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St. Louis Cardinals: Q&A With John Mozeliak

John Mozeliak is damn good

On Thursday night in Memphis, John Mozeliak took part in a Q&A for paying customers at the Redbird Club in Autozone Park. I went ahead and bought a ticket, traveled to Memphis from St. Louis, recorded the interview, and will now provide you with the transcript. This Q&A touches on EVERYTHING a Cardinals fan would want to know, and in a candid manor. This is the best Q&A you’ll read.

A little background: I was wearing a Ray Lankford jersey that I’ve had since 1994. Mr. Lankford actually gave it to one of my older brother Jim’s friends at spring training and I’ve had it ever since. Or, at least that’s how the story goes. The jersey plays strongly into the first question, because Mozeliak immediately harassed me, playfully, for wearing such an old item.

A Warning: some of the question-askers were reasonably nervous and they stumbled with their question. I tried to clean up those questions for this article. Second, not every question asked was loud enough to be totally picked up by my recording device. So I used my memory to piece those questions back together. Also, this interview took place before the game and before Ken Rosenthal reported that Yadier Molina had agreed to an extension with the Cardinals.

Mo was having a lot of fun with the audience. Playful is the term that applies best.

If you know me, you’ll be able to guess which two questions I asked. I already spoiled the first one for you:

Q: Well, since you mentioned the Lankford jersey, is there anyway that we can get him on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2018?

John Mozeliak: You know, I actually don’t sit on that committee, but I suspect his name will come up probably in the next five years. You know, it’s one of those things, it’s tough, because even Jason Isringhausen for example is on this years ballot and I was sitting with him the other night and he’s like “I’m never going to get in” because the problem is that you are always adding another exciting name to it. Chris Carpenter went in last year which I think is well deserved. Now you have Scotty Rolen. Like I said, Izzy. It’s competitive. What it really says, is that there have been a lot of really great players to come through the Cardinals and we are lucky to have them. I think that Hall of Fame has become a big event for us each August.

Q: If you look at the way that the Cubbies move you through the metal detector, they have developed a system…

JM: And where do they do this?

Q: Wrigley

JM: Oh… Really… This is going splendidly. You had to bring up the Cubs. (He’s joking. take a breath).

JM: You know, I always try to look at the Cardinals like we are the best business and people always want to practice what we do, but clearly getting people into the ballpark is important and I would imagine, I don’t actually work with our team security, but I would imagine that as we move forward we are going to look to always look for how to speed up (entrance into the stadium). 3.4 Million every year… Big line. I’m on it, though.

Q: The commissioner’s rule changes to speed up the game: would you like to comment?

JM: I actually do sit on the rules committee. I’m an advocate for looking at keeping the game moving. Let me say it to you this way: what do you think the average age of a fan that watches the World Series is:

Audience: *Momentary Crickets*

JM: A 54 year old white male. So, when you think about business and your business model and that’s your demographic, it’s a little scary. So you look at the younger generation and what they want and speed of play does matter. But I also think…. It’s not just how long a game takes bit it’s also the pace of that game. And it’s also what kind of action do you have in that game? And, so, I think balls in play, less strike outs, less walks, would certainly help in that. It’s like when to try to answer this question it’s not simply saying “look, we want games to be played in 2 hours and 30 minutes”. What you want is action. And I do think that the initiative of possibly shortening the commercial breaks would certainly help the length, but it’s about getting balls in play so I think that correlates directly to the strike zone.

Q: What’s it going to take to sign Yadi?

JM: Ewwhhhhh

*Audience makes noise. Claps. Other…. things*

JM: I’m surprised it took that long. A lot of money, sir.

*Audience, well, you know*

JM: You know… I think… In these particular situations I think it’s always about… You know, I sort of think about the organization in 3 windows: one is ‘what do we look like today’, what are we going to look like in three years, and what are we going to look like in five years. Anytime that you are making a large commitment and one where you are trying to keep your core players in tact, which has certainly been our goal. We’ve also always tried to invest in our younger players coming up, signing them to extensions, or at least through their arbitration years. So, to answer your question as politically incorrect as I have been, My hope is that we can get this done. To use the phrase that I’ve been using the last few days, “We are on the clock”, and I guess I need a little bit more clarity on what that line looks like to understand when he closes negotiations. But, right now, I think there is some optimism.

