Analyzing the Offseason Spending Power of the 2019 Cardinals

Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing the Offseason Spending Power of the 2019 Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

Analyzing the Offseason Spending Power of the 2019 Cardinals


Although the true beginning to the offseason is still a few weeks away, it’s not too soon to begin thinking about what us fans would like to see the Cardinals do when that time comes.

And with that in mind, it’s as good a time as any to look at the Cardinals payroll situation heading into the winter. This information helps us to understand what is and is not a viable option and where available resources are best allocated. With knowledge of the projected payroll and the team’s recent payroll trends, we can get an idea of their spending power this winter.

So let’s get down to brass tax.

Recent Trends

Let’s begin with a 5-year overview of the Cardinals payroll, rounded to nearest .5 Million. (Figures courtesy of and USA Today)

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Total Salary (Base+Bonus) $143M $139M $156.5M $157.5M $177.5M
Adjusted Salary (Actual Paid) $121M $132M $149.M $145.5M $164M
Opening Day $91M $103M $123M $131.5M $147M

A quick explanation on the differing figures. The Total Salary includes the base salary of every player that appeared on the active roster or disabled list during the season. This includes, for instance, a player like Edmundo Sosa, who only actually received a pro-rated $23,440 salary for his brief time at the MLB level this year. However, the total team salary reflects the full $545,000 base salary that the pro-ration was derived from.

The total salary shows how much base salary they committed to, but it is the Adjusted Salary that shows how much they actually paid out for the year.

Those figures serve more as a reference point for how much a payroll can grow over the course of a season, when compared to the Opening Day figure.

The Opening Day figure is the one we want to pay attention to when it comes to truly examining the team’s willingness to grow payroll, season to season. It reflects the amount of salary the team has committed to paying with the roster constructed during the winter. As we can see, this organization has expanded their Opening Day payroll by $56M dollars over the last 5 seasons.

Typically, over this time, the payroll sees a $10-12M jump year-to-year, with a willingness to add anywhere from $15-30M over the course of the year. For the sake of round numbers, we’ll say they expand it by $13M this season, to an opening day figure of $160M. With $30M of “dry powder” built in, they can stretch the payroll up to $190M with in-season moves. This figure is still comfortably below the $206M luxury tax threshold, which would lead to penalties.

So for the sake of this post, we’ll figure on an Opening Day payroll of $160M, but at least consider that, given the right opportunity, they may dip into the “dry powder” a little early and expand to $175-180M.

This leads up to a breakdown of the roster to give us the committed payroll heading into the offseason.

projecting 2019


  1. San Diego is paying $5M as their last obligation in the Jedd Gyorko trade. While this does offset his salary, the Cardinals are, in turn, paying Seattle $5M as their final obligation in the Mike Leake trade. Since these offset each other, I’ll just show Gyorko’s full salary and not show Leake’s sunk cost.
  2. Wainwright’s contract terms have yet to be disclosed. Indication are that this is incentive laden. For the sake of this exercise, I’ll assume that the base salary is around $5M, with lucrative incentives. However, those incentives would factor into the “dry powder” and not the Opening Day payroll.
  3. Arbitration figures are estimates via MLBTradeRumors, notated with (^).
  4. Minimum salary is $555K in 2019, the Cardinals typically pay $5-10K over minimum for *important* Pre-Arb 2 & 3 players. For those that made over min. in 2018, I carried the overage and added that to 2019 min., these estimates are noted with (*).
  5. You’ll notice there are 41 players listed for the 40-man roster. Someone will be have to be released at the open of the offseason. At most, this is a savings of $900K (Garcia) and at least a savings of the minimum. I will reflect that on an adjustments line. Players will also need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. However, this will result in straight swaps of min. salary. Also figured into the adjustments will be the fact that, due to a 25-man active roster, you are not going to pay the entirety of the salary for spots 26-40. Being minimum salaries, I have excluded 2/3 of them from the projected opening day payroll as an estimate.

Alright, enough of that. Here’s a picture to help you refocus.

Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

And here’s the table.

