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Does a Weak NL Central Discourage the Cardinals from Spending?

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St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Workout Session Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

Like many MLB teams, the Cardinals are in cost-cutting mode. This became particularly evident after Kolten Wong’s option was not picked up. Additionally, the Cardinals may be betting on their bullpen depth, but non-tendering John Brebbia is not the kind of move that a team makes unless it wants to save money. Additionally, it does not appear likely that the Cardinals will make any kind of high profile move to strengthen the team. Instead it is much more likely that the team will go bargain bin shopping and try to find a Brad Miller type. However, with other teams also trying to save money, especially teams in the NL Central, the Cardinals may not have an incentive to spend money.

Obviously, winning is an incentive, but the Cardinals are likely comfortable taking their chance at winning the division without any key acquisitions. This is because the other competitors in the NL Central appear to be cutting costs as well. The Reds have already traded Raisel Iglesias, non-tendered Archie Bradley and Curt Casali, and are looking to trade Sonny Gray. The Cubs have non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and apparently looking to trade Kris Bryant and maybe even Yu Darvish. The Brewers also traded Cory Knebel and seem to be closely monitoring their payroll as well.

With this kind of competition within the division, it is possible that the Cardinals are content with making a minor acquisition or two at best because the rest of the division is not getting better either. The Cardinals insist that they will be competitive in 2021, and that is almost certainly true considering how every other team in the NL Central is actively looking to shed payroll. However, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will be actively looking to remain competitive. Instead, they are going to passively remain competitive by virtue of the other teams in the division getting worse, not by virtue of the Cardinals getting better.

Maybe this course of action is fine. It will allow the Cardinals to compete for a division title next season in a weak NL Central while they wait for a large amount of payroll to come off the books following the end of the season. On the other hand, however, if the team decided to go for it a little bit, then it would almost surely be the favorite to win the division. With every other team shedding payroll, it would only take a small improvement to gain a large amount of ground on the rest of the division. Signing an outfield bat and an infield bat or utility infielder to modest deals while also bringing back Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright would almost surely cement the team as a playoff contender.

However, instead of viewing the upcoming 2021 season as an opportunity to reclaim the division while teams are shedding payroll, it appears that the Cardinals are content to save money and fight it out as well. This may change as the winter progresses, but currently it seems like the whole NL Central is willing to cut costs and rely on other teams getting worse in order to compete, and the Cardinals seem willing to follow suit.