Q: COULD YOU EXPLAIN YOUR LEVEL OF INVOLVEMENT IN SIGNING OR SCOUTING LUIS ROBERT?

JM: So, I’m a little hesitant to comment on players that haven’t been cleared yet by MLB, but, you know, I will say, from a high level, he is one of the most exciting players to come along in many many years. You know, you hate to use that phrase “Once in a generation” type player. I actually don’t know him well enough to make that comment, but I know that from a scouting stand point he’s ridiculously talented and I assure you that many many teams are hoping that get to engage in that and the Cardinals will be one of them. *EDITORIAL BONER*

Q: Expand a little on your efforts to sign Latin America and Cuban players.

JM: We were very strategic last year in deciding to enter into the international market, specifically Latin America. The reason why is, because most of the bigger, larger, market teams are already out of that market. Therefore, we thought that we had a competitive advantage to go in and negotiate. And when you think about when the Yankees, Boston, Chicago, LA, they couldn’t compete in that(market). Therefore, we felt it opened the door for us. We spent over $20 Million this past year investing in our pipeline or our farm system, and we are going to continue to try to do that. But, you know, our window is closing now. And our opportunities are shrinking.

Q: Elaborate on spending money in the Latin market instead of other markets, like the free agent market, of known players. I think that’s a terrific way to go. *Condensed*

JM: Well, I think we’ve always been defined by our Minor League system. So, if we think we can survive and remain competitive by dealing with the free agent market then we are in trouble. It’s all about what you have coming through, and that’s really how we’ve had that sustained success through the years.

Q: On the other hand, you have to be happy with Dexter Fowler.

JM: He asked me about Dexter Fowler (he says this for the people who couldn’t hear the question that was asked). The guy is tremendous. You know, the one thing that I will say about him is that he is the most inclusive human being that I have ever been around. And, uh, you know he has that smile. It’s infectious. He’s just one of those who just makes everyone else better. When you think about the free agent market, you’re always looking (for) talent. That’s what is driving how we spend money and why. But I will tell you that we won the lottery with him as a person, so… He’s a great fit.

Q: Who do you think is poised to have a break out season this year?

JM: Breakout season, I would say Piscotty would be someone. Or Grichuk. I think both of those guys have, you know, All-Star potential and it’s (a question of) will we see that happen and when? But both of those guys ooze talent and they are both exciting. You know, when you think about how we positioned our offseason, both of those guys are going to get a huge opportunity to play everyday.

Q: Who is going to play second?

JM: Another touchy topic this week; Kolten Wong. So, who’s going to play second? I hope it’s him. I mean, I’m not going to hide behind the fact that one of our goals this past offseason was to make sure that we improved our defense. I think he’s an extremely talented defender. Now, when Mike is thinking about his lineups… I always look at my job as making sure that you have the tools in the toolbox and it’s sort of his job to pick them out and use them the way he needs to, but, when you think about second base right now it is important that we have someone who can catch the ball. We have a lot of ground ball pitchers and it’s critical for good defense. But, my point, and why I defend Mike Matheny here is, Kolten has to be able to separate at bats from going out to the field. If he can do that I think we can live with him as a player, but he can’t take a tough at bat or maybe a poor at bat and then go out to the field and have his head down. You’ve got to separate the two and if he can do that I think it’s part of his maturing process. The good news for us is, if he isn’t able to grab hold of that, based on what we saw this spring, Jedd Gyorko is a valuable asset on this club. Certainly changes the defensive model when you do it that way, but it also changes the offensive outlook, too. So, there are two ways to kind of skin this. But I’m hopeful that he can take control.

Q: How many games do you think Matt Adams plays in the outfield?

JM: Boy, if I had a crystal ball on this one… This is clearly a guess so…. I don’t know. Here’s the thing, you know, I’m very excited about where he is offensively and I think we’ve got to figure out a way to allow that bat to stay healthy and hot. So my hope is, what you see out of him is maybe you see him, for the first six innings, get an opportunity out there. It’s such a tough learning curve to learn a position at the big league level because so many things count and so many things matter. His attitude has been awesome. He showed up in great shape and trying to find a way to keep him in that lineup is going to be a challenge for the skipper but I think he welcomes it.

I didn’t answer that, and I know I didn’t because I just don’t know the answer!

Q: *Gentleman makes a comment about how intelligent it was to retain Craig Unger as part of management* Tell me a little bit about left handed starting pitching and how important that is to the big league club.

