St. Louis Cardinals: If only Bill Belichick ran this show …

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before his team plays against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before his team plays against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals, stuck with a number of suffocating contracts, could learn a lot about savvy salary management from a pro football coach with eight Super Bowl rings.

Bill Belichick, winner of two Super Bowls as a Giants assistant and six as head coach of the Patriots, has mastered the salary cap, something no one would ever say of St. Louis Cardinals president John Mozeliak. And make no mistake, there is a salary cap, or at least a loose limit, on how much St. Louis management will spend every year. This means every bad signing and every overpaid ballplayer limits what the team can and will do to supplement the talent base.

Currently, the Cardinals have “virtually no financial flexibility,” according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic.

Here are three Hoodie tenets that Cardinals management should have adopted a long time ago:

Never. Buy. High.
Belichick shuns the high-auction bidding that descends on big-name players coming off career years, preferring to acquire veterans like Rodney Harrison, Randy Moss,

and Jamie Collins when their price tag has been slashed. The Cardinals’ Mozeliak takes the opposite tack, throwing money at players who have never been more pricey, and probably never will again. Examples:

Mike Leake, 2015. The 27-year-old had his highest-ever WAR (2.9) while pitching for the Reds and Giants in 2015. Mo signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal, some of which the Cardinals are STILL paying (according to, they owe him $4 million for 2020).
Dexter Fowler, 2016. An OK ballplayer from 2008 to 2015, the 30-year-old’s sticker price spiked after he received his only All-Star selection, generated a career-high WAR (4.3) and won a World Series ring with the 2016 Cubs. Mozeliak vastly overpaid a player entering his decline years, signing Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
Marcell Ozuna, 2017. The 26-year-old had a 2016 OPS of .924 which was .151 higher than any previous season. The Cards traded three prospects who combined for a 4.8 WAR last year, which was nearly triple (1.7) that generated by Ozuna.

Many fans would love to see the Cardinals pursue the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon in free agency, but the club’s financial inflexibility makes that all but impossible — which might be for the best.

Signing Rendon would be the ultimate buying-high proposition. Coming off a career year (34 homers, a league-leading 126 RBIs, a 1.010 OPS, a World Series ring), the 29-year-old will command a mammoth contract. He may prove worth it, but the potential downside can’t be ignored.

2. Don’t. Be. Sentimental.
A long list of Belichick favorites were shoved out when they got too old or expensive, including Ty Law, Adam Vinatieri, Wes Welker, Mike Vrabel and Vince Wilfork.

Cardinals fans tend to adore their icons, and it was certainly sweet seeing Adam Wainwright, 37, and Yadier Molina, 36, still wearing St. Louis uniforms in 2019. Yadi, second in salary to Paul Goldschmidt with a $20 million-a-year deal, is vastly overpaid per his current production, but the Cardinals tend to overcompensate their most-loved, longest-tenured veterans.

That may explain the generous extension awarded Matt Carpenter, a lifelong Redbird with an $18.5 million-a-year deal that runs for two and maybe three (with an option) more years. Coming off a career year (36 homers, .897 OPS) in 2018, the 33-year-old infielder signed a two-year, $39 million extension, even though he was signed through 2019.

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Carpenter’s miserable 2019 season makes that contract look like a blunder. While many were blindsided by his .171-point OPS nosedive, it’s hardly shocking that a player approaching his mid-30s would suffer a drop-off in performance. At 33, the Angels’ Albert Pujols cobbled a sorry .258/.330/.437 slash line, a stark contrast to his .328/.422/.617 slash in 11 St. Louis seasons.

Mozeliak should have anticipated the possibility, if not the likelihood, that Carp would fade as fast if not faster than Pujols, yet he gave him a too-long, too-sweet deal that gobbles way too much of the team’s overall payroll.

Like Wainwright and Molina, Carp has been a good guy as well as a good player. The Cardinals like to reward folks like that. But big-bucks contracts to potentially fading performers can be a killer. Currently, three fading oldsters — Molina, Fowler and Carpenter — account for 36.86 percent of the team’s salaries.

Such salary mismanagement would make the Hoodie frown — even more than usual.

3. Find. Bargain. Players.
One of Belichick’s great skills is identifying and acquiring young, cheap, overlooked players who would fit in and flourish within the Patriots’ system. In 2001, he signed free agent linebacker Mike Vrabel, 26; in 2007, he traded for wide receiver Wes Welker, 26; in 2009, he signed free agent linebacker Rob Ninkovich, 25; in 2016, he traded for linebacker Kyle Van Noy, 25.

Former Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty had Hoodie-like success in snagging somewhat older players. Look at some of the initially low-priced talent he acquired from 1999 to 2004:

• 1999: Signed free agent catcher Mike Matheny, 29, and traded for second baseman Fernando Vina, 30
• 2000: Traded for outfielder Jim Edmonds, 29
• 2001: Signed free agent reliever Jason Isringhausen, 29
• 2002: Signed free agent pitcher Chris Carpenter, 27
• 2003: Signed free agent pitcher Jeff Suppan, 28
• 2004: Signed free agent shortstop David Eckstein, 29

None of these players had big contracts. Edmonds, the highest paid, made $4.5 million his first year in St. Louis, a staggering bargain for someone who hit .295 with 42 homers, 108 RBIs and 129 runs scored, plus a .994 OPS and a Gold Glove, in 2000. The key is Jocketty bought low on Edmonds, acquiring him after an injury marred 1999 season in which the outfielder hit just .250 with five home runs in 204 at-bats.

Mozeliak got a bargain with the 2017 signing of Miles Mikolas, who made a modest $7.5 million while going 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA, but such a successful, under-the-radar signing has been a rarity during his 12-year reign as Cardinals commissar.

Next. Adam Wainwright should go out on top. dark

It’s possible you abhor Bill Belichick and cringe at his pitiless way of running an organization. But with just a little of BB’s financial discipline, the Cardinals would be able to actually sign a competent player or two in free agency. Supplementing the roster would’ve been a whole lot easier if Mozeliak hadn’t consigned the franchise to payroll purgatory.