year, which should allow him to be ready for his MLB debut either later next season or in 2013. Now that Albert is out of the picture, I want Adams to make a clean entry to the Major Leagues as soon as he is ready.

My desire to leave first base open eventually led to a small debate with my girlfriend's brother who feels we should sign Prince Fielder. He noted his first choice would have been Jose Reyes and I would have agreed with him had the Miami Marlins not beat us to the punch.

Eric Seidman from FanGraphs talked about Rafael Furcal, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Beltran as his preferred free agents. Rollins is the ideal candidate of the three with modest defense at shortstop and has been consistently healthy over his career, but it may be an awkward experience to speak with another Dan Lozano client and the Philadelphia Phillies may want to keep him. Beltran is aging quickly even though he is only 34. He may do well to fill in for Craig, but I would not want to see him in center field. Seidman also contemplates several trade targets in J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Alexei Ramirez. Any of these guys would be great acquisitions for shortstop, but I am wary to see what would be asked in return.

Michael Barr from RotoHardball speculates the Cardinals should achieve the same number of wins next season even with the loss of Pujols. Berkman shifts to first base, Craig plays right field full-time, and Adam Wainwright returns as the staff ace. He touches upon the same possibilities at shortstop as well as Beltran, but mentions the rumor of shopping Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. If they are able to unload one of them, then they could pursue Roy Oswalt. This is extremely unlikely as both pitchers have full no-trade clauses in their contracts. If it were possible, I would have been a bigger fan of granting Mark Buehrle's wish to come to St. Louis.

Personally, I hope they take an adventurous approach and acquire Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes or an international free agent from Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Cespedes is an outfielder who could play center field full-time while Jay fills in for Craig until he returned from the disabled list. If not him then Beltran, Michael Cuddyer, Coco Crisp, or Josh Willingham would be more typical selections who could provide more depth to their outfield.

The more urgent area to fix is their middle infield. The market for second basemen is quite scarce, so it may be wise to bring Nick Punto back for at least another season unless they decide to experiment with Craig or Cuddyer at second. It would be great to see them sign a player like Munenori Kawasaki at shortstop, but I recall reading he only wants to play for the Seattle Mariners with Ichiro Suzuki. Otherwise Rollins, Furcal, or Ronny Cedeno are the only other legitimate choices.

The list of free agent left-handed relief pitchers is ancient, so I hope they decide to trade for somebody or get creative. Perhaps they could convince a left-handed starting pitcher from Japan to convert to the bullpen (Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada), which is unlikely unless they opted to considerably overpay them. If somebody forced me to pick from the free agent pool, I would pick either Darren Oliver or George Sherrill.

I cannot accurately foresee their salaries, especially those supposedly arriving from overseas. The "fantastic" projection is almost certainly overpriced and quite an unrealistic expectation from the Cardinals front office, though it would be quite exciting. I would expect the "realistic" estimate to fall within the $110 million parameters, but it would cause our roster to be aged and brittle. Without further ado here are several variations of the Cardinals 25-man roster: current, fantastic, and realistic.

Current/Projected 25-man Rosters. New acquisitions in rose.

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