ST. LOUIS — Spending is way up in baseball, especially in the National League, as we've seem from a number of St. Louis Cardinals' league-foes like the Padres, Mets, Dodgers and Phillies.
While the Cardinals have typically been a successful franchise without the over-spending we see in L.A. and San Diego it’s not like they stood pat entirely this off-season. They did sign Willson Contreras to a five-year/$87 million contract which became the largest free-agent contract given to a player by the Cardinals who didn’t play for the team previously. And compared to some of the other deals handed out by MLB teams this winter, it is not high at all.
The Cardinals are going to be in serious need of pitching help with a number of starters on expiring deals, plus Adam Wainwright's impending retirement. So there was some expectation they could make a splash in the pitching market this offseason, but that hasn't happened.
Even without too many big flashy moves, the Cardinals have a solid roster and they’re always a threat to do well in the National League Central division and make the playoffs. JD Hafron, host of the Locked On Cardinals podcast said on the latest episode, he would love to have an ace on the Cards’ pitching staff but, “if none are available, then you’ve just gotta trust the guys who have already.”
And it seems the team is taking that same approach.
Last week, Cardinals CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. spoke at the Winter Warm up, a fundraising event held annually in St. Louis, and the big topic of the event was all the other National League teams spending money this offseason, mainly the New York Mets, Los Angeles, Philadelphia Phillies, and San Diego Padres and why the Cardinals won’t do the same.
Hafron went through some of the things DeWitt said with an assist from Katie Woo of The Athletic, but here are some of the highlights which will explain why the Cardinals aren’t handing over many big-money contracts like other National League teams.
DeWitt Jr. said, “We do have big spenders in the National League, no question about that. But it’s a competitive game, and we’ll do our best to compete with the big spenders.” The Cardinals aren’t crying poor as other teams have done recently—the Red Sox and Reds owners made some negative comments about the competitive nature of baseball ownership in recent weeks much to the chagrin of their fanbases.
The Cardinals are a middle-of-the-road team when it comes to payroll and overall revenue, ranking #12 on both lists. But DeWitt pointed out, “The bigger markets (New York, Los Angeles, et al) have other revenue sources, their prices are higher, they generate way more revenue, specifically the top six or seven teams.”
He added, “It’s not to say we can’t. If opportunity presents itself that we can spend some money and improve the club, we’ll do it. But it is hard to do, and we don’t want to do something where down the road we’re going to say we’re stuck with this and it would prevent us from doing at that point in time what we’d like to do.”
Cardinals fans should be happy that DeWitt is saying that if he has the opportunity to spend, he will and that when he discusses the largest markets having it easier, he doesn’t sound resentful.
DeWitt also brought up the randomness of the playoffs and how you can make the playoffs a bunch of times but not advance as far as you’d like to. Case in point for the Cardinals, they’ve only won one out of their last 10 playoff games.
But DeWitt thinks the team as constructed heading into Spring Training in a few weeks is a playoff-caliber team that has a “good blend of older players, young players who have performed.” He added, “(and) we haven’t had to sacrifice the future for it. If we can continue to do that, I’m confident we’ll have success over time.”
So the Cardinals aren’t spending obscene amounts of money like other teams around baseball because it’s what they’ve done since the DeWitt's bought the team in 1996. They won’t change their model even though spending in baseball is trending upward and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.