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The Cardinals have plenty of money to use this offseason, and they need to spend it

Will the St. Louis Cardinals spend big this winter? They have the money — and the need for future faces of the franchise

While baseball is still being played elsewhere, unfortunately, it’s time to start thinking about next year for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The first place to start in any club’s offseason plans is the budget, which is always a primary factor in how a team’s roster will be shaped. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot about how the Redbirds have their hands tied thanks to the unfortunate contract of outfielder Dexter Fowler. But, while the outfielder will put a $16.5 million dent in the budget through 2021, St. Louis is saving so much money other places that it can afford to take the hit.

If St. Louis doesn’t chase free agent slugging outfielder Bryce Harper this off season, it’s not because the club can’t afford it. It’s because the front office decided to spend money other places or to save its “dry powder.” You can’t sacrifice right field because you’re paying a player to fill that spot and he didn’t work out.

Why can the Birds afford to spend big?

Besides the obvious value of their talent, one of the great benefits of the Redbirds’ influx of young pitching is that the team is getting a lot of bang for its buck on that side of the ball. Some teams spend tens of millions on their starting rotation. If the Cardinals leave Carlos Martinez in the closer role, the club could have Miles Mikolas and bunch of guys making at or around the major league minimum filling out the starting five in 2019 and 2020. That means St. Louis could save a bunch of money on the pitching part of the roster, allowing the team to throw some money at its bigger problems, namely, the position players who couldn’t provide enough offense or field well enough to bring home the National League Central Division title.

With a payroll just shy of $160 million last year, the Cardinals will shed a great deal of their financial obligations beyond the Fowler contract. Adam Wainwright made $19.5 million last year and Greg Holland made $14 million. There is enough savings between the two of them to make a major acquisition of a starting position player. But there are other places additional savings could be realized.

One place that would be a good fit for a new middle of the order hitter would be third base. The Cardinals don’t seem sold on the idea that Jedd Gyorko is an everyday player. After he played in 128 games in his eye-opening first year in St. Louis, Gyorko has stalled out at 125 games played each of the following seasons. His home run totals fell over the past three years from 30 to 20 to 11. TGyorko is certainly a useful player. But the Cardinals seem to prefer him in a utility type role. With a salary that jumps from $9 million in 2018 to $12 million in 2019, that’s a pretty big commitment of financial resources to a part-time player. (Even considering that the Birds will receive $2.5 million from San Diego next season to defray the cost of Gyorko.) Besides, the Cardinals can get more versatility and younger legs at a fraction of the cost from Yairo Munoz.

Michael Wacha made $5.3 million in 2018 and would likely get a raise in his last trip to the arbitration table if he were to stick around. But the Birds might bid him a fond farewell with all the young pitching bucking for a major league roster spot if the club can find a trade partner.

While the Cardinals can’t magically make Fowler’s paychecks go away — or Luke Gregerson’s for that matter — they can save $3 million by not bringing back makeshift closer Bud Norris and they’ll save the $1.2 millon Tyler Lyons was making before he was cut loose.

St. Louis has about $105 million committed at this moment toward next season, which would seem to leave more than $50 million in the bank for acquisitions without expanding the payroll. And the team is committed to spending only $75 million in 2020 at this point.

Will the Cardinals spend a third of a billion on Harper or Manny Machado this winter? I’d be shocked. But the team could spend that much, which means the sky is the limit this winter. With Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina only under team control for two more years and Marcell Ozuna a free agent after next season, the team really needs to think about who the faces of the franchise will be in three years.