Bill DeWitt Jr. set everyone straight in a Monday question-answer session with the media. He’s staying with the model. Drafting and developing talent. Moderate-price International signings. The occasional trade for a big name. Every now and then, a free-agent signing that’s more than a bargain-bin grab.

Quick review: The drafting-development part has worked well. The trades for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado were tremendous. Just brilliant. The international signings haven’t produced a foundational piece or even a lasting star. There’s been a limit on free-agent investments, with the Cardinals never signing a player from outside the organization to a contract worth more than $87.5 million. Catcher Willson Contreras was the recipient of that deal earlier this offseason.

DeWitt’s goal is simple, and same as it ever was: make the playoffs, go from there, and hope his team can get through as many postseason rounds as possible.

“I think the key is to get into the playoffs — I think of really good teams that went far, we caught our breaks,” DeWitt said Monday. The key is to get there, and anybody can win.”

Forget about DeWitt signing off on a spending frenzy to keep up or catch up with the Mets, Dodgers, Phillies, Braves, Padres or perhaps the Giants. Not that there was even a remote chance of DeWitt approving of a front-office plan to vigorously pursue multiple, nonpareil free agents in the same winter.

But as the chairman of a franchise that has an obvious need for a top-rotation starting pitcher, the Cardinals made no effort to purchase Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon – or, in previous offseasons, Max Scherzer.

When Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Hochman asked DeWitt about the Cardinals’ lack of aggressiveness this offseason, DeWitt dug in. If we expect him to change his philosophy and raise the payroll in a way that really matters … dream on, brothers and sisters. It ain’t happening. Not now, anyway.

“I would say that we make every effort to have the best team we could possibly have,” DeWitt told Hochman. “And you get to the point of — what can I do to actually make it better? And what is that cost? And I don’t mean necessarily what you pay a guy, but what is that overall cost over a period of time? And is that worth throwing all your eggs in one basket, hoping this is the year or next year is the year, rather than building and having a really good team and more coming, hopefully?”

If I may ..

1. The Cardinals are not making “every effort to have the best team we could possibly have,” as DeWitt suggests. Not when they’re falling in the MLB payroll rankings, currently ranked 14th among the 30 franchises in 26-man payroll, and 15th in the 40-man payroll. Not when they continue to resist making a substantial upgrade to their rotation to enhance their chances of winning the NL pennant or another World Series to take full advantage of having two MVP-caliber players in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.

2. I’m confused by Mr. DeWitt’s premise. Let’s just say that the Cardinals had made a bold financial move for a starting pitcher this offseason. That’s pretty much all that most reasonable fans want. That’s what rational media people have suggested. That’s it. There’s been no rabid outcry to match the dollars being burned by Mets owner Steve Cohen. No one has insisted that the Cardinals spend as much as the Dodgers, or be as hyper intense as the Padres and their front office that constantly squirms to make moves for players they don’t really need. We’re talking about landing one, upmarket starter to increase the team’s chances for 2023, and again in 2024 when the rotation will likely require rotation replacements. So if the Cardinals made that happen, why would that equate to “throwing all your eggs in one basket” or jeopardizing the goal of “building and having a really good team and more coming.” It makes no sense. You bring in a top starter. You get stronger and better. How does that put the future at risk? If your organization is doing a first-rate job of drafting and developing young and cost-controlled talent, then you don’t have to worry about weakening the structure by making a top–heavy purchase.

3. Or to put it another way: did the Cardinals wobble and collapse after acquiring Goldschmidt before the 2019 season and trading for Arenado in advance of the 2021 campaign? No. It’s quite the opposite. The Cardinals missed making the playoffs in 2016, 2017 and 2018. With Goldschmidt and Arenado coming through with a tremendous boost to the team’s position-player talent base, the Cardinals have competed in the last four postseasons. Every MLB franchise would love to have them as anchors.

4. Goldy and Arenado haven’t delivered for the Redbirds in the last two postseasons, but let’s not miss the point here OK? DeWitt and the front office are proud of making the playoffs so frequently, but let’s remember something. Despite having the considerable built-in advantage of competing in the substandard NL Central, the Cardinals have entered the last two postseasons as a wild-card contestant. They were eliminated in a single game by the Dodgers in 2021. And though the 2022 Cards won 93 games and finished first in the NL Central, they had to play the Phillies in the best-of-three wild-card round after failing to win as many games as the other NL division champions. Those two champs (Braves, Dodgers) didn’t make it to the NLCS … but again, that isn’t the point. As a general and obvious principle, it’s better for a division winner to avoid these wild-card trap series, bypass the obstacle, and go directly to the division-round series. So build a better team to get that done.

5. DeWitt’s model isn’t as effective as it used to be, and he seems to be the last to realize that. No doubt, the Cardinals still achieve plenty of success for the first six months of a season. But they aren’t strong when it’s time to play the best teams in the majors in the seventh month: October postseason baseball.

