Cheap Seats

Forget baseball heaven. Cardinals have to live in financial real world

Dear St. Louis Cardinals,

I am writing in response to my recently-received season ticket invoice.

While I think it’s an attractive offer, I was wondering if some additional factors might convince you to allow me to sit in my seats for less than the asking price during the 2016 season.

First, let me tell you that I am very neat and tidy. While some fans may spew nacho cheese all over the place and leave stacks of beer cups in their wake, I assure you that I clean up after myself.

Further, the fans in my section find sitting next to me is a pleasant experience. I bathe regularly. Unlike many people in the ballpark I don’t shout out curse words at every disappointing play for neighboring children to hear and I never cheat by attempting to move to a closer seat if I should spy one that is empty.

I also have an impressive display of Cardinals attire. It enhances the reputation of the St. Louis baseball club and of Busch Stadium for me to be seen sitting in the bleachers in a classic Stan Musial jersey or a crisp, red player tee-shirt.

I offer so much more to the franchise than the check I write to you every January. Don’t you appreciate all the intangibles I bring to the table and agree that, because I make Busch Stadium a nicer place to be, I deserve a 25 or 30 percent break on the price of my seats?

What? You don’t?

Then why in the world would General Manager John Mozeliak tell the media he is dismayed to learn this off-season that money is the bottom line when it comes to free agents.

The team is being spurned by attractive players left and right just because they’re not buying your pitch about how smart it would be to play in beautiful Busch Stadium in front of adoring fans for 25 or 30 percent less money than they can get from other teams?

How can this be happening in 2015?

Didn’t you get a clue that tactic wouldn’t work when Albert Pujols, who was the most beloved Cardinals player since Stan Musial wore the Birds on the bat, walked out the door four years ago to go play with another team because they offered him more cash?

(Maybe that particular instance worked out for the best because of The Mang’s decline in recent years. But he didn’t leave because the team was too smart to sign him. He left because the team counted on him signing a low-ball deal and he didn’t. Mozeliak said at the time that finding out Pujols spurned the team was like a gut punch not a relief because he thought St. Louis’ offer was too much investment in one player.)

I mean, it’s common knowledge to the fans that the MLB Players Association and an army of cutthroat agents live solely for the purpose of grubbing every last dollar they can get. So why would you think you had a snowball’s chance for things to turn out otherwise?

The contracts of this era are ridiculous by any measure. But they’ve been super-inflated by the fact that baseball is so flush with cash. $200 million today hurts teams about as much as $100 million did five years ago before the new wave of TV revenue took hold. Regardless of sticker shock, it’s the price of doing business. No matter how much they hope otherwise, the Cardinals aren’t immune to the realities of the marketplace.

David Price, by many accounts, really wanted to play for St. Louis. One report I read said he was “infatuated” with the idea of pitching for the Cardinals. Yet he said no when the team offered $30 million less than the Boston Red Sox.

And you were surprised when it happened?

If Price and Pujols, players who were extremely motivated to play here, are turning down less money why would a player with no ties to the Cardinals even consider it?

I’m not saying the Redbirds need to go out and spend $200 million a year like the New York Yankees and Red Sox or $300 million like the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But they could spend $150 or $160 million and be in the top 10 spenders in MLB easily. Let’s not forget that Forbes magazine said last year that St. Louis was the most profitable team in MLB. And that’s before the new TV contract was reached, adding another $60 million plus to the coffers.

The Cardinals’ core of cheap, homegrown players had obvious needs this off-season. The club fell flat on its face last post-season because, while it had tons of pitching depth, it didn’t have enough elite, game-changing starting pitching. After that, Lance Lynn went down to injury.

You lost 390 innings between Lynn and free agent defector John Lackey but you’re playing coy saying you don’t really need to go out and get a pitcher? You need two.

And what about the weak offense last season? You really can’t see any room for improvement there?

You’re going to count on Stephen Piscotty, who may very well turn out to be a nice player someday. But opposing pitchers are going to have a book on him next year and he’s going to have to make some critical adjustments to prove he’s a big leaguer before you ought to let your Gold Glove right fielder walk away.

I assume, just because you didn’t know players like the most money that you’ve heard of the concept of a sophomore slump.

There would be plenty of playing time for Piscotty both at first base and moving around the outfield. It’s not going to stunt his growth, so don’t tell me Jason Heyward would block Piscotty’s future. Matt Holliday is going into his last guaranteed contract year. If Piscotty is the real deal, by all means, let Holliday walk next year.

The word is out that the team regularly draws in the top quarter of major league clubs and now it has a billion-dollar television contract. So don’t tell us that you could afford $187 million for Price but you couldn’t afford another $2-$3 million a year. And don’t tell me you can’t afford Heyward.

As general manager Theo Epstein of the Chicago Cubs recently said, the Cardinals are NOT a small market club. They can afford any player they want.

If the Cardinals honestly don’t think Price and Heyward were the answers to the question of how to put the best team on the field, I understand. But then who is going to take their place?

You can’t buy a championship. But you can’t win a championship without talent, either.

The Redbirds have an impressive record over the last few years, for which they have my undying respect and affection. Don’t confuse my angst with a lack of appreciation for the past. But this team has the resources to continue to compete in 2016 and beyond. I am very disappointed to see a chance to show the Cubs, as Adam Wainwright said a few weeks ago, that the Cardinals aren’t going anywhere when it comes to being the team to beat in the National League Central.

You may not feel I merit a discount. But I believe you ought to at least be investing in the product in a way that makes it worth the paying customers’ while to spend money on tickets.

By all means, develop away. I love seeing exciting youngsters added to the mix. But the best teams and athletes use all the weapons at their disposal, not just one.

I know you appreciate the need to add free agents when it’s merited. Otherwise Holliday wouldn’t be the important part of this team he’s been.

Now, if there has ever been one, is the time to use some of your ample supply of dry powder.

Thanks for enduring my rant.

Signed, a paying customer.

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