Why not Mark Buehrle?

The most popular question that seems to be coming out of the Colby Rasmus to the White Sox rumors seems to be:

Why not Mark Buehrle?

Why not Mark Buehrle, indeed. The 32 year old pitcher has 155 wins and a 3.82 ERA over his 12 seasons in the big leagues. He has thrown 200 or more innings in 10 of those, and is on pace to do it again. The fewest games he’s started when he’s been on the roster all year is 30 games. Not to mention he grew up a Cardinals fan and lives near St. Louis.

Buehrle has often spoken of his desire to play for the Cardinals before his playing days are over. He has 10/5 rights as a veteran player for the White Sox, but fans ask, wouldn’t he waive them for the Cardinals?

He probably would, and most Cardinals fans would prefer that option to Edwin Jackson, I know I would. But it ends up being the cost factor that would have the Cardinals backing out of a potential deal for Buehrle.

As it turns out, Buehrle has an option for 2012 that kicks in if he is traded. That option adds up to $16 million total. He gets an extra $1 million this year for being traded and $15 million the next year as his salary.

After the trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers, John Mozeliak was asked why the Cardinals weren’t in on the player popularly known as “K-Rod.” Mozeliak said that Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option would have handcuffed the team financially next year. So if, Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option will handcuff the team, so will Buehrle $15 million one.

Time for some number crunching to see just how true this statement turns out being.

Right now the Cardinals have $68 million on guaranteed salary going into next year for 7 players. Those would be Matt Holliday, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Adam Wainwright (assuming we pick up the options), Yadier Molina, Zack Cox, and Jaime Garcia. So that’s 6 major league players as I don’t expect Cox to break the MLB roster out of spring training next year.

The Cardinals also have five players in arbitration (Rasmus would make 6, but we assume he’s now a White Sox for the sake of this discussion). Ryan Theriot probably earns himself a raise to $4 million despite the offensive and defensive drop off. Skip Schumaker still has an arbitration year and likely gets at least $3 million. Kyle McClellan is likely due $3 million in arbitration. Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs likely both receive $1 million. Yes, I admit that I likely overestimated some players. That brings the total up to $80 million committed to those 11 players.

Out of those 11 players, you have 4 starting pitchers, 4 starting position players, and 3 relievers. Leaving you 5 starting positions, 1 starting pitcher, and 4 relievers to fill with the remaining approximately $30 million, if you view this year’s $109 million salary as roughly the top end of what the team has budgeted to spend on payroll. During the preseason, management talked about “leaking” payroll in that they were about at the point they were going to break their budget. And remember, if we want to bring Albert Pujols back, we have to squeeze him into that $30 million there too.

Obviously with Jon Jay, David Freese, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Lance Lynn, Tony Cruz, and company you can fill a lot of those remaining roles with minimum wage earning young talent. And it looks like the Cardinals will have to do that in order to keep payroll in a reasonable position.

The biggest “acquisition” the Cardinals are likely to make this offseason is Adam Wainwright. Nothing like adding a Cy Young caliber pitcher coming off Tommy John to your rotation, right?

Unfortunately, those salary constraints limit who the Cardinals can go after to players who are either cost controlled or rental-type players, which is why Edwin Jackson even interests them in the first place. He solves their issues now, gets them some more cost-controlled talent, and lets them move McClellan to the bullpen to shore up that problem for the rest of this year. Delays having to deal with the issue.

Of course, the obvious question then to ask Buehrle is: If you were to waive your no trade rights to come to the Cardinals, would you turn your automatic option into a mutual option?

Either way, if I’m Mozeliak, I’m calling Buehrle up on the first day of free agency this winter and asking what he’s looking for. If I can swing it, I’m inking that deal.

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