DeWitt was way ahead of the curve in the early aughts when he brought in Jeff Luhnow from the outside to implement a new system for roster construction, with a heavier emphasis on scouting, drafting and player development and the use of advance metrics to evaluate talent. But the rest of the industry caught up to DeWitt’s Cardinals, and the Redbirds lost their advantage. If anything, they fell behind some of the more astute front offices.

Let’s go to the facts.

— In their first 20 seasons with DeWitt in charge, the Cardinals finished first in their division 11 times. That includes a first-place tie in 2001. But in the last seven seasons the Cardinals have finished first only two times.

— From 1996 through 2013, only the Yankees competed in more postseason games and won more postseason games than the Cardinals. The Cards had a 66–56 postseason record (.541) over that time. They also won four NL pennants and two World Series. Fantastic. Cardinals fans were rewarded with the best team in the NL and the second-best team in the majors.

— From 2014 through 2022, the Cardinals were 9-19 in the postseason for a .321 winning percentage. No pennants. No World Series. During the last nine seasons they’ve ranked 11th in most postseason games played and are 14th in most postseason wins. That’s a long way down from where they used to be.

— Since the start of 2014 the Cardinals have appeared in fewer postseason games than the Kansas City Royals. And they have nine postseason wins to KC’s 22. True, the Royals can’t come close to matching the Cardinals’ sustained regular-season success and volume of playoff appearances. But what have all of those playoff appearances done for the Cardinals? Not as much as it could have been.  Over the past nine seasons the Redbirds have won fewer postseason games than the Astros, Dodgers, Braves, Royals, Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Giants, Guardians, Rays, Phillies and Blue Jays.

— From 1996 through 2013 the Cardinals won 16 of their 26 postseason series – and also snatched the 2012 wild-card game from the Braves. But since 2014 the Cardinals are 2-5 in seven postseason series and lost the 2021 wild-card game to the Dodgers.

The DeWitt model certainly is out of whack in payroll spending in the current NL environment. I feel compelled to repeat the research done by Tom Verducci that I presented in Monday’s column.

* From 2010 through 2016, only three of the 14 World Series spots were filled by top 10 payroll teams. That’s 21.4 percent.

* From 2017 through 2022, 10 of the 12 World Series spots were filled by top 10 payroll teams. That’s 83.3 percent.

* From 2017 through 2022, the dollars-spent rankings for teams that made it to the World Series looked like this: an average payroll rank of 7.3 for the World Series winner, and 8.3 for the loser.

As of now, the Cardinals are on the outside of those sweet-spot payroll rankings.

The Cardinals have done an impressive job of qualifying for the postseason. But as the numbers show, that’s where it falls apart for them. It’s not like the olden days, when the 2006 Cardinals could scrounge for 83 regular-season wins and suddenly turn into an October monster to win the World Series. Or in 2011, when a wild-card Cardinals team barely squeaked into the postseason but went crazy to topple the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in an incredible ride to a second World Series title in five years.

DeWitt can’t shake those memories. Yes, anything is possible once a team reaches the postseason. The philosophy of making sure you have a postseason-worthy team matters because it’s the first step in the chase for the World Series.

But DeWitt is unwilling to push it to the next level by getting out of his comfort zone to use the organization’s significant financial muscle to go for more success in October’s defining days. When you have Arenado and Goldschmidt and the window that they’ve opened, you definitely should be more zealous about surrounding them with more prime talent.

Maybe the spending will come this summer if the Cardinals make a trade for a higher-end starting pitcher.

That’s particularly important. The Cardinals rank 17th in overall pitching WAR — and 20th in starting-pitching WAR — since the beginning of 2019.

Over that time the World Series champions have ranked no worse than 12th in starter WAR. That was Atlanta in 2021, but the Braves were 9th in starter WAR after the All-Star break. The champion Nationals were No. 1 in starter WAR in 2019, the champion Dodgers were 8th in starter WAR in 2020, and the champion Astros were No. 1 in starter WAR last season.

Again, the Cardinals wouldn’t be mortgaging their future by chasing a top starter, or adding another effective bat to avoid the embarrassment of entering a wild-card series with Paul DeJong and Ben DeLuzio on the player-position roster.

Oh, and by the way: as I’ve mentioned many times before, DeWitt is fully engaged in the baseball operations. He’s extensively involved in personnel decisions. He sets the payroll level. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak certainly has power and influence, but the big decisions are made by DeWitt. Just think about that the next time you want to dump criticism on Mozeliak and blame him for everything. He has a boss. And this boss has the final say. I hope DeWitt is paying Mozeliak enough money to incure the wrath of angry fans and take a beating for ownership.

Despite the grievances aired here, this market has been fortunate to have DeWitt as the owner. Over the long run, he’s of the best owners in all of major-league team sports in North America. DeWitt hasn’t lost his fastball but doesn’t throw as hard. And his Cardinals lose velocity in the postseason.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This team is very good. DeWitt’s objective should be making a commitment to greatness. He’s so close. But it’s difficult to move forward when the owner is stuck in the past with a model that breaks down in October.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.