JM: First off, thank you for your comment. Mr. Unger has done a great job, I think… Memphis is in great hands. So, you guys are in the perfect place. In terms of having a left handed starter, you know, clearly it gives you an advantage in terms of making the other team have to think about making their lineup. But, I think, you can also maybe have to rethink that, depending on what you have in your bullpen. There is probably a high probability that at some point this year we’ll have 3 lefties in our bullpen. Tyler Lyons will likely start here in Memphis on a rehab assignment but, you know, he could be one of those guys that can help shorten a game because he can go multiple innings. I think Siegrist and Cecil both can help that 7th and 8th. So, I think from a strategic standpoint, I’m not really concerned about having a lefty starter.

Q: How do the Cardinals rank at using analytical tools to Make decisions? (Mo restates this question, as the question asker was not decernable)

JM: I would say, right now, all 30 teams have an analytical department. I would say that most every team has a very confident analytical department. So, I think, where we were, say, ten years ago, I do think we had a competitive advantage. Where we are today, I think the margins are much tighter. So, I think that is one of the challenges that we are always trying to decipher. What is that next frontier? Where can we separate ourselves and that’s something that my group is always looking for to try to do. You know, there’s new technologies coming out there. Where’s, sort of, virtual reality going to play into how we start thinking about training and developing? And, so, there are some things that are moving… I guess when you are having to make these types of large investments there’s always that question of “do you want to be the first one out there?” or do you want to be the second ones’ that’s tested. So, we are always trying to find that right balance.

JM: Yes sir. Is this about the Cubs again?

Question Asker: When you go up there to play them, you need Cardinals fans up….

JM: alrightttttt….. No, that’s true. That’s true. As long as you wear that hat (fan was wearing a Memphis Redbirds hat).

QA: And we sweep when we go, so, hey!

Q: Compare the collegiate level to the World system as far as amateur players and scouting. *Paraphrased*

JM: OK. So, we are in the talent business, right? And, so, when you think about where we do that domestically versus internationally. I will say, Division One baseball is at a high watermark, and they are producing players and I think teams are taking advantage of that. But I think you can also say that about Division 2, Division 3, and about JUCO. But, baseball has become global and to not look at ways to grow the game, especially when you are looking at places that have a huge population, I think we would be crazy. And, so, when you look at TV markets and what we do domestically, we’ve saturated that. We need to be selling our game elsewhere. You have to be thinking like that. Use the NBA as an example and when they had that success from the one player from China. All of the sudden, China started buying the TV Rights to the NBA and that’s been amazingly successful for the NBA. That’s what we are trying to tap into. Unfortunately, some of the markets we are in are more 3rd world countries, so it isn’t a huge economic boom for us, necessarily. But it is a good talent pipeline.

*A fan who spends time for work in Latin America makes a comment about seeing a lot of Cardinals fans in those countries wearing Cardinals attire*

Q: This may be more of an MLB question than a Cardinals Question, but why aren’t there more games abroad?

JM: No, I agree and I do think that Major League Baseball’s initiative to think about playing baseball abroad is something that is on the horizon and I do think that it’s something that is going to be good for our game because when you talk about trying to build it globally, you’ve got to do things like we are doing here tonight. You’ve got to be there. And when you have that intimate interaction with players like we are able to do here, that’s what helps grow it. So, I certainly think you are going to see, hope to see, some expansion. Whether it’s in Europe, Whether it’s in Asia, or even in South America.

QA: It just be nice to see a couple of exhibition games…

JM: You know, I’d like to see a couple that count.

Q: Could you please give a health update on Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. (The guy doesn’t ask about Rosenthal and I almost strangle him)

JM: Lance Lynn threw today and felt great. He was actually supposed to be our starter here but the weather had us a little concerned.

We Missed….

But he’ll be fine. And then Wacha. Had a great camp. Feels strong. So he’s going to be free to run so we will see what we get.

John Mozeliak finished with this annotation after a long comment about Memphis as a staging ground for Major League contributors:

JM: There is some parallel with having success at the minor league level and, not to say that it guarantees major league success. Just one little sort of tidbit here; our 3 short season clubs last year all won championships. That means that every player that was drafted last year for the St. Louis Cardinals won a ring. So that’s a nice accomplishment… I’m pretty excited about this Memphis club. I will say that I’m pretty disappointed with these last minute injuries that happened because I thought that we were lining up pretty well. But I think, from an offensive standpoint, I think this (Memphis) team has a chance to be successful. You are going to see a very good defensive club here. I will say, when you are looking at sort of where the horsepower is coming (from), that rotation at Double A is going to be strong. And, so, that usually means that they will see Memphis at some point. Very excited about what we have in the pitching depth and I think you are going to see a lot of exciting arms come through here in the next year and a half.

