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Cardinals COULD afford Scherzer or Lester

I keep hearing from a lot of folks that the St. Louis Cardinals can't afford to sign a top starting pitcher like Max Scherzer or Jon Lester and I just don't get it.

The Redbirds have tons of payroll flexibility now. And they'll soon have even more which would allow St. Louis to potentially back load a deal to make it fit.

The Cardinals had a payroll of only $111 million last year which was the 13th highest in Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, they had the second-highest attendance in the majors. Obviously, there is more to the financial equation of a professional sports team that tickets sold. But attendance plus associated revenue like concessions sold and merchandising, plus an increase in national television revenue, make a up a large chunk of the revenue pie. Meanwhile, we see teams that are less strongly supported afford payrolls of $125-$130 million. There is no doubt the Birds could afford another $20 million in payroll. And ownership has stated they see payroll increasing to that realm.

The Cardinals added the $8.3 million salary of Jason Heyward. But, at the same time, they shaved $12 million from expired contract of Jason Motte and another $5.5 million because of the merciful end of the Redbirds' relationship with Mark Ellis. They'll see guys like Jon Jay and Lance Lynn get raises through arbitration. But they've shaved off Shane Robinson's money and look like they'll be parting with Daniel Descalso to offset some of the increases.

After the 2015 season, the Birds will rid themselves of $9.375 paid to Jaime Garcia. Then after 2016 they'll be able to erase Matt Holliday's $17 million off the books. Meanwhile, Jhonny Peralta's contract shrinks from $15 million in 2015 to $12.5 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017. Adam Wainwright's deal has four years remaining. Whichever pitcher the Cardinals potentially sign will sign for a term beyond the contracts of the current high-dollar players.

That's an important consideration. Because, while the Birds will try to continue to develop players, they're going to eventually need a new group of core players to replace the Hollidays, Molinas and Wainwrights.

Scherzer, who supposedly turned down $144 million over six years from the Detroit Tigers, would likely cost at least $160 million over seven years. And that's if Scherzer gives St. Louis a bit of a home town discount. That works out to an average of more than $22.8 million a year. The team could pay $18.33 million for each of the first three years and then, after Holliday's deal expires, pay $30 million in 2018 and 2019, then phase the deal out at the end with years of $25 million and $20 million. 

I'm not saying the Cardinals SHOULD pay that amount. It's always a risk giving a pitcher a long term deal. But I am saying that, with all the money coming off the books plus a reasonable increase in the payroll, if the team decided a top pitcher was a difference maker, they COULD afford to pay it.