Cheap Seats

St. Louis Cardinals fans: Stop giving the team an excuse not to pay up for Giancarlo Stanton

Why are so many St. Louis Cardinals fans obsessed with the numbers of Giancarlo Stanton’s contract?

Sure, the $295 million owed to the most feared slugger in the game is a big number to average guys like me. But you can’t apply real-world numbers to professional sports finance. The financially weak Miami Marlins thought they could swallow that deal two years ago. So you’re going to tell me a team in the top third of MLB money machines can’t afford it now?

Think about it for a minute. If 3.2 million paying customers come through the gates at Busch Stadium in 2018 and the average ticket price is $40 — a pretty conservative number when you consider the cost of the premium seats in the house — that’s $128 million per year just in ticket sales. Figure that number again in $40 per person in concessions and souvenirs. You may be like me and bring your own cooler filled with soda and water plus a bag of peanuts to the park. But I still end up dropping $20 on a hot dog, drink and ice cream for my kid.

And it doesn’t take too many people dropping into the team store to buy a $40 cap and a $200 jersey to make those numbers average out. If it did, I’m sure the folks who pound $10 beers will more than make up the difference.

So we’re over a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue per year and we haven’t even talked about the new local television contract alleged to be in excess of a billion dollars over 10 years. So that’s at least $50 million a year. Plus there is national television rights money raked in by the MLB clubs that probably accounts for another $25 million.

Chairman Bill DeWitt didn’t become the leader of major-league owners by being the poorest one of them, that’s for sure. It seems like a pretty safe bet that the Cardinals bring in excess of a third of a billion dollars in revenue each season. So explain to me why this team can’t afford a player who makes $30 million a season.

I’m not saying the Birds should pass out $30 million per year deals like candy. But again, we’re talking about the best home run-hitter in baseball, a star who will sell jerseys and other merchandise like it’s going out of style and who is the piece of the puzzle that could put the Cardinals back in the playoffs to cash in on that additional income potential.

I get that the Birds don’t want to pay Stanton past his prime.

Imagine if Stanton didn’t have 10 years left on a deal he signed with the Miami Marlins. Instead, he’s a free agent – the best free agent on the open market and any team can bid for him. Would the Cardinals reasonably expect to sign him for less than what he’s owed? If you took the issue of prospects out of it and auctioned Stanton off to the highest bidder, he would get more than the Marlins owe him, perhaps 12 years and $325 million to $350 million. That’s simply the price of doing business. There’s no way around it.

The bright side is that Stanton will only rake in cash until he’s 38 — if he doesn’t opt out before then, which I peg at a 50-50 chance. Then the Cardinals would have had the best slugger in baseball for his 28-30 years old seasons for about $80. Sold!

If he doesn’t opt out, this is still a lot better deal than paying Albert Pujols until he’s 42 years old, which is what the Anaheim Angels will do.

I hope the Redbirds leadership doesn’t haggle with the Marlins over picking up a part of Stanton’s salary to the point that Miami’s front-office folks throw up their hands in frustration and give him away to the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers. I don’t understand why St. Louis didn’t just claim Stanton off waivers in the fall and hope his current club let him go if it is so desperate to get rid of payroll. Then the Cardinals could have used some of their outfield depth and young pitching prospects to land a good starter and a couple of good relief pitchers. They would then be ready to roll.

One of the main reasons the Birds have missed the playoffs over the past two seasons is because they’re more concerned with winning the off-season than they are with winning during the months from April through October. They want to make deals that are unquestionable steals.

But DeWitt is a business man and surely understands the concept of competition. Other teams want the same players St. Louis covets. And all they have to do is chuck a couple extra million bucks into the pot and they get their man while the Cardinals bemoan the fact that their offer was turned down.

This is not the place to say “Well, we tried.” If St. Louis can’t land Stanton, it has to be because the Marlins are asking for too much in trade or because the player refuses to waive his no-trade clause. It’s not because the Cardinals wanted to quibble over the contract.

If I was in charge, I would offer a decent trade package — not the moon and stars — and I would ask Miami to pay the last two years of the contract. If Stanton opts out in three years, St. Louis and the Marlins would be off the hook. If he doesn’t, Miami would have to pay for Stanton’s decline years. If they don’t do it, I would offer Miami one premium prospect and to take the whole contract. Done deal.

If Miami and the Birds can’t come to a deal, it’s not a time to shrug shoulders. The Cardinals should immediately offer a lucrative package to the Baltimore Orioles for Manny Machado should the player be willing to accept a 10-year, $250-million contract or thereabouts. I suggested at this time last year that Machado was one of two players in MLB that I’d trade Alex Reyes to get. The other is Mike Trout. But then Reyes blew out his arm in his first day of spring training. I’d make the same deal in a heartbeat now.

I love to see the Cardinals develop young talent. If they contend in 2018, it’s going to be in large part to the contributions of Paul DeJong, Carlos Martinez, Matt Carpenter, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes. But the missing piece, a middle-of-the-order power threat who makes all the other parts move around the bases, isn’t available down on the farm.

The Redbirds need to use all their tools, including trades and free agency, to be competitive. This team has reached the fork in the road where it can take the route back to the top of the standings or continue to take the easier road downhill.