I posted this on ‘X’ Sunday: since the start of the 2017 season, the Cardinals have outspent the Milwaukee Brewers $1.2 billion to $770 million (approximately) on 26-man payroll.

Winning percentage:

Milwaukee .557

St. Louis .527

Since the start of 2017, the Brewers have scored more runs than the Cardinals and have a better ERA than the Cardinals. That tells us a lot about the state of the Cardinals’ franchise.

I’ve tried to make an important point over the last few years: Payroll is important. But way too many payroll-obsessed people continue miss a substantial point: There’s much more that goes into winning than payroll size. Drafting. International signings. Player development. Personnel judgment. Identifying value. Keeping up with the trends. SMART spending. Strong roster construction. But these one-issue critics — payroll — are strangely detached from reality. To them it’s all payroll, nothing but payroll … payroll, payroll, payroll. Just bizarre.

The baseball stuff  explains why the Brewers have been more successful than the Cardinals over the last seven-plus seasons. And the financial part doesn’t matter as much. It just proves my point about our local infatuation with payroll.

Compared to the Cardinals, Milwaukee competes in the smallest MLB television market and doesn’t have the revenue power of the STL franchise. The Cardinals have many built-in advantages including the annual advantage in payroll spending, home attendance, total revenue, a more lucrative ballpark, and a surrounding entertainment complex (Baseball Village) that brings in additional money. The Brewers don’t have an entertainment complex at American Family Field. But they sure are good at running a baseball department.

The Cardinals also have the more valuable franchise, which theoretically gives them more financial power to utilize. According to Sportico, the Cardinals rank 10th among the 30 MLB teams with a franchise valuation at $2.76 billion in 2024, up 13 percent from a year ago. The Brewers are 21st with a franchise value of $1.6 billion, up seven percent from 2023.

So why do the Cardinals keep losing to the Brewers?

Nothing seems to change the trend in this NL Central rivalry.

The Brewers can lose president of baseball operations David Stearns to the Mets and it doesn’t matter. They can lose star manager Craig Counsell to the Cubs, and it doesn’t matter.

The Brewers can trade starting-pitcher ace Corbin Burnes, and it doesn’t matter. They can lose co-ace Brandon Woodruff (shoulder injury) for virtually two full seasons and it doesn’t matter. They can trade supreme closer Josh Hader before he could walk as a free agent – and it doesn’t matter.

Devin Williams moved into the closer role, and nothing changed. And even with Williams currently on the IL until midseason with a back injury, it hasn’t caused the Brewers to deteriorate. Nope. Still better than the Cardinals.

Former NL Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich has experienced a power drop because of chronic back troubles, and he’s on the IL again. But everything is still the same; the Brewers win more than the Cardinals. The Crew were better than the Cardinals after Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain got old and retired. The Brewers stayed ahead of the Cardinals when Travis Shaw stopped hitting, or when they made a regrettable trade for Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who hit.163 for Milwaukee in 2021.

Current No. 1 starter Freddy Peralta missed a lot of time to injury in 2019 and 2022, but the Brewers kept going. They traded Hunter Renfroe after he blasted 29 homers in 2022 and kept winning. It seems like every year the Brewers have relievers arriving by the truckload, and they still find ways to prevail in tight, one-run games. The Milwaukee defense and baserunning rarely slumps.

Counsell’s replacement, Pat Murphy, has the 2024 Brewers off to a 14-6 start and the third-best winning percentage in the majors. Even though St. Louis pitching slowed them down in two of the three weekend games at Busch Stadium, the Brewers are tied for third in the big leagues with an average of 5.7 runs per game. And they’re No. 8 in the majors at preventing runs, conceding 3.95 per game. The Milwaukee bullpen is holding steady. The Brewers are 5-0 in one-run games and have gone 10-2 on the road.

Other than Peralta, the Brewers don’t have much star power (if any) in their rotation. Lefty Wade Miley is a respected starter but can’t stay healthy.

