In a league where the structure and funding for an organization is significant to how the team operates, the St. Louis Cardinals are a bit of an outlier. The Cardinals are known by many as a model organization in baseball — they develop their prospects from within and trust the process that is scouting. The Cardinals look at players like a business looks at the opportunity cost of making a decision. They won’t overspend on a player just because they have had success with him in the past.
Look no further than future first ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. The opportunity cost of keeping him was a restricted payroll and budget because of his annual salary. A ten-year contract for an asset about to enter a slow decline would not have been a safe investment. As a result of letting Pujols walk away and getting draft pick compensation for him, the Cardinals were able to spend the money elsewhere and fill more organizational holes.
Did the Cardinals have the operating revenue to keep their star? Of course they did, but it wasn’t a good investment at the time for the organization with other holes to fill. Sure, it’s 2015, and Pujols is coming off a season where he hit 40 home runs and had a WAR of 3.1, but the compensation pick the Cardinals used that they got for Pujols in Randal Grichuk posted a 3.2 WAR. Without letting Pujols walk, its very unlikely that Cardinals would have been able to extend both Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, two core pieces of the organization. Pitching wins championships, and Molina is arguably the best all-around catcher in baseball. Pujols ultimately signed a contract with an average annual value of $24 million dollars which would not have allowed the Cardinals to maximize their value in spending.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak isn’t one who likes to hand out big contracts, especially to free agents, so it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals go about their business this year at the winter meetings.
Is this the year the Cardinals spend big money on a free-agent acquisition?
The Cardinals were announced as runners-up for the services of David Price, and it seemed like they had him in their back pocket until the Red Sox decided to dig a little deeper into their spending pockets and dish out the largest free-agent pitcher contract in the history of the game. Does the Cardinals being competitive for Price mean they are now willing to spend, or does it just symbolize the strong value of a true ace like David Price?
The Cardinals are looking for power in their lineup, and that’s no secret, but does this mean that Chris Davis and St. Louis are a match? Possibly. You can’t argue that Davis wouldn’t help the Cardinals order, but it seems Mozeliak is hesitant to give out a big contract to a power hitter that has shown major struggles hitting sliders and changeups.
The stated value of now free-agent right fielder Jason Heyward keeps rising, which is the work of being an elite defensive outfielder that also knows how to swing the bat with sustainable value. If Mozeliak is hesitant to give a long-term, big-money deal to the epitome of consistency in Heyward, it seems far fetched that he’d even be in the running for a free agent of the Chris Davis skill set.
With a new TV deal kicking in worth in excess of 1 billion dollars, the Cardinals now have money to spend, but it will ultimately come down to do the provision of General Manager John Mozeliak as to where they spend this cash and who they spend it on. Don’t hold your breath when it comes to the Cardinals making a major splash in free agency over the remainder of the offseason. Heyward is the most likely big piece to be brought back, with another mid-tier starter and a few solid bench players likely to be added. At the end of the day, the ‘Cardinal Way’ will live on.