Stability gives Cards reason not to spend
No need to load up after Series loss because of young talent, stars under contract
As if the teams in the National League Central don't have enough to worry about, here's something to ponder.
There probably isn't another team in the big leagues better suited to make a major signing before Spring Training -- say Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or the compensation-free A.J. Burnett -- than the St. Louis Cardinals.
The good news for the Pirates, Reds and the rest of the division is that the Cardinals don't seem to believe they need outside help beyond the handful of moves they've made, none bigger than the signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
Given that they lost last year's World Series, this is surprising. But there is no hue and cry in St. Louis for general manager John Mozeliak to add expensive parts because his team is already well-equipped to chase another pennant and take a shot at a third World Series championship in a decade.
In fact, when Mozeliak did commit $53 million over four years to the baggage-laden Peralta, there were howls that the GM had turned into a drunken sailor. Never mind that he went outside the organization for a shortstop only because Pete Kozma had delivered a .548 OPS, the third-lowest by a big leaguer with 400 or more plate appearances since 1993.
There were few complaints when Carlos Beltran signed with the Yankees, either. He was a great player in October, sure, but was viewed as replaceable in St. Louis, where the Cards are considered greater than their individual players.
The Cardinals cutting payroll is arguably the most intriguing non-story of the offseason. Runners-up rarely behave the way these guys have.
Normally, the team that loses the World Series doubles down, acquiring a high-priced free agent or two while also spending heavily to keep its core together. From 2003-12, losing World Series teams have increased their payroll by an average of 22.2 percent the following season.
That formula suggests the Cards would be acting ordinarily to open 2014 with a $143 million payroll, up about $26 million from the $116.8 million on the books at the start of last season.
Think about that for a moment. How powerful would St. Louis be if the team had grown its payroll after the six-game loss to Boston last October?
Instead, because of their strong foundation and trust in youngsters like Oscar Taveras, Matt Adams, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, they are positioned to go to Spring Training with a payroll of about $110 million.
Barring a significant addition, they could become the first team to lose a World Series and reduce payroll since the 1998 Padres, who were a whole different story than these Cardinals. The Padres, who beat the Braves in the National League Championship Series and lost to the Yanks in the World Series, carried a distinct sense of urgency. Ace starter Kevin Brown and key hitters Greg Vaughn, Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley were on the doorstep of free agency, and owner John Moores battled limited resources while based at Qualcomm Stadium.
Their clock was ticking. That's hardly the case with the Cards.
The Cardinals have gone 27-21 in the postseason the past three seasons and have the balanced roster to carry them into many more October showdowns. It's almost beside the point that they have two new revenue streams to support a growing payroll.
Spending is up across the board in baseball, in large part because new national television contracts are bringing the industry an extra $750 million per year. The Cards are also opening their Ballpark Village development on Opening Day, complete with a knock-off of a Wrigley Field rooftop.
One difference between the Cardinals and the Cubs is that the rooftop in St. Louis is owned by the baseball team. The entire 10-acre complex, which includes multiple restaurants and bars, is a partnership between the team and the developer, The Cordish Companies. While the Cubs continue their complicated battle with their neighbors, the Cards just get bigger.
But as baseball's textbook franchise, at least in terms of scouting and player development, they're able to view their roster almost in a vacuum. The Cardinals don't react to fan pressure and market forces the way other teams do.
They'll happily let the Yankees take the risk on Masahiro Tanaka and the Rangers deal with the last few years of Prince Fielder's contract. They'll focus on whether Jaime Garcia can pitch his way back into the rotation and whether Adams can hit left-handers well enough to be a full-time first baseman.
Mozeliak knows his payroll is going to grow in future years. Though every key player is under team control for at least the next four seasons (including big-ticket guys Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday), arbitration rights mean the kids will impact payroll before you can blink your eye.
Some difficult decisions are coming in the future, but the Cardinals' current level payroll speaks to a confidence that the organization is built to win year after year, not just capitalize on a short-term opportunity. No wonder so many other teams envy them.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.