2011 Organizational Rankings: #13 – St. Louis

The Cardinals were struck a mighty blow to start the season, as they’ll miss their ace Adam Wainwright. That hurts their ranking a bit, as a higher present talent score might have bumped them a spot or three higher. But they’re still strong at No. 13.

Present Talent – 80.45 (t-11th)

Cardinals Team Preview

Future Talent – 75.00 (t-20th)

Cardinals Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 77.50 (15th)
Baseball Operations – 79.55 (14th)

At the major league level we know that the Cardinals can be a threat. They feature one of, if not the, best 3-4 combinations in the game in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. The supporting cast lacks a bit, though Colby Rasmus and Lance Berkman will provide some additional punch on offense. Yet, as with most of our organizational rankings, we have to dig deeper into the Cardinals organization to fully grasp it. While their average marks in financial resources and baseball operations might not seem interesting on the surface, there is a lot that goes into them.

For the past decade St. Louis has ranked in the middle third of the payroll scale. Even in 2008, when the team spent just around $100 million, it still ranked 11th. But in 2011 that number will rise. The Cardinals figure to enter the season with a payroll around $107 million, the highest in team history. They might have to get used to that if they plan to retain their best player and remain competitive.

The Pujols situation highlights the team’s financial situation. Can a mid-market team afford to dump 30 percent of its payroll on a player, even if that is the best player in baseball? If that question isn’t tough on its own, Matt Holliday’s contract complicates it further. He is owed $17 million per season, and while some of that is deferred it still eats into St. Louis’s budget considerably. Then there’s the matter of pitching, something that could get expensive if the Cards don’t see some quick progression from their top pitching prospects.

Currently the Cardinals have just over $49 million committed to the 2012 payroll. That includes Adam Wainwright’s option, which, despite his missing the entire 2011 season, I’m confident they won’t void. But even with Wainwright that $49 million covers only four players: Wainwright, Holliday, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Lohse. It does include buyouts for Yadier Molina and Chris Carpenter, but there’s a good chance that the Cardinals pick them up. That leaves them in a tight spot financially.

Assuming they pick up Carpenter’s and Molina’s options, assuming Colby Rasmus makes around $3 million in his first year of arbitration, and assuming that the Cardinals re-sign Pujols to a contract that pays him $28 million annually, the Cardinals’ payroll situation can become troublesome. Those contracts push it over $100 million for just eight players: four pitchers and a first baseman, left fielder, center fielder, and a catcher. Can the Cardinals support this kind of payroll while also paying arbitration-eligible players (Skip Schumaker, Kyle McClellan) and otherwise filling out the roster? If not, they could run into a slew of future problems.

The team could decline Carpenter’s $15 million option and put that money towards compiling the rest of the team, but that leaves them in a tough spot for pitching. They have three other starters under contract, but one is coming off Tommy John surgery and another is Kyle Lohse (who represents the current administration’s worst move). That doesn’t make for a very stable rotation. The free agent market doesn’t look very appealing, and in any case Carpenter is among the best available options. Maybe he gets hurt and comes back cheaper in 2012, but if he’s healthy and effective in 2011 the Cardinals will probably lose him if they don’t pick up the option. Yet even without him they’re looking at an $85 million payroll with 18 spots left to fill.

This is where that middle-of-the-road baseball ops department comes into play. With or without Carpenter they’re going to have a difficult off-season ahead of them. They first have the Pujols situation front-and-center, and then have all of those free roster spots with little remaining money. Maybe a few of their young arms, including Shelby Miller, can help provide production on the cheap. Outfielders such as Jon Jay and Allen Craig will also be available for around the league minimum. But is that enough for the Cardinals to contend? Can they contend at all if Pujols leaves after the season? These are all questions facing that baseball ops department. Their answers will go a long way in determining which side of average they land on in 2012.

The baseball ops situation is further muddied by all the hands involved in the decision making. Tony LaRussa wields more power than most managers, and his moves can come as a detriment to the team. For instance, we know he likes Skip Schumaker, but how much will his influence count as Schumaker enters his second arbitration year this off-season? Will Dave Duncan convince the team to sign or trade for a fairly expensive veteran whom he thinks he can reclaim? Or will he find someone on the cheap? These are all questions that make it more difficult to judge St. Louis’s baseball ops department, because they’re issues that other clubs, for the most part, do not face.

