St. Louis Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt did a postmortem on the 2014 season, and you can read some of his comments here in a Derrick Goold piece.
For the purposes of what might interest Chicago Cubs fans, I’d like to zero in on some things he said about the Cardinals’ payroll in coming years. DeWitt indicated that he expects the Cardinals’ payroll to increase next year from its $115 millionish level this season. He also said that he expects “significant” increases in the next three to five years. Goold speculates that could mean $130 million or more.
Remember when $130+ million was the Cubs’ we’re-throwing-around-our-financial-weight payroll level at the end of the Tribune era? Yeah, the game has changed.
If the Cubs want to exercise any kind of financial advantage over the Cardinals, theoretically afforded by a more prosperous market, it sounds like payroll is going to have to escalate significantly from the $100ish million we’re projecting/expecting for 2015.
The good news is that, right now, that very much is the expectation for the Cubs. With the Wrigley renovation and development project underway, with attendance likely to turn around a bit, and (the big one) with the new TV deal on deck in the coming years, there is no reason the Cubs shouldn’t be able to increase payroll steadily over the next half decade. Payroll level is not the deciding factor of competitiveness, of course, but it helps. And, when the business plan has been fully implemented, and the young core is winning some games, the Cubs should have every resource necessary to implement and sustain a payroll exceeding that of the Cardinals.
It sounds like much of the Cardinals’ coming increase in payroll is merely going to be about retaining the talent they already have, so at least they don’t project to be going hog wild in free agency any time soon. Then again, the Cardinals have shown for years now that they understand how to manage their resources, and make big signings at the right times. The next time the Cardinals sign an ill-conceived, crippling free agent contract will be the first in a very long time.
In other words, if the Cubs want to be the big market club whose resources justify the Cardinals getting competitive balance picks (and the Cubs not), they’ll need to put themselves in a position to exercise financial might (it’s getting there) and then exercise it wisely.
The measure of success against the Cardinals will always be wins, not spending more money on payroll. But, any consistent stretch of losing out to the Cardinals over the next decade would be a whole lot more difficult to excuse if the Cardinals had been outspending the Cubs.