Theo: Cardinals don’t need competitive-balance handout

Theo: Cardinals don’t need competitive-balance handout
July 23, 2014, 7:30 pm
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While the Cubs try to figure out how to act like a big-market team again, the Cardinals are getting handouts from Major League Baseball. 

That’s an oversimplification, but it does underline Theo Epstein’s frustrations while rebuilding under a different collective bargaining agreement and within the franchise’s financial limitations. The president of baseball operations fired a shot in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry after St. Louis won an extra draft pick in Wednesday’s competitive-balance lottery.

“I could talk all day about the Cardinals and how much we hold them in high regard,” Epstein said. “That’s a fantastic franchise. They have been for the better part of a century. They do extremely well from a baseball standpoint, and from a revenue standpoint. That’s probably the last organization in baseball that needs that kind of (an) annual gift.”

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The five-year labor deal went into effect in December 2011, shortly after Epstein took over at Clark and Addison. It severely restricted how much teams can spend on amateur talent in the draft and internationally, forcing the Cubs to call an audible.

It also created 12 extra draft picks – six after the first round, six after the second round – for teams within the 10 smallest markets and the 10 teams that generated the lowest revenues. 

After winning the National League pennant last year, the Cardinals gained the third pick in competitive balance round A, giving more ammunition to perhaps the sharpest front office in baseball.

That pick can be used as a trade chip, or it will increase the bonus pool for St. Louis in the 2015 draft. It’s all part of the scouting-and-player-development machine that has produced 11 world championships, and only one sub-.500 season since 2000.

The Cardinals have pushed their payroll to around $107 million, while the Cubs have put roughly $75 million into their on-field product this season, betting on the farm system and waiting for a renovated Wrigley Field and new TV deals. 

This version of Busch Stadium opened in downtown St. Louis in 2006, and the Cardinals are on pace to draw more than three million fans there for the ninth season in a row. The business plan in St. Louis also copied the Wrigleyville blueprint, trying to recreate the rooftop experience and build an entertainment zone with the new Ballpark Village.

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The Cubs will be seeing red at Wrigley Field this weekend when the Cardinals come to the North Side.

“It will just make it that much sweeter when we get to a point where we can compete with them and, ultimately, we hope, prevail,” Epstein said. “Because it’s not necessarily the type of thing that they need, given their performance on the field and off the field. They do a fantastic job. It just doesn’t seem like something they need at this point.”