A strong major league team factors strongly into the Cardinals ranking No. 13 on our organizational list. It’s a bit of a downgrade from last year’s rankings, when they were the No. 10 organization. An August collapse out of the playoff picture will do that. Now the team faces a difficult situation, with its payroll peaking as it needs more money to sign its superstar. The Cardinals ranked middle of the pack in baseball ops and financial resources this year, but depending on how they handle these situations this season into the off-season, they won’t be average at this time next year. There’s a ton at play in St. Louis right now.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

39 Responses to “2011 Organizational Rankings: #13 – St. Louis”

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  1. eric says:

    seems about right, good analysis

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    • JohnOrpheus says:

      seems about right until you look at some of the teams ahead of them, namely the a’s, angels (must be ranked so high soley on the basis of finances, never mind that a lot of those finances are committed to vernon wells), and tigers. i get it that the al teams get a boost for being in the al, but given the card’s history of past success and quality of high level talent, I’d put them ahead of the those three at least.

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    I said STL would be 14, one click above BAL.

    I think the BaseOps is way high … and for all the reasons you mentioned in this article.

    As I previously stated, I really under-appreciated Walt when he was in StL.

    I would have the BaseOps in the low-mid 20s. But, I would question the 20th rating for future talent for the reason that unlike other organizations there is a legit ACE prospect in the system, rather than a bunch of 3’s.

    All this is considering that Rasmus, Garcia, and Freese just came up.

    But this ranking is where I figured they’d end up. In terms of real success, they’re a top 10 team (at least with Wainwright).

    Please tell me the Blue Jays or Twins are next.

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    • Nate says:

      Most likely Angels next then followed by a batch consisting of Blue Jays, A’s, Rockies and Reds.

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      • Ed says:

        A’s already posted at #18, but otherwise I think you’re probably right. I was surprised that the Angels haven’t shown up yet after a poor showing in 2010 and an even worse off season.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Because despite some of the moves, the LAA have financial clout, some very good players, and quite a bit of future talent.

        IMO, they are a very balanced/quality organization.

        Last year, they were “horrible”, just “gawdawful horrible”, just “unbelievably bad” … well, they were 80-82.

        They’re good … whether we like or it not.

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      • Nate says:

        @Ed, right, for some reason their org rank post is not listed in the table.

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      • fredsbank says:

        if the rockies arent 7-9 that would be pretty surprising

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  3. Xeifrank says:

    I have the Cardinals ranked #13, so I am in good agreement with this one. The mediocre minor league system keeps them out of the top ten. They sure will be at a big crossroad this offseason with the Pujols free agency looming.

    Toronto, Colorado and Cincy would be my next three.

    Hopefully one of the mods can put Oakland and their #18 ranking on the front page chart. :)

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  4. Mike L says:

    By signing Lohse and Westbrook, they tied up way too much money in pitching, while depriving them of the Dave Duncan effect, their best competitive advantage next to Pujols. I think they’d have been much better off trying to find more reclamation projects like Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Joel Pineiro, Brady Penny, etc.

    The outlook past this season is pretty bleak, in my opinion.

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  5. Ryan says:

    For next year, aren’t Pujols and CArpenter mutually exclusive? I really doubt they can pick up the tap on both Pujols’ mega-contract and Carpenter’s $15 million.

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    • legaryd says:

      Considering how it would impact their chance to win in 2012, you’d think that an organization able to give out a $230+ million dollar contract would be able to well-capitalized enough to spend an extra $15 million above budget this year in order to make the playoffs and generate more revenue in 2011 and in the future.

      Also if they can’t re-sign Pujols you’d think that the Cards would throw in the towel for 2012 and decline the option, or exercise the option with the intention of trading Carpenter for prospects. Once Pujols leaves, and it becomes clear they aren’t contenders, a lot of fans will likely skip the show.

      Although maybe I’m being a pessimist in thinking the Cardinals have no shot with Pujols, look what happened to the M’s w/o A-Rod.

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  6. Bob says:

    Not sure I concur with a middling ranking for Baseball Ops. Since the new GM took over, the team’s run differential has progressed as follows:

    1st year, improved massively from -104 runs to +54 runs
    2nd year, improved again, to +90 runs
    3rd year, improved yet again to +95

    Moreover, it was current GM John Mozeliak who signed cornerstones Wainwright and Molina to very team-friendly, long term contracts a few years ago. Yes, Lohse was an overpay…but coming off a fine ’08 season, and with a looong history of excellent health, the ensuing disasters of ’09/’10 could not reasonably have been anticipated.

