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Cardinals are cost-efficient, but not the best

David Schoenfield of ESPN presented an interesting analysis the other day. Though fairly basic in scope, it provides the opportunity to draw some conclusions that may be surprising.

Schoenfield took season-opening player payrolls for each Major League Baseball team over the last five years and summed them. He then ranked the 30 clubs during that same period by the total number of regular-season wins.

Not unexpectedly, the St. Louis Cardinals came in fifth in wins with 452, but were 11th in payroll during that time. The latter is pretty consistent with where the club resides most years in relation to its peers.

Your initial reaction may depend on whether you are a glass-half full or half-empty kind of person.

The pessimist might assert that if the team had spent a bit more, perhaps they could have won even more games. (During those five years, the Cardinals had two first-place divisional finishes and came in second-place the other three times. In two of the second-place years, they earned a Wild Card berth.)

The optimist might applaud the team for its efficiency – seemingly getting more for less – while qualifying for October play in four of the five seasons.

If you are in the latter category, wait a minute. This is not the time to hold another celebration about the Cardinals being the game’s very best at everything they touch.

In this case, they aren’t. As Schoenfield points out, three of the teams just ahead of the Cardinals in regular-season wins actually spent less on payroll than did St. Louis over the last five years.

MLB 2009-13

Win rank Team Wins Spend rank Spend
1 New York Yankees 475 1 $1.06 B
2 Texas Rangers 457 12 $471.2 MM
3 Atlanta Braves 456 14 $455.1 MM
4 Tampa Bay Rays 453 26 $303.8 MM
5 St. Louis Cardinals 452 11 $520.4 MM

Granted, the four clubs ranked second through fifth are tightly bunched in victories. With just six more wins over the last five years in total, the Cards could have moved up to second in that category.

The New York Yankees stand alone on top in both wins and spending. The Bombers spent almost twice as much as the Cardinals for a total of 23 incremental regular-season victories over the most recent five seasons.

One has to wonder how much the Cardinals may improve in spending efficiency over the next few years, as the roster has evolved toward being younger and less experienced. Playing consistent winning baseball while keeping salary growth in check would be a formula any owner should gladly embrace.

(Make sure you check out Schoenfield’s pair of articles for comparable details for all 30 MLB clubs.)

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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6 Responses to “Cardinals are cost-efficient, but not the best”

  1. Nutlaw says:

    I think that the Cubs being 29th in wins and 7th in spending calls for special mention!

  2. crdswmn says:

    There’s been a lot of harping the last couple of days on MLBN radio about the draft pick compensation rule. Many of the hosts are upset that Drew, Cruz, Morales, Etc are still unemployed and have said they think teams are too stingy and are overrating the value of the draft pick.

    I wonder if there will be changes to this in the future? The high end guys like Cano, Beltran, McCann, etc weren’t affected at all, but the marginal ones are feeling the pinch.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Any changes wouldn’t occur until the next CBA at the soonest. These guys (should) know that, but need something to talk about, I guess.

      They also have short memories. Last winter at this time, Boras was whining to anyone who would listen about this very situation. The only difference was the player – Lohse. He could have taken $13.3 MM for one year but turned it down. Lohse still ended up just fine, getting 3/$33 plus incentives, which seems about right. His deal was announced on March 25, or about four weeks from now.

      Until we see what Drew, Cruz, Morales, etc. sign for, drawing any conclusions is premature.

      • crdswmn says:

        Yeah, I’m not concerned about it. I just find all the talk interesting, especially the stuff about the draft pick being overrated. That’s a matter of opinion of course, there are many instances of later 1st round picks turning out being especially valuable. I believe Mike Trout was taken around #20. We got Wacha at #19. Besides, there are 10 teams with protected picks who can sign one or more of those guys if they wanted them.

        • Brian Walton says:

          If one or more of these guys accept a bad contract, I wonder if the talking heads might wonder if the agent overplayed his hand? The truth is that neither they nor us have any idea what kind of deals that Drew/Boras, for example, have already turned down this winter (other than the one year, $14.1 million qualifying offer). With Drew’s history, I’d be very nervous about giving him three or four years.

          In a supporting point, in mid-December, Boras was quoted as saying Drew already had several multi-year offers on the table.

          Come June and July, Boras’ tune will change. He’ll be singing over how much those draft picks should signify to his newest clients’ first professional contracts.

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