 

After that it was a love fest. One guy thanked Mo. Then another fella thanked Mo. Then a woman told Mo that she was around for the 1968 World Series and saw Bob Gibson pitch, which Mo had a little fun with. Then he thanked the crowd and that was it.

I did get a few private moments with Mo after the Q&A. I asked him who the fifth starter in Springfield was going to be, behind Gomber, Flaherty, Alcantara, and Hudson. He said that, as of that moment, they had six SP lined up for Double A. I asked him if the last two would be Daniel Poncedeleon and Matt Pearce, to which he nodded “yes”.

I asked him what went into the decision process to aggressively promote Dakota Hudson to the Double A rotation. He responded “He earned it.”

Finally, I asked him if top Prospect Delvin Perez was going to be on the Peoria roster. Mozeliak said that he would not and emphasized the desire to be patient with the 18 year old.

*UPDATE* Mo also said that 2016 first round pick Dylan Carlson will start the season in Peoria. That’s a big jump and an aggressive promotion for the 18 year old.

On a personal note, you absolutely need to jump on the chance to take part in one of these Q&A’s if you never have, even if you are not a fan of Mozeliak. This is the second one that I have taken part in, and both have been “tied for first” experiences. The level of respect that you gain from this man as he answers your questions candidly is something that he deserves. Also, Downtown Memphis is pretty cool, and it’s an easy drive from St. Louis. During the season, you can get a ticket to The Redbird Club for $55.

I’ll be back down here shortly.

What are your takeaways from this Q&A? Let us know!

Thanks for Reading!!!

Kyle Reis

Follow me on Twitter @kyler416

Kyle Reis
Kyle is a South City St Louis born and raised. He is 30 years old and grew up at old Busch Stadium. His favorite Cardinals player of all time is Ray Lankford. Kyle is an overly simple person who loves countable baseball statistics, following minor league baseball, and friendly discourse. He tends to not take people seriously that refer for the team that they root for as "we" instead of "them".
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  • mitch54

    Nice job on the discussion. I assume this was before all of the talk about the Molina deal…

    • kyler416

      Yes, indeed. I tried to put that in the preface so as to not clarify.

  • John Baker

    Wow. You must have had a great time! Thanks for sharing…. it’s truly appreciated.
    I’ll start with Robert…. IF we sign this kid it would be so great. Mo spoke so highly of him that it changed how I look at LR. It will be interesting to see how his signing plays out.
    I liked his picks for a breakout season. I feel exactly the same. I also liked his optimism when speaking of Lynn and Wacha, but there seemed to be a lot less optimism concerning Wong. It sounded like an honest answer.
    You know, I sound off a lot regarding Mozeliak… but I’m glad he’s in our
    organization. That said, some of his moves over the last couple of years ticked me off. (I don’t like seeing our guys leaving) The exception was ap, the best non-move turned out to be his best move.
    Your private time with JM provided some great Qs and the inside As provided some good info on Hudson, Perez and Carlson.
    I wish I had the $55. to get in on the excitement. Of course, I’d have to consider the airfare from NY.
    So again, thank you for the effort it took to put this out for all of us.

    ps….. honestly now, would you like to go out for a beer with Mo?

    • kyler416

      John, those are all good reads. I think that you have a very good feel for what Mo was selling.

      I’ve been stupid bullish on Robert. Annoyingly bullish. To hear Mo talk about him the way that he did shocked me, to be honest. That he and organization is that high on him is an incredible sign for just how good he already is.

      I don’t think the airfare would be worth it, lol!!?!! The ticket for last night was actually $75, but that was only because of the Q&A. Even without the Q&A the setup in the Redbird Club down in Memphis is worth it. All inclusive. The Buffet was awesome.

      Finally, I would kill to buy Mo a beer and chat with him. There is a certain smug confidence there, but he is also humble and personable. I always worried that he would not be able to let his guard down and, as a result, would provided canned and predictable answers. I think he’s evolved into more.
      And, I think Dexter Fowler is part of the reason why, to be honest.

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