The St. Louis Cardinals, according to many, are sending mixed signals. They are, but at least they are consistent.
Every offseason there is the Christmas present build-up. We start out listening to hints that there might be a new shiny bike under the tree. Waking up we only find socks and a sweater. We need socks and a sweater. They are nice, but one has to wonder if Santa even looked at our wish list.
If we look at recent history, the Cardinals have been telling the baseball world exactly who they are. In 2021, the free agent signings were Luis Garcia and Wade LeBlanc. They also signed Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to one-year deals.
In 2022 the Cardinals signed Corey Dickerson, Nick Wittgren, and Drew VerHagen. They brought back Albert Pujols so he could finish his career here. The big free agent signing was Steven Matz. The contract was only for eleven million dollars a year.
Last year the Cardinals signed Ryan Tepera, Guillermo Zuniga, and Willson Contreras.
This year it is Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson.
The running theme is for free agent signings the Cardinals are not major players. In the last few years, the only free agents they signed were players signed to replace missing pieces. Not to improve the team. Last year, we needed a bat and a catcher to replace Molina. They did that with Contreras. This year they needed to replace three starters, so they signed three starters.
Thomas Gauvain wrote an article on Bill Dewitt. In the article, Thomas Gauvain includes a quote from Dewitt, who suggests that this team has finished spending. He is using the uncertainty of the Bally’s contract to justify this position. It seems like every year there is an excuse for not spending more. Last year, the Cardinals were happy with our internal options. This year it’s a TV contract that won’t run out until the end of the year and does not affect this year’s bottom line.
There are two more thoughts on why the spending is about to stop.
First, the Cardinals may believe they have a competitive team. This front office seems to stop every year at competitive. Not a potential World Series winner, just better than last year with a chance to make the playoffs. Good enough to sell their three million tickets. This regime has that feel to it. The previous one of La Russa and Jocketty always left the impression that the ring was the goal. They didn’t always get it right, but the tone was different.
Second, the goal may not be to win this year but to get back to even and then setup for a run in 2025. Two of the three pitchers they signed come in with one-year contracts. Goldschmidt’s contract ends this year. Matz and Mikolas have contracts ending after 2025.
The Cardinals acquired several players at the trade deadline improving the prospect rankings. If this year plays out the same as last year and they become sellers again, that will bring in more top-tier prospects.
If the Cardinals don’t sign Goldschmidt and one of Matz or Mikolas find themselves traded, they would have a ton of payroll to use. It would give them a year to see what they have in Winn, Scott, and Walker. They would have a few more high-end prospects as trade pieces. The TV contract would sort itself out by then.
Who are some of the free agents for 2025? A few of the big names will be Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Ryan Pressly, Max Fried, Juan Soto, and Walker Buehler. Any of these will be game-changers.
One more thought that might give more credence to the theory of 2025 being the year. If the Cardinals are setting up Chaim Bloom to be Mozeliak’s replacement, what better way to clear the decks for him. Leaving him with much-needed budget flexibility. He would have enough prospects to either work into the roster or to use as trade pieces. He would start off with an already signed naming rights contract and a new shiny TV deal.
Mixing my sports metaphors, the Cardinals might be punting 2024 just to set up great field position for 2025.