According to Forbes.com earlier this season, the Boston Red Sox raked in $266 million in revenues and banked a tidy $40 million profit.
This explains why the Red Sox could acquire Adrian Gonzalez and begin negotiating a deal paying him about $154 million over seven years. This explains why that team could then turn around and sign free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million deal.
Welcome to the world of big market, big budget baseball.
The Yankees pulled in $441 million according to Forbes and turned a $25 million profit, despite the franchise’s stiff $250 million in player costs. So, sure, the Yankees can offer free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee a seventh year on a deal that could push $160 million.
It's just money, right?
This is what the Cardinals are up against as the team attempts to contend year after year. The big budget teams just open the vault when needs arise.
The Cards can't spend with those teams moving forward. With or without Albert Pujols, this franchise will succeed (or fail) based on its ability (or inability) to develop players.
There IS a limit to what the Cards can spend without risking annual losses.
(And like it or not, Bill DeWitt and Co. aren't going to risk annual losses. They just aren't. They aren't going to play the Bill and Nancy Laurie game and absorb eight-digit losses as the Blues did.)
Forbes estimated Cardinal revenues of $195 million – up $85 million from 2001 – and a franchise profit of nearly $13 million. The new Busch Stadium has delivered the expected results.
The Cards’ payroll on 2010 Opening Day was a shade over $94 million, according to the authoritative Cot’s Baseball Contracts site. Forbes estimated total player costs of $111 million – far less than half what the Yankees were paying.
In this corner of cyberspace, we’ve suggested that $110 million is a workable payroll limit in this market. The addition of Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot, plus the retention of veteran pitcher Jake Westbrook, will push the Cards into that range.
There is still a little budget money for a veteran back-up catcher to be named, but otherwise the 2011 roster is largely set.
This is why young outfielder Colby Rasmus and his low-cost production are still here, despite his run-ins with manager Tony La Russa.
This is why general manager John Mozeliak sees inexpensive rookie Allen Craig having a role next season even as La Russa suggests the outfielder/infielder should be playing full-time in Memphis.
This is why the Cards haven’t signed a veteran infielder for third base insurance, instead allowing Craig, Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene to line up behind the injury-prone David Freese heading toward spring training.
This is why Mozeliak didn’t add righthanded relief help, relying on home-grown incumbents Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs and Fernando Salas to fit in behind closer Ryan Franklin, with prospect Eduardo Sanchez probably next in line.
This is why blue-chip prospects like power pitcher Shelby Miller and slick-hitting infielder Zack Cox are so critical to the future, along with pitcher Lance Lynn and third baseman Matt Carpenter.
The Cards will be able to pay many of their stars going forward, but not all of them. Money for the supporting cast could be limited unless the team runs low on high-priced stars someday.
This franchise can afford to pay Albert for the rest of his career as long as it keeps adding capable low-cost young players. The Cards would have to hit on the occasional dumpster-dive veteran as well, but a good farm system is the most reliable source of cheap labor.
If Craig can replace Berkman in 2012 and Lynn can replace Kyle Lohse in 2013, then the Cards could afford to pay Pujols the going rate without tumbling from contention.
As established players move into bigger money, the Cards must decide which to keep and which to sacrifice. The team will have to make deals like the gem that sent aging Jim Edmonds to San Diego for the promising Freese.
Year after year, the Cards must move younger players into the mix as either starters or members of the supporting cast. The talent flow must remain constant.
Mozeliak must avoid deals that send top prospects (like relievers Chris Perez and Luke Gregerson) for short-term veteran help (Khalil Greene and Mark DeRosa). Those trades left a developmental gap that kept Kyle McClellan in the bullpen, thus leaving the Cards lacking starting pitching depth last year when Brad Penny and Lohse broke down.
This failure caused much internal and external grumbling about the farm system, even as rookie Jaime Garcia emerged as a front-line starting pitcher and rookie outfielder Jon Jay hit .300. If the Cards keep developing such players each year, they will be fine.
The Cards can’t operate like the Red Sox or Yankees. But the team doesn’t have to operate like the Tampa Bay Rays, either.
There will always be money for stars like Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. There may not always be money for veterans like Berkman, Brad Penny and Dennys Reyes.
While other teams throw money at weaknesses, the Cards will rely on player development. If the franchise stays that course -- and it appears it will, at DeWitt's behest -- the payoffs (and playoffs) will keep coming.