    Personally, I can’t name 5 GM’s I’d rather have than Mo, or 5 managers I’d prefer to LaRussa (frustrating though some of his moves sometimes are). And Dave Duncan remains of the top 2 or 3 pitching coaches, of course.

    Also, financial resources at #15? Isn’t St. Louis in the 9-11 range in revenues annually? And isn’t their attendance/regional TV ratings among the most stable in all of MLB? Can’t see how that makes for #15.

    Overall, I see the team behind four or five others for sure, but no lower than 8-10.

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    • gnomez says:

      I think the ranking is about accurate – I’d have financials higher and ops lower. The Cards haven’t been out of the top 10 in revenues in the last decade.and FSMW is a major tv draw. It doesn’t hurt that the ownership also owns nearly all the parking within walking distance. STL could reasonably support a 130-140m payroll. Baseball ops on the other hand are a mess. The Molina/Waino extensions, and Edmonds/Freese and Holliday trades were great, but on the other hand: Glaus/Rolen, Khalil Greene, Suppdux, KYLE LOHSE (when Pineiro couldve been signed for the same), PEDRO FELIZ, not to mention out-bidding thenselves for Holliday, the shameful infield juggling this past offseason, and the embarrassing Pujols contract fiasco, Mo’s front office, no matter what you argue TLR’s influence has been (Winn, Miles, etc.) has looked an awful lot like Omar Minaya on a budget. With underestimating the finances and overestimating the front office which is an embarrassment to the memory of Jocketty’s days in STL, the ranking balances out to about where it should be.

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      • 51 says:

        What is the basis for your 130-140m payroll assumption. That is a philly like revenue projection for a much smaller media market.

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      • gnomez says:

        My basis for that is that they are already in the 90-100m range. FSMW has also been in the top ten for ten years in TV ratings. Because of the geographic spread of their media market, while certainly smaller than Philly, is closer than you would think.

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  7. Tim says:

    Yeah this ranking is way too low, considering the Cardinals have the best record in the National League the last decade.

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    • You’re reading this wrong if you think their past decade has anything to do with the team’s health going forward.

      I think it’s a fair ranking overall. This may be a “last hurrah” year for the aforementioned successful Cardinals club depending on what happens with Pujols, etc. After 2011, their future is very much up in the air, and their future talent is not good enough at this point to make up for the losses.

      The Cards are probably due for a rebuild here fairly quick.

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      • Bad Bill says:

        People have been predicting “last hurrah,” “win now,” etc., years for the Cardinals since at least 2001. Will this be the “real” last hurrah this year? Credible, given the Pujols situation. But they’ve heard it before, and continued to win.

        To me, the St. Louis ranking exposes some flaws in the methodology here, although that methodology is undoubtedly much improved over last year. For most teams (the Cardinals being one of them), “Future Talent” is so volatile from year to year that I’m not convinced it plays as strong a role in the health of an organization as the methodology implies. Sure, there are perennially good (Atlanta, Tampa Bay) and bad (Houston) farm systems. But most teams’ systems vary enough from year to year that a one-season snapshot in time doesn’t strike me as a very productive way to view the franchise’s strengths and weaknesses. Five-year rolling average, maybe? And on the flip side, surely there should be more attention paid to a team’s success in filling the ballpark, which enables high payrolls. On an attendance-per-capita (size of metropolitan area) basis, nobody does that better than the Cardinals. Also lacking is anything about team health (they aren’t high ranking on this count), where it seems to me that current status and recent performance are a decent indicator of organizational strength for the next several years.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I agree. The Cardinals may see Pujols replaced by Berkman/Craig … Or perhaps Fielder. They may have Carp, they may not. Waino may come back strong, he may not.

    Their minor league system takes a hit because the bulk of their talent is in low minors, because Rasmus, Garcia, Freese are up. Garcia and Rasmus are 2 valuable players to come out.

    StL is starting Skip at 2B and Theriot at SS. Theriot will be a low walk leadiff man. Skip may be a no field version of Ryan depending on BABIP.

