When the St. Louis Cardinals opted to ink Paul Goldschmidt and Miles Mikolas to sizable extensions last year, they were necessarily pushing themselves into a space where their 2020 and 2021 payrolls were going to *have* to be substantial thanks to the already existing Yadi Molina, Andrew Miller, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Martinez commitments. Among that group, only Molina is a free agent after 2020.
None of that is necessarily a problem, especially for a competitive team that rakes in revenue hand over fist. The Cardinals won the NL Central last year, dominate their market like no other club, have a good TV deal, and have built out the area surrounding their ballpark into a bonus revenue-generator.
But, not unlike many other clubs this year, the Cardinals are already putting out the word that, because of all those contracts, they can’t do much this offseason. “Budget limitations” is the phrase.
Let’s start with this thread of comments/stories, which focus on the Cardinals’ current commitments for 2020 already being where they were in 2019 (despite losing Marcell Ozuna):
Man, looking into the #STLCards 2020 payroll situation for a story that will come out soon @TheAthleticSTL and it's even worse than I thought. If they just bring back the band (without adding a much-needed bat or keeping Ozuna), they'd be looking at a team-record $163m price tag.
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) November 1, 2019
The 𝗖𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹𝘀 🐦 need to improve their offense but have major budget limitations. So, now what?
@markasaxon lays out the offseason blueprints and mulls over whether the Cards will make any big trades this winter: https://t.co/jDHcxOvLDg pic.twitter.com/3OEvDyIjD6
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) November 5, 2019
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) November 5, 2019
So, if the Cardinals aren’t planning to add payroll, and they’re already at their max, they’re gonna have to do some dumping or clever trading (sound familiar?) just to make modifications to the team. Maybe they don’t want to anyway?
To be sure, like the Cubs, I’d argue that there is no incentive for the Cardinals to be out there saying anything OTHER than “yeah, we can’t spend.” But, unlike the Cubs*, the Cardinals are still well below the luxury tax, and based on revenues, it sure seems like they should be able to spend at that level if they so desired. Moreover, doesn’t 2020 seem like a particular good year for the Cardinals to push, what with the Brewers in a bit of flux, the Cubs potentially taking a “step back,” the Pirates a mess, and the Reds only now starting to turn the corner? You have a ton of guys under control, and 2020 might be your best shot for a little while to really own the division.
We’ll see if this actually bears out. It’s hard for me to imagine the Cardinals really sitting out this offseason, given their competitive roster.
*(Note that I’m not saying the luxury tax level should be a cap for the Cubs. Based on their revenues, they should be able to spend at the level they were at last year, among the top three payrolls in baseball. They should be able to sustain that level annually. I mention the luxury tax only relative to the Cardinals, because it’s not even like they could use that barrier as a reason not to spend, since they’re far below it.)