According to reports, the Cardinals finally sat down with Matt Holliday's agent, Scott Boras. And the result wasn't pretty.
Supposedly, G.M. John Mozeliak made the standard "Isn't St. Louis such a nice place to play that you'll feel sorry for the middle market and play here for less?" plea. And then Boras unloaded on that facade with both barrels, pointing out that the "middle market" isn't occupied by teams that draw 3.34 million fans a season. In fact, the Cardinals had the fourth-best attendance in baseball last year and have consistently fared about that well for the last several years.
Boras told the Birds point blank that they'll get no discount on his players and that he thinks they can afford to pay his client as well or better than most clubs. And, as much as I loathe the guy, at least on this particular argument I have to say that I agree with him.
The Cardinals draw better and sell more merchandise that three-quarters of the teams in major league baseball, which puts them in pretty elite company at the top of the food chain. I have no allusions that they can spend with the Yankees and the Mets across their roster. But they sure ought to be able to afford three or four players who occupy the deep end of the talent pool.
Yet the Cardinals, including their late season acquisitions of Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa, ended 2009 with a payroll of slightly less than $94.5 million. That's a lot of money, but it ranks only 13th among major league payrolls.
Although their attendance was nearly identical to the Phillies over the past two seasons, Philadelphia outspent the Cardinals by $32 million in 2009. The Cardinals outdrew the white sox by a third -- 1.1 million fans -- last season, but Chicago outspent St. Louis by about $5 million. The Cardinals outdrew the Tigers by 800,000 people but spent $35 less than the Tigers on payroll.
Of course there are more components to the finances of baseball than attendance and merchandising. The Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers are in major media markets and earn a lot more TV revenue than other teams. But when you consider the whole financial pie, the Redbirds have a lot more going for them than the vast majority of teams.
The days of the Cardinals hoping players will come here for the atmosphere are over. All players ever talk about is wanting a chance to win, and the Cardinals have done nothing but shoot themselves in the foot on that front when they constantly whine about money and let good players slip through their fingers. If you believed what the front office occupants say, the Redbirds are nearly bankrupt with a payroll of 80 percent of teams that draw less than them can somehow afford. And, when the team reaches the inevitable point that it is no longer competitive because it has been bled dry, the fans will go away, too.
There is no reason, based on what other clubs spend, that the Cardinals can't afford a payroll of $115 million to $120 million. And if they did that, the could easily afford to bring back Holliday, Mark DeRosa and John Smoltz to take another run at an 11th World Series title. And, after three years of cutting corners, they need to prove they are sincere about their commitment to win... Now.