The salary relief and already available budget give the Cardinals plenty of room to make multiple significant transactions
Too often as fans, people will look at an offseason and play a bit of "MLB The Show" with it. They'll suggest the Cardinals simply need to sign two huge free agents and trade a bunch of their "spare parts" for a superstar. That's just not realistic. But, this trade deadline and offseason should be ones where the Cardinals do make headlines in both free agency and the trade market, no excuses this time.
Let's break this down a bit together.
Where the Cardinals currently stand, Spotrac has them ranked with the 16th-highest payroll in baseball at $161 million in 2023. In March, Forbes released their annual rankings of the most valuable teams in baseball, with St. Louis coming in as the 10th most valuable team ($2.55 billion) and an operating income ranking 11th ($43.1 million). Six of the teams ranked ahead of them in payroll this year are less valuable teams in Forbes' rankings, and nine of them are making less profit than the Cardinals.
Sure, there is uncertainty facing their current TV deal with Bally Sports Midwest and what the future of their media rights will be like, but the Cardinals do phenomenally in their local ratings, ranking number one by a large margin in top MLB RSNs by household rating in 2022 and averaged 139% more viewers than the number two channel in the primetime slot. Whatever their next TV deal is, it'll likely outdo their current one substantially.
Bill Dewitt III indicated that payroll can be top-10 in baseball
If you take a closer look at the payroll rankings, the Cardinals are $18 million shy of the 15th-highest payroll, the Colorado Rockies. To enter the top 10 in payroll, they'd have to increase payroll by another $29 million from what it is right now. Why do I look at that top 10 payroll number? Because Bill DeWitt III indicated that was a number they consider as well.
During a long interview with Kevin Slaten, DeWitt III mentioned the Cardinals are known to be in the top 10 in payroll, and then quickly avoided using that language again. The Cardinals are the kind of organization that when they are truly competitive, they should be spending in that range, and DeWitt III knows that.
So right now, I'd argue that on the low end, they should have another $18 million or so to spend on payroll for this current team, and possibly up to $29 million. That's significant room to add to this team.
2024 payroll opens up in an even bigger way
When you begin to look at the 2024 payroll, that number skyrockets. The Cardinals could have about $61.2 million coming off of their books this offseason with the retirement of Adam Wainwright, free agents to be in Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, Drew VerHagen, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Stratton, the likely decline in option or potential pickup and trade of Paul DeJong, and likely cutting bait with arbitration-eligible players in Tyler O'Neill and Dakota Hudson.
In all likelihood, the Cardinals will not retain most of those names, and even if they bring back a few, they'd still have a significant amount of money to spend. Arbitration raises for some players or potential extensions will eat away at that number, but overall, that is between $79.2 million and $90 million in budget. Even with raises and extensions, there's really no excuse not to make significant upgrades.
Disclaimer - it's never quite as simple as it looks on this side when crunching numbers, but even so, the point remains the same.
So what does that mean for the Cardinals then?