Cheap Seats

The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t cheap. They just spend money on bad baseball players.

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, the Redbirds have the fifth-highest payroll in baseball this year, $163 million. It’s becoming more apparent that a franchise once lauded for it’s deft decision making about the composition of its roster isn’t cheap at all. The evidence proves that over the past five years or so, they’re just really bad at deciding how to spend their money. They’re afraid to pull the trigger on big deals, so they spend too much on middle of the road talent that doesn’t produce.

The Cardinals, despite their lofty payroll total, are 35th when it comes to the highest-paid individual players in the game with $20 million a year going to catcher Yadier Molina. Where does the rest of it go? I’m afraid far too much is being wasted on the likes of Dexter Fowler, gets $16.5 million this season and for two more.

Brett Cecil has been a total free agent bust. He’s making $7.75 million this year and is on the hook for $7.25 in 2020. Luke Gregerson is in his second season of collecting $5 million for absolutely no return. But the toughest pill to swallow is the $5 million the Cardinals are paying the Seattle Mariners to take Mike Leake off their hands in trade. That signing was so bad that it was a rare occasion in which the Cardinals admitted they made a mistake.

People see these deals and conclude free agency is a loser’s game. But it’s not that the entire practice of signing free agents is bad, it’s that the Cardinals try to fish along the edges of the pond instead of the deep waters where the elite players reside.

Two elite players who have turned out to be productive additions to their team are ace pitchers Max Scherzer and David Price. Both of them wanted to be Cardinals. Both of them easily could have been Cardinals. But the former was brushed off by the team in free agency and the team allowed itself to be outbid at the last moment by the Boston Red Sox for the latter.

The Cardinals are paying more than $41 million a year to the aforementioned collection of stiffs. Does anyone believe if the team would have paid $28-$30 million a year to either Scherzer or Price instead of all of those other guys that it wouldn’t be better off — with a lower payroll.

That’s not even mentioning the sad case of Marcell Ozuna who receives $12.5 million from the Cardinals this year. The Cardinals traded for him as a door prize when they didn’t get Giancarlo Stanton in trade. They claim they knew Ozuna had a bad shoulder but didn’t think it was a big deal. Meanwhile, their division rivals in Milwaukee swooped in and traded for Christian Yelich from the Marlins and he becomes the National League MVP.

Sure the Cardinals claim Yelich wasn’t available. But he apparently could be had. If the Cardinals would have told Miami, which was desperate for a package that included Sandy Alcantara that it was Yelich it nothing, I have to believe it would have accepted. History proves Yelich was, in fact, available. I don’t believe for a minute that, after the Redbirds deal was completed, Milwaukee suddenly decided to go ahead and trade Yelich. They were in the middle of a fire sale, taking bids on anyone they had.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are spending $28 million a year for Fowler and Ozuna in its outfield corners, when they practically gave away Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty, three outfielders all as or more capable than the two guys they have. Piscotty was dealt to be near his dying mother, so the Cardinals get a free pass on that. But Grichuk has rebounded since he was freed from St. Louis, landing a five-year, $52-million contract last week and Pham is a guy who is already being talked about as a candidate for American League Most Valuable player this season.

It’s demoralizing that the Birds have invested so much in bad players while giving away so much cheap talent.