Blake Snell's signing shows a missed opportunity for the Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals could've paired Blake Snell with Sonny Gray at the top of their rotation given a more patient approach this offseason.

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages
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Reports have indicated that left-handed pitcher and two-time Cy Young recipient Blake Snell is in agreement on a 2-year, $62 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. The contract has an opt-out after the first year.

This contract demonstrates one key mistake in the St. Louis Cardinals' approach to the offseason: patience. Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, and Sonny Gray were all signed before the calendar flipped to December last year. The rotation was set for 2024 barring any injuries. Gibson and Lynn signed for $12 million and $10 million, respectively, and Gray signed a 3-year, $75 million contract which pays him only $10 million this year.

Payroll outlets differ greatly on how much the Cardinals have on the books for 2024, but the most reliable (and most expensive) website, Fangraphs, puts the Cardinals at an Opening Day payroll right around $215 million. That places them approximately $22 million below the first luxury tax threshold. Any dollar over $237 million is taxed at a 20% rate for first-time offenders. Blake Snell's contract would have put them well above the threshold, and his $31 million AAV would have become $33 million just like that.

However, with a more patient approach to the offseason, John Mozeliak could have gotten Blake Snell without exceeding the tax threshold. Take away either Gibson's or Lynn's salary and the team remains below that (owner-induced) luxury tax threshold. The Cardinal's starting rotation is instead led by Sonny Gray and Blake Snell with Miles Mikolas, Kyle Gibson/Lance Lynn, and Steven Matz rather than the group that is currently being rolled out.

Two issues arise with this approach, however. Fans would have been livid if the front office waited this long to ink a starting pitcher. That would have meant that the rotation right now in time would have been Sonny Gray (injured to start the season), Miles MIkolas, Kyle Gibson/Lance Lynn, Steven Matz, and Matthew Liberatore or Zack Thompson, possibly both given Gray's injury. That's not an inspiring group, and the fanbase would have been outwardly frustrated, rightfully so.

The second issue with waiting and signing Blake Snell would be the penalties attached to his free agency. Blake Snell was offered a qualifying offer, but he declined it. This meant that any team who signed him would lose $500,000 in international bonus pool money and that team would have to forfeit a compensatory draft pick. Given the fact that the Cardinals did this already with Sonny Gray this offseason, they would be without two picks in the first round of the 2024 draft, and they would be without $1 million in bonus pool money. Those are steep prices to pay for a potential one-year contract.

Setting these losses aside, the signing of Blake Snell plus Sonny Gray this offseason would've exceeded even the most optimistic fan's wildest dreams. The Cardinals would have a rotation to contend against most in the playoffs, and the DeWitt family would be able to stay below their precious "soft cap". Blake Snell's signing in San Francisco shows Cardinal fans what could've been.

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