Friends and colleagues have been laughing at me for a year over my suggestion that the St. Louis Cardinals could be players in the Bryce Harper or Manny Machado sweepstakes.
The Redbirds’ mounting reputation as also-rans — the type of organization that makes a bid for the likes of David Price and Justin Turner only to finish second in the negotiations — certainly gives them plenty of ammunition in the argument against me.
But their failure to ink a big-fish free agent has less to do with the money than it does with the circumstances. It’s a matter of standard operating procedure and a point I’ve made before: The Cardinals do not invest top dollar in players for their declining years.
That’s why it’s the Los Angeles Angels fans who have had to watch Albert Pujols’ five-year slide from the statistically best position player in baseball to the worst. And it’s probably why Lance Lynn will be pitching in a different uniform in 2018.
But Harper, a three-time All Star and National League MVP by the time he turned 22, and Machado, a Gold Glover at third base who averages 30 home runs per season, are going to hit free agency in 2018 at just 25 years old.
That fits the Cardinals M.O. The team could easily offer a 10- or 15-year deal with multiple walk options after five seasons. In return, they’d get Harper and Machado in their primes, not at the tail end of their careers.
And there is absolutely no question that the Cardinals will have the cash to afford what might be a $40 million-per-year deal.
The team potentially sheds $50 million at the end of this season with the expiration of contracts to Jhonny Peralta, Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Duke, Seung-Hwan Oh, Lance Lynn, and Mike Leake, whose five-year deal was traded Wednesday to Seattle. The great Adam Wainwright and his $19 million salary will likely come off the books at the end of next season, too.
Meanwhile, lineup regulars Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty, Yadier Molina and Dexter Fowler all are under contract through at least 2020. And the Memphis Millenials — Paul DeJong, Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Aledmys Diaz, Luke Voit, etc. — gives St. Louis cost-controlled depth.
Finally, the Cardinals are set to cash in on a new television contract with Fox Sports Midwest that will pay out $1 billion over the next 15 years.
Either Harper or Machado would fit nicely into an offense stacked with quality players, but lacking for two seasons with the middle-of-the-lineup thumper that makes everyone else around them that much better.
Now enter Giancarlo Stanton, who apparently can be had in a trade.
The Miami Marlins’ outfielder is hitting a career-high .295 and leads the league with 51 home runs, a .670 slugging percentage and a 1.057 OPS. He’s under contract through 2027 with a mutual option for 2028.
He’s just 27 years old, too.
National Baseball Writer Bob Nightengale has cited a “high-ranking Marlins executive” who says the Cardinals are among three teams to make serious inquiries about Stanton.
What would it cost the Cardinals in the way of prospects? And would Stanton wave his full no-trade contract to play in St. Louis?
It’s hard to say.
But at an annual average rate of $28.5 million per year, Stanton would be a bargain for the Cardinals.