How the Cardinals could have made this a better offseason

By increasing the payroll by only $7 million the Cardinals could have had a World Series contender.
St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Workout Session
St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Workout Session / Marc Serota/GettyImages

Cardinals fans are a bit underwhelmed at the offseason moves. The team got three new starters, extended the managers’ contract, and reloaded the bullpen.

The biggest question to be asked, though, is that enough? Fans have criticized ownership for their lack of spending. While it’s easy for the fans to spend the DeWitt’s money, that is not the problem. The Cardinals spent much more last year than the Diamondbacks and the Orioles and they did just fine. It has more to do with planning and philosophy than the amount. 

Given the self-imposed constraints, the Cardinals would never sign someone like Shohei Ohtani. But when considering the current roster, how could they have spent the money better to give this team a legitimate shot at the World Series? Let’s look at the Cardinals’ planned roster before everyone got hurt. 

On the offensive side, it was pretty easy. Contreras, Goldschmidt, Arenado all had guaranteed contracts. Gorman, Winn, Walker, Edman, Nootbar, Donovan, and Herrera all seemed like safe bets to make the team. They were all cost-controlled, making the minimum. They had already named Carlson as the fourth outfielder, so he made the team. There was no way they would cut Carpenter, so that would leave one spot. Burleson would have been a safe bet for that last spot. 

The one thing I would have done here was to not sign Carpenter, start Scott, and have Edman as my Swiss army knife taking Carpenter’s spot. Scott and Carpenter have the same salary, so it would cost $79.5 million either way to field a very respectable offense. 

Starting pitching. This is the most disappointing aspect of the offseason. John Mozeliak’s only stated goal was innings eaters. The Cardinals wanted to go into the season with Sonny Gray ($10M), Miles Milolas ($16M), Lance Lynn ($10M), Kyle Gibson ($12M), and Steven Matz ($12M) as the starters. This starting five is costing the Cardinals $60 million dollars, which, according to Spotrac, places the Cardinals with the ninth-highest payroll spent on pitching. Again, an adequate amount.

What could the Cardinals have done with 60 million? Mikolas is a starter so we have 16M already on the books. Matz (12) worked out just fine in the bullpen, so let’s pull him out and replace him with Thompson, who makes the minimum. Sonny Gray was an excellent addition, especially with just $10 million counting against this year’s budget. We needed to add one more top-of-the-rotation starter, so add Aaron Nola and his $24.5 million. Rounding out the starters in place of a Lynn or a Gibson, they could have added Shota Imanaga ($9M). 

Instead of a starting five of Gray, Mikolas, Lynn, Gibson, and Matz at 60 million, we could have had Nola, Gray, Imanaga, Mikolas, and Thompson for the same 60 million. Which of these two rotations would you rather have going into the playoffs?

The bullpen gets a little tricky. They were looking at starting the season with Gallegos, Helsley, Romero, and probably Kittredge, Liberatore, Middleton, O’Brien, and Fernandez. That totals $20 million. To redo this, Gallegos, Helsley, Romano, and Liberatore were all going to be on the roster. In my exercise, I moved Matz and his $12 million to the pen. Keeping Kittredge, O’Brien, and Fernandez but dropping Middleton, we have a $27 million pen. 

This roster would have cost $7 million dollars more, but the starting five now changes the completion of the team. Instead of Gray and Mikolas holding down the one and two spots, they are now two and four. Where does the extra $7 million come from? Well, we can start by studying Cots contracts. 2023’s opening day payroll was approximately $1.5 million more than this year’s payroll. For a team that knew they had issues and to spend less than last year is not a good look. 

The difference over the last year's payroll is only $5.5 million. That is only an increase of three percent. Another last-place finish will cost this team much more than that.