One of the biggest complaints among St. Louis Cardinals fans and those who cover the team is that the club is unwilling to get uncomfortable with free-agent contracts and raise their payroll significantly.
It's true that the Cardinals find themselves outside of the top-10 payrolls in baseball by a significant margin. There is no website out there that can give you the actual payroll numbers that teams are working with, but they give you about as close of an estimate as we can get. Spotrac has the Cardinals with the 17th-highest payroll in baseball ($152 million) and is $53 million behind the 10th-place Atlanta Braves. FanGraphs has the Cardinals with the 14th-highest payroll ($172 million) and has them $23 million behind the 10th-place Astros.
While there are significant differences in those estimates, the point is the Cardinals are likely somewhere between $23 million and $53 million short of having a top-10 payroll in all of baseball, and that's with the current salaries they have in 2023. Shedding Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Jordan Hicks, Paul DeJong, Drew VerHagen, and Chris Stratton from their books all increase that number significantly.
John Mozeliak has been very candid that the Cardinals need to make changes to the way they approach team building, and has already identified the need to bring in, in his words, three starting pitchers via free agency or trade this offseason. All of this indicates to me that there will be a renewed level of aggressiveness shown this offseason by the front office.
Renewed? I'm sure some would say they've never had the level of aggressiveness needed to compete with the biggest markets in the offseason. While the Cardinals are not constantly in the mix for top-end free agents, they have indeed shown a willingness to dive into those markets in the past. They need to do so again this offseason.