Player Salary Player Salary
1 Yadier Molina $20M 23 Jordan Hicks $560K*
2 Dexter Fowler $16.5M 24 Harrison Bader $560K*
3 Matt Carpenter $14.75M 25 Yairo Munoz $560K*
4 Marcell Ozuna $13.4M^ 26 Jack Flaherty $560K*
5 Jedd Gyorko $13M 27 Alex Reyes $555K
6 Carlos Martinez $11.7M 28 John Gant $555K
7 Miles Mikolas $7.75M 29 Mike Mayers $555K
8 Brett Cecil $7.75M 30 Austin Gomber $555K
9 Michael Wacha $6.6M^ 31 Tyler O’Neill $555K
10 Kolten Wong $6.5M 32 Dakota Hudson $555K
11 Adam Wainwright $5M 33 Daniel Poncedeleon $555K
12 Luke Gregerson $5M 34 Carson Kelly $555K
13 Paul DeJong $1.67M 35 Adolis Garcia $555K
14 Dominic Leone $1.3M^ 36 Patrick Wisdom $555K
15 Chasen Shreve $1.2M^ 37 Tyler Webb $555K
16 Greg Garcia $900K^ 38 Edmundo Sosa $555K
17 Francisco Pena $650K 39 Justin Williams $555K
18 Jose Martinez $570K* 40 Conner Greene $555K
19 Matt Bowman $570K* 41 Derian Gonzalez $555K
20 John Brebbia $562K* TOTAL PAYROLL $147M
21 Luke Weaver $560K* – Less Adjustments $6M
22 Giovany Gallegos $560K* ADJUSTED PAYROLL $141M

So, we have a current, projected, Opening Day payroll commitment of $141M for 2019. This is, with all of my estimations, $5M less than the Opening Day payroll of 2018 before entering the offseason.

Without getting too deep into offseason needs — we can save that for another day — the Cardinals can add $19M in salary this offseason and stay within the confines of their own recent payroll trends.

However — just to touch on those needs — they do not require a big expenditure on a Starting Pitcher and are unlikely to commit much on a single reliever. They have so many options in both areas (quality can be debated).

For kicks, we’ll say they find another Bud Norris deal and give a veteran reliever $3-4M. This leaves them with about $15M to play with, under normal trends.

All told, with $65 Million separating their projected payroll from the luxury tax threshold, the Cardinals spending power is quite strong. This gives them plenty of room to expand payroll under not-so-normal conditions.

So, this is where I feed the Harper/Machado monster.

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

You knew this was coming, you saw the cover photo…

What I mentioned in the buildup was that, given an incredible opportunity, we may see the team reach into the “dry powder” area of the payroll this winter, rather than saving it for in-season growth.

Either player is an incredible, and rare, opportunity.

If we assume each of these players gets $35M AAV, then to sign one, the Cardinals would be pushing their Opening Day payroll (assuming no other salary reducing moves are made) to about $175M.

While that is a nearly $30M jump from 2018, it is not completely unprecedented. They made a $20M jump from ’15 to ’16. That figure is also comfortably $30M below the luxury tax threshold.

Also, these contracts are likely to feature the largest annual salaries in the middle of the deal, meaning 2019 is probably falling in the $25-30M range, where 2021-25 would see numbers closer to $40M. That $5-10M fluctuation would decrease the payroll spike to $20-25M instead of $30M, making it just a bit more plausible.

It will be mentioned many times this winter that the team was willing to spend prospects AND take on $250M+ to acquire Giancarlo Stanton last winter before he turned them down. Therefore, it’s not out of line to think that a mega-contract is possible.

They have the revenue. They have the payroll space. And in an offseason where the team has 1 or 2 major needs, rather than 7-8 smaller needs, the time is right for this winter to be committed to one big, trans-formative, splash.

For what it’s worth, my target is Bryce Harper.

We’ll see how the process works out.

Thanks for reading!

Follow me on Twitter for more Cards talk:
Or Follow the Bird Law Podcast / Blog:

P.S. – If you are saying, “forget Harper, he’s going to see his buddy Bryant in Chicago,” then consider this. Doing this exercise on the Cubs 2019 payroll — which is in the worst shape among all MLB teams — they project an Opening Day lineup of about $223M, a cool $17M over the luxury tax threshold. At that level, signing Harper (even to a lower starting salary of $25M) would push them to $248M. At that point they are paying a 20% tax for everything between $206-226M ($4M), then 32%  for everything between $226-246M over ($6.4M), then a 62.5% tax for anything over $246M (1.25M). Additionally, their 1st draft pick of 2019 (currently #27) would be pushed back 10 spots to #37. This means a Bryce Harper signing costs them at least $36M in year 1 with the risk of staying above the threshold and seeing even higher taxes in years 2 and beyond, as well as some draft position.

Now, they may decline a couple hefty options and save $30M. They would still find themselves over the threshold, and that’s without making any other moves. And they still have to give a proper payday to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo eventually. And they have very little projectable pitching in their system, meaning they still have to pay premium prices going forward. It is not a pretty picture for the Cubs and they have nowhere near the spending power of the Cardinals.

Stream Live Sports With ESPN+

ESPN+ Free Trial!

More Sports

More St. Louis Cardinals