The club ranks 16th in payroll at the moment after promises of increased spending
The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most storied franchises in MLB history. Entering the 2022 season, they were the 7th most valuable team in baseball and are now coming off another revenue machine season, thanks in large part due to Albert Pujols' return, and as always, the incredible support from Cardinals fans.
This makes Spotrac's updated payroll rankings even more jarring, as the Cardinals currently rank 16th in all of baseball in projected payroll for the 2023 season.
Fans have known for years that St. Louis has the revenue to be a big spender, although sometimes their expectations of that spending can be a bit unrealistic. But after public comments from John Mozeliak after the season indicated that a rise and payroll was coming, the current level of spending is just unacceptable.
"“I think the good news is we anticipate our payroll going up next year,” Mozeliak said. “I know it will. Obviously, we had a lot of success at the game this year. So thank our fans for that. I definitely know that our payroll will go up.”"- John Mozeliak
Many like to point fingers at Mozeliak when big moves do not happen, but who is more likely to blame is ownership. At the end of the day, Mozeliak can only spend how much he is given, and he has to look out for the health of the franchise as well. Per reporting from Derrick Goold this off-season, Mozeliak likely only has another $5 million to $10 million to spend this off-season, which is no fault of his own.
Questions facing the Cardinals current TV deal and media rights deals across baseball as a whole may be playing into some of the constraints, but overall, this is clearly a decision that Bill Dewitt Jr. has made in regards to the club's payroll that is going to penalize both the players and front office until ownership gets with the times.
At the end of the day, can the Cardinals compete with the spending of the New York or Califorina teams? No. The Cardinals just do not have that kind of revenue, or frankly, the ownership pockets needed to spend like that. But the days of competing with a payroll of $180 million need to be over. Clubs like the Rockies, Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Rangers, and Red Sox are all outspending the Cardinals right now, and none of them, outside of maybe the White Sox, will be legitament competitors this year.
If the Cardinals were not trying to compete for a deep run in October, I would understand not spending like they can. But if they are serious about trying to win a World Series with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, then the next 365 days will be the true test of that. Sure, it's likely they'll sign a reliver or two and maybe even a swing starter which could raise the payroll some for 2023, but it's clear they needed to be bigger players than they were.
It's too late to go back and spend the money they could have this off-season on significant talent, but the way they choose to operate this season when moves present themselves, and next off-season when a new batch of star talent are available, will prove whether or not the Cardinals want to continue to be one of the best run organizations in baseball.
I'll cover this more in a coming story, but there is potentially wisdom in not "going all-in" spending wise this off-season when the club has some major questions regarding with of their young talents will emerge, and clubs like the Padres, Phillies, and Mets have gone so hard after the championship for this season. If the club's true plan is in the same vein as the Dodgers, see which young guys rise to the surface, and then spend big and make significant trades going into 2024, then it makes sense. But that is a big if, and could leave fans disappointed one again come this time next year.