The St. Louis Cardinals will have a higher payroll in 2023, which should help fill areas of need.
The revenue the St. Louis Cardinals earned from Albert Pujols’ return to the Cardinals and chase for 700 home runs will positively affect the payroll for 2023, according to Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.
After a pandemic-plagued 2020 and reduced attendance for part of 2021, the Pujols saga and the farewell tours of him and Yadier Molina more than made up for the lost payroll growth. This year, the payroll could spike by about $20 million.
The Cardinals’ 2022 opening day payroll was about $154 million with a total of about $174 million counting toward the luxury tax at year’s end, per Cot’s Contracts.
Now, after an early exit from the 2022 postseason, the Cardinals need to use that increased payroll to acquire talent to fill the team’s holes. The first priority is to replace Molina, the Cardinals’ iron-man catcher since 2004.
Former Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras would be one option, as would the catcher of the rebuilding Oakland Athletics, Sean Murphy. While Andrew Knizner is an option internally, Mozeliak didn’t appear to be too enthusiastic about handing him the reins.
Nolan Arenado’s opt-out clause is another pressing matter. Arenado has until five days after the end of the World Series to decide if he wants to return to St. Louis through 2027, which would be his age-36 season. Mozeliak said the team is not looking to restructure Arenado’s contract.
The Cardinals should also consider upgrading the position adjacent to Arenado, as Paul DeJong’s immense struggles don’t portend a starting job for 2023. Free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa is an enticing option, although some fans could be miffed because of his presence on the 2017 and 2018 sign-stealing Houston Astros. The lightning-fast Trea Turner is another possibility to dream on.
A left-handed outfield power bat would be a boost to the Cardinals after the outfield underwhelmed this season. Among the free agents are Brandon Nimmo, Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson and Joey Gallo. The Cardinals may need to clear some space by dealing one or more of Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar and Alec Burleson.
Prospects Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn remain in the pipeline, and Walker could contribute as soon as next season, reinforcing the likelihood of trading at least one member of the current outfield crop.
Pitching could be another hole, especially the rotation, but it appears the Cardinals have decided who will constitute it with Adam Wainwright confirming his return for one more year. Mozeliak seems unlikely to make a move, and Jose Quintana could be in search of a new contract after his strong performance in St. Louis — a contract the Cardinals could be reluctant to hand out after such a small sample size.
While the possibility of the Cardinals making all these moves likely casts more than a seed of doubt in many fans’ minds, the payroll increase means the Cardinals have the space to get many of these deals done. It all depends on how much they want to shell out to win.