DeWitt confident for 2024 after 'wake-up call' of '23

January 8th, 2024

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

This will likely go over in St. Louis about as well as warm Budweiser, toasted ravioli out of the microwave or Kansas City barbeque, but here goes: Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III told recently that because of various financial uncertainties, the club isn’t likely to make any more moves this offseason that would significantly increase payroll.

Barring a trade where the Cards send out roughly the same amount of money that they are taking back, the club’s roster is close to being set for when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 12. Yes, the Cardinals acted aggressively early in free agency by signing proven veteran pitchers Sonny GrayKyle Gibson and Lance Lynn, and they later bolstered the bullpen with the additions of Andrew Kittredge, Ryan Fernandez, Riley O’Brien and Nick Robertson. Still, with potential aces such as Blake Snell and old friend Jordan Montgomery on the free-agent market, Cardinals fans have been hopeful that one more move might be in the works.

It isn’t likely to happen, DeWitt said last week at a news conference to announce that Billy Joel and Sting -- not Snell or Montgomery -- will be performing at Busch Stadium on Sept. 27, 2024.

“Look, I think we’re always open to improving our club within reason, but, you know, we've already made some big moves,” said DeWitt, whose club had a $186.4 million payroll in 2023 and one that could approach $200 million in 2024, according to Spotrac. “With payroll, it has to be thought of in the context of the whole business with all the investments we’re making in other aspects of the product on the field. And then there’s the revenue picture, which frankly is a bit challenging this year relative to last year when you think about what's happening with local [television] media, etc.

“So, we are making a pretty big push by raising payroll and having revenues somewhat challenged. It's actually quite a commitment. Now, is there a little more [payroll] room there? It depends on the deal.”

Since the DeWitt family took over Cardinals ownership in 1996, the team has racked up two World Series titles, four National League pennants and 12 division crowns. However, the family -- like much of Cardinal Nation -- is still trying to wash away the sour taste from last season’s 71-91 record and the first last-place division finish in 33 years. Even now, with the Cards’ NL-record-tying streak of 15 straight winning years kaput, the 2023 season is still one that reverberates, DeWitt said.

“It was definitely painful and a shock to the system, to be honest,” he said. “We kept feeling like, ‘OK, any day now, we’re going to turn it on and have a positive season,’ and that never happened. I think it was a bit of a wake-up call for us, to be honest. We can’t rest on past success, and we have to continue to reinvent and make good decisions every year. We also have to think about the short term and the long term at the same time, and that’s been the hallmark of our tenure.”

By acting boldly early in the free-agent courting period to lock up Gray, Lynn and Gibson, DeWitt thinks the Cardinals will once again be a team that will contend for a division title and be a threat in the playoffs. He has already been impressed with the attitude and workman-like demeanor of the 34-year-old Gray, calling him a “bulldog competitor,” and he lauded him for “wanting to be a Cardinal.”

Can Gray -- the runner-up in the American League Cy Young race last season -- be enough to help the Cards get back to where they have been much of the past 15 seasons and compete with the Dodgers, Phillies, Braves and D-backs in the rugged NL?

“I really like our team right now, and our everyday club is really exciting,” DeWitt said. “We’ve got some young players who you would hope would continue to improve and show us that they are up-and-coming. On the pitching front, we realized that was our weakness for the most part, and [president of baseball operations John Mozeliak] addressed those concerns quickly and effectively.

“We’ve always stayed competitive, and if you get in that [postseason] tournament at the end, you’ve got a shot. I feel like we’ve got a good shot at that.”