Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told fans at tonight's social media event that the team's payroll might increase over the next couple of seasons (Twitter link). St. Louis started the season with a payroll just north of $94MM according to Cot's, right in line with where the club has been since 2005.
Obviously the elephant in the room is Albert Pujols' upcoming contract extension. He'll earn the same $16MM next year that he's earned since 2008 once the team picks up his option, but 2011 is the last season the team will enjoy that discount. His salary is then expected to soar over $20MM, perhaps as much as $10MM more annually than he's pulling down right now.
The only significant contract coming off the Cardinals' books this offseason is Brad Penny's one-year, $7.5MM deal, but they'll also save marginal amounts thanks to the expiring contracts of Jason LaRue and Felipe Lopez. Ryan Franklin's $3.5MM salary will disappear after next season, but that money will just be redistributed to Adam Wainwright when his 2012 option ($9MM) is inevitably picked up. It's worth noting that St. Louis did save itself a nice chunk of change both this year and next when it traded Ryan Ludwick to the Padres.
Clearly, if the Cardinals plan to retain Pujols and field a competitive team long-term they're going to have to expand the payroll. Jumping into nine-figure payroll territory seems inevitable for the foreseeable future.