According to Spotrac, which tracks salaries, the Cardinals have invested just under $63 million in their 2024 rotation, the second-highest salary distribution for starting pitching in the majors. The Brewers? They’re paying their starting pitchers a combined $18.7 million, which ranks 23rd among MLB teams.

As noted, the Brewers are prospering offensively in the early stages of 2024. Spotrac lists Milwaukee’s total investment in position players at $36 million – which ranks 26th among the 30 teams. The Cardinals are paying their position players $76.7 million, which ranks 13th.

The Milwaukee farm system required rebuilding, and the Cardinals had the edge there for a while. But the Brewers front office has succeeded in the mission to improve the prospect channel. The Crew entered 2024 with the No. 2 farm system in the majors according to Baseball America and are No. 3 at MLB Pipeline. The Cardinals are No. 23 at MLB Pipeline and No. 20 at Baseball America. After regrouping the Brewers have drafted well despite making the playoffs on a regular basis.

Since 2021, the Cardinals have Nolan Arenado playing third base and Paul Goldschmidt playing first base. Two potential Hall of Famers that finished first (Goldy) and third (‘Nado) in the 2022 NL MVP voting.

Since 2021, the Brewers have had Luis Urias, Brian Anderson, Andruw Monasterio, Mike Brousseau and Jace Peterson playing third base … and Rowdy Tellez, Carlos Santana, Daniel Vogelbach, and Keston Hiura playing first base until signing free-agent Rhys Hoskins this past offseason.

Sine 2021, the Brewers have 287 wins.

The Cardinals have 263.

I could go on. But clearly the Brewers have outflanked the more financially empowered Cardinals by making smart personnel and spending decisions. Matt Arnold, who was the GM under Stearns, has kept the Milwaukee machine rolling. But it isn’t a money machine. With the Brewers it’s more about drafting, player development, investments in the international talent market, having a sharp eye for value signings, intelligent use of data for a competitive edge, not falling behind in the new trends, and a field staff that can finesse improvement from the pitchers and position players.

And while the Crew has been burned by a few payroll-type decisions, the Cardinals have been scorched repeatedly by poor free-agent investments or contract extensions. The Cardinals have a lot more more money to work with than Milwaukee but waste much of their edge in the payroll battle by misguided signings and trades that don’t turn out very well.

According to Cots Contracts, the Cardinals rank 12th in the majors with a 26-man payroll of $176 million. The Brewers are 22nd at $108.2 million.

You want Bill DeWitt Jr. to spend more money? You might want to rethink that. The Cardinals aren’t getting enough value for the dollar because of frequent personnel miscalculations.

We can agree that the Brewers get more done with a lot less money compared to the Cardinals. The Brewers have a superior office and do a consistently impressive job in across-the-board personnel matters. Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio is one of the best in baseball at handling the team’s money. He’s funded an excellent front-office operation that routinely finds excellent bargain buys on the market. And the Brewers’ organization has a fantastic touch with developing and handling pitchers.

After the Brewers swept the Cardinals this weekend at Busch Stadium, “X” (aka Twitter) was swarming with angry fans that demanded the firing of manager Oli Marmol. I understand the anger and criticize no one for expressing their outrage.

But for those who want Marmol gone – and he isn’t going anywhere – I hope you realize something: if he’s sacked, the same front office remains in place under chairman DeWitt.

That’s a problem. The Milwaukee front office is an established strength. The St. Louis front office has been too many mistakes, fallen behind the industry trends, and failed to maintain a historical edge in pitcher development. I’m in the minority, but credit president of baseball operation John Mozeliak for renovating the pitching staff, and I have no problem praising good work when it’s warranted. Perhaps the Cardinals can bounce back during the remainder of 2024. But they shouldn’t be in this position for the second consecutive season.

The Cardinals have spent a little over $500 million more on payroll than Milwaukee since the beginning of 2017. And once again, first-place Milwaukee keeps winning more games than St. Louis. The Cardinals are in last place (again) and there is no mystery here. The Brewers are winning the front-office competition.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.