    Admittingly, they are a tough team to gauge … And Pujols allows them some mistakes b/c he’s so dang good. He literally is the difference between them and a lot of clubs.

    Their success or lack of it is going to depend a lot on Lohse and Westbrook. This is no longer the team of 2004-06, and that’s getting to be anchient history. The Cards perhaps more than any other team benefit from their division. What the Cards did in the 2000, the Reds may do in this decade.

    The GM’s legacy will likely be determined by this season and the offseason. There are some very tough, and perhaps, unpopular decisions to be made.

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  9. Anthony says:

    The Cards can sustain a much higher payroll. Much like the Twins, you can’t just look at the city the play in but “who within any radius is actually any good”. I bet they’re cards fans in Memphis. I KNOW that 85% of Missouri is Cards fans, I wouldn’t be surprised if the western half of IL or most of Iowa was. Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, are all also probably cards fans. Their TV coverage stretches into Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. They’re consistently near the top in attendance.

    I really don’t see how they’re not considered borderline large. My analogy is this, they’re not living in the gated community, but they’re the only one in their subdivision with a pool and cadillac.

    All that said, Mozeliak is a bad GM. I don’t care about run differential, that can be because Carp and Waino throw shut outs for their starts and it causes an imbalance. They lost Jocketty, they started losing and the Reds are the defending NL Central champs and have a solid young core and a decent farm system. The Cards are top heavy and have no farm. The ONLY thing STL has going for it right now is that they can have a higher payroll and they can conrol their own destiny as far as signing the best player and a top 5 pitcher. Rasmus will never develope because LaRussa will tell him to stop playin ball on his lawn until one of them leaves.

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    • Nick says:

      You lost me at “I don’t care about run differential.”

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    • Jason B says:

      “Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, are all also probably cards fans.”

      Living around Nashville, it’s a mix of Braves, Cards, and Reds fan bases here. Probably about 50/20/20/10 for ATL/STL/CIN/rest.

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  10. Stan says:

    I continued to be amazed that the national media think the Cardinals will sign Pujols long term. In every article like this one they appear to assume in and then work backwards- noticing how hard it would be for the Cardinals to do. Like most people I did assume Pujols would re-sign before spring training but when you see how far apart the two sides were and how small the dollars and years were in the Cards’ offer it becomes clear that its just not going to happen. My prediction is he gets traded in July to one of five or six teams he chooses. The Cardinals aren’t good enough to win the series and it makes no sense for anyone if he stays until the end of the year.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      The question is whether resigning Pujols makes any impact on the assessment of the org going forward. Without Pujols, they’re without Pujols. But with him they have a 28 million or so per year less to play with and a hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars aging risk on the books. I think it’s a wash.

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    • Go Cards! says:


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  11. Anthony says:

    why did I lose you at “run differential”? Under Mozeliak the cards haven’t accomplished anything and they seem to be going nowhere. Meanwhile, former GM Walt Jocketty has the Reds as defending champs and in position to stay that way. O, but RUN DIFFERENTIAL means he’s doing a good job?

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  12. Sign Pujols says:

    We need to keep Albert Pujols in Cardinals red. Check out http://SignPujols.org for a unique way to do it.

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  13. Joey Napoli says:

    That number 13 team looks pretty damn good right about now!

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    • Kerry W says:

      Yes, in retrospect, many of the comments here don’t look so good.

      “Mozeliak is a bad GM” — some people may still think so, but his moves last year really worked out.

      “the Cardinals aren’t good enough to win the Series and it makes no sense for anyone if he stays until the end of the year” — this needs no explanation :-)

      OTOH, Stan was correct in saying that it was unlikely that Pujols would return in 2012 (he just had the timing wrong), and Anthony is correct in saying that St. Louis is not your typical smaller-market team. This latter fact is why they can afford to reinvent themselves as they have.

      And this from CircleChange11: “The GM’s legacy will likely be determined by this season and the offseason. There are some very tough, and perhaps, unpopular decisions to be made.” was fairly prescient.

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  14. Matt says:

    Yeah, I still think this ranking is way too low, fluke championship or no fluke championship. They’ve got a great farm system now (and have 5 of the first 50 picks in the draft this year IIRC), a ton of financial flexibility and a relatively weak division. There’s absolutely no reason that they shouldn’t be ranked at least as high as the Phillies, if not higher.

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