I wrote a little over a year ago that the Cardinals are cheap narrative was back (as if it every really went away). At this point, that narrative is not only back, it is exploding into a multiverse.
To recap, from 2005 to 2009, the Cardinals spent around 53% of their revenue on payroll. Since then... less. They have committed $143 million to payroll for 2018, and based on what I projected to be $370 million in revenue, that would mean just 39% is being spent on player payroll. I'm not even including the MLBAM windfall in that.
Now, if you listen to the various Dewitts, they will tell you they have diverted spending into other areas like international player bonuses, and of course even the best public estimates we have to work with have some margin of error... then they will pivot to tell you about the great amenities coming with Ballpark Village Phase 2.
Despite the Rich Guy Doublespeak to the contrary, I'm convinced that while the Cardinals have made some smart acquisitions this offseason, and some well-calibrated moves via the trade market, one way they still refuse to improve is by spending more of the Dewitt family fortune.
But here's the thing: There's still time for the Cardinals to make big improvements by spending money on players, or barring that, at least buying a bullpen cart.
It was recently reported that the Union has actually asked MLB to consider using bullpen carts again, and if approved they could hit the field as early as this season. Bullpen carts, or their cousin the bullpen car, were used primarily during the 50s and 60s to ferry the new pitcher to the mound in style. Bringing them back would inject a little fun and variety into one of the dullest moments of any ballgame.
Now, I can hear some of you suggesting that what would be even more fun would be for the Cardinals to sign one of the many still-available free agents, such as Yu Darvish. John recently made a great case for that move, and I agree. Free agent pitchers are terrifying, but Darvish gets outs in so many ways - velocity, movement, repertoire, pitch-tunneling... I expect him to age very gracefully.
And if not Darvish, either because he's holding out hope for a reunion with the Dodgers or otherwise, the Cardinals could add a Jake Arrietta or even Lance Lynn. Neither seemed like the best option as we entered the offseason, but if prices are really sagging the way they seem to be, I mean... there's a number for all of these guys, right?
But you know what else there's a number for? A bullpen cart. In fact, Cut 4 recently looked into what it would cost to reproduce the kind of cart you're probably imagining, the one with the fiberglass ball and cap. You know, something like this:
Turns out, it's just $10,000. The DeWitt's should be able to swing that. And I know, they may be tempted to rent a golf cart instead, which would be cheaper up-front. But if the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals will allow me, a board member of Beaverdale Little League, to offer a little advice: We tried that, and you're better off in the long run buying your own carts.
If the Cardinals really wanted to get creative, they could do what Craig advocated earlier this week and use their mountain of available cash to essentially "buy a prospect." He specifically pinpointed the Dodgers or Yankees as partners, with St. Louis getting a prospect out of either system by agreeing to take on the dead weight of the Matt Kemp or Jacoby Ellsbury contracts.
Buying a prospect would be an innovative way for the Cardinals to use their huge surplus of cash to improve the talent on the field. On the other hand, they could also improve the fun on the field with a bullpen cart - or even some other form of relief pitcher transportation.
One of the first forms of bullpen locomotion in the major leagues was actually a scooter employed by the Milwaukee Brewers, and driven by a guy in a chauffeur's uniform and cap. The first pitcher he drove to the mound? The Cardinals own Hal Jeffcoat.
The point is, if you don't like the fiberglass golf cart parade float, there's a lot of other directions you can go with this. On Opening Day, the Cardinals traditionally parade players from the bullpen around to the dugout in either convertibles or pickup trucks. That's an option.
Or how about this: Why only bring out the Clydesdales on Opening Day? Why not bring the relievers into the game atop a Budweiser branded wagon pulled by giant horses? I suppose it would lose a little of its magic the third time in an inning the horses paraded onto the field, or when you were bringing Tuesday's starter in to soak up innings in an 11-1 game... but I'm just spitballing here.
The Cardinals have already shown a willingness this offseason to invest in "the fan experience," tearing out seats in right field to install a beer garden. It's the kind of ballpark amenity that's very popular in Colorado and other places where the baseball isn't worth watching.
I've thrown a lot of options out, but here's the exciting news: The Cardinals could still do all of these things.
They could sign Yu Darvish, even at the rate he was projected for before the soft offseason ($26 million AAV). They could buy a prospect by taking on either the Kemp or Ellsbury contracts (each about $21 million AAV). That would still leave the Cardinals at just 51% of their projected revenue spent on payroll, below even the rate they were spending at just eight years ago.
But wait, there's more.
Even if they made these moves, or comparably costly moves, the Cardinals should still have $10,000 to spend on a bullpen cart, which would be super fun.