Did the Cardinals Really Increase Spending?

While the St. Louis Cardinals' top two amateur signings this summer have been for record amounts, looking at total budgets may leave a different impression.

There is no doubt that St. Louis Cardinals ownership and management deserve major credit for their summer acquisitions to strengthen the organization's Major League roster. The additions of Mark DeRosa, Matt Holliday, Julio Lugo and now John Smoltz have helped turn the club from a contender to the leader and favorite in the 2009 National League Central Division race.

 

The organization has also received kudos for their amateur signings this summer, a key area of focus since the farm system provided at least four top-ten prospects traded away to acquire DeRosa and Holliday.

 

This is the area I will probe further as the positive vibes will surely increase in intensity this week. First-rounder Shelby Miller is scheduled to be paraded in front of the coaches and media at Busch Stadium on Tuesday before reporting to A ball with Quad Cities the next day.

 

Prior to the August 17 signing deadline for June draftees, the Cardinals closed deals with 43 of their 50 players drafted, an 86% success rate. That was almost identical to their 43-of-51 (84%) rate in 2008 and almost identical to their 2007 take of 87% (45 signed of 52 drafted).

 

The Cardinals seemed to have gotten the players they wanted, securing signed contracts from their top 15 draftees and 19 of their first 20 selected. The cornerstone of the draft was the last to sign.

 

Miller, the 19th overall selection, came to terms on the final day. His take was a record bonus for a Cardinals draftee at $2.875 million. The big money given the Texas high school hurler overshadowed a level of reduced spending during the remainder of the draft.

 

Overall, the Cardinals spent just over $4.5 million over the first ten rounds this year, according to Baseball America. That ranked the organization right in the middle - 16th of 30 in MLB. (As an aside, bonuses tend to drop off dramatically after ten rounds, making this a reasonably valid year-to-year comparison vehicle.)

 

However since different organizations have different numbers of draft picks due to compensation matters, it may be more informative to also look at the average spent per player over the first ten rounds. The Cardinals' average of just under $451,000 placed them 19th in MLB this summer, right behind the Brewers and just ahead of the Twins and Blue Jays.

 

In 2008, the Cardinals spent more in the first ten rounds, as they had an extra pick. They committed just under $4.9 million for 11 players. The average per player was within a few thousand of this season at $448,000.

 

In other words, the club spent almost the same amount per player across the top ten rounds in 2009 as they did in 2008 and fewer absolute dollars this year.

 

The year before, in 2007, the club signed ten of their 12 picks in the first ten rounds. That was the year they notoriously passed on New Jersey high school hurler Rick Porcello in favor of Oklahoma prep shortstop Pete Kozma. From their top four picks, pitchers Clayton Mortensen and Jess Todd have since been traded.

 

They most notably missed on Texas' Kyle Russell, their fourth-rounder in 2007, amid rumors of a million dollar bonus either requested or offered. The Cardinals' actual expenditure of $3.78 million over the initial ten rounds averaged out to $378,000 per player.

 

The 2006 Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez draft brought a signing rate of 12 of 13 in the first ten rounds. Total spend was $4.165 million and an average of $347,000.

 

Average spend per player increased from 2006 through 2008 before leveling off in 2009. Total spend over ten rounds hit a spike in 2008 before declining in 2009.

 

Cardinals spending, amateur draft, first ten rounds, 2006-2009 (source: Baseball America)

total $ # signed avg $
2009 $4.508M 10 $451K
2008 $4.893M 11 $445K
2007 $3,781M 10 $378K
2006 $4,165M 12 $347K

 

The biggest-ever amateur signing of any kind by the organization was the reported $3.1 million bonus bestowed this July upon Dominican Republic 16-year-old outfielder Wagner Mateo. Obviously, that signing drew worldwide attention to the Cardinals organization as a player on the global stage.

 

The Mateo contract dwarfed the club's previous largest international deal, the $1.1 million given Mateo's countryman, third baseman Roberto De La Cruz in 2008.

 

Yet the Mateo signing has been the only one from Latin America by the Cardinals over the last two months. I asked a club official about that. He shot back a quick reply. "That is what happens when you spend $3.1 million on one player," he explained.

 

Last summer, the Cardinals spent their money differently. Along with De La Cruz, the Cardinals announced five other big-figure ($100,000 range and up) signings that totaled just under $2.5 million. One contract, that of Santo Franco for a reported $570,000, was later voided over the winter due to background irregularities.

 

Yet after those six contract amounts were announced last July, the Cardinals were still actively pursuing Venezuelan Yorman Rodriguez right up until he signed with the Cincinnati Reds in mid-August for a reported $2.5 million.

 

Therefore, it is clear the Cardinals were willing to commit well over $4 million to international amateur bonuses in 2008 (though they apparently spent less than $2 million when all was said and done). In 2009, they have spent $3.1 million to date.

 

In summary

 

It seems the Cardinals have at best held the line for amateur bonuses across the US but overall have spent slightly more due to Mateo. The growth could increase depending on future signings in the Caribbean, but will likely not approach the apparent budget in 2008.

 

That is not an indictment of the Cardinals organization in any way. As noted above, they have directed considerable financial resources at the Major League level while still maintaining middle-of-the-pack spending levels on amateurs.

 

That is how it should be properly represented however, with "maintained" instead of "dramatically increased" being the operative descriptor for their 2009 amateur financial commitments.

 

Update: I have been informed the Cardinals manage their budgets on a fiscal year that runs from November through October. As a result, "later" signings from last winter such as Jose Pena are applied against the current budget, not last year's. This means the exact timing of signings are important in trying to make year-to-year comparisons.

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.

 

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