A few nights ago, I found myself watching John Mozeliak’s press conference following the news that Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. One writers posed the question that was on everybody’s mind that December morning.
“Is it time to chart a new direction?”
In all of the Cardinals success over the past four seasons, the uncertainty of the the Cardinals future that existed in December 2011 has been lost. Talk of the “Cardinal Way” has trivialized the fact that the Cardinals lost a future Hall of Fame first baseman and a Hall of Fame manager in the span of six weeks. Despite the losses, the organization persevered.
Mozeliak quickly addressed the offensive vacancy and added Carlos Beltran to play right field, sliding Lance Berkman to first (he only made 32 plate appearances, however). Adam Wainwright returned from Tommy John surgery. Allen Craig emerged as a dependable offensive threat.
That, however, isn’t what set Mo apart.
Diversifying the organization
The Cardinals have been successful in recent years because Mozeliak understood the possibility that Pujols might leave. Mozeliak and ownership protected themselves by spreading their risk around. The Cardinals’ farm system emerged as one of the best in baseball, churning out quality player after quality player. The trend started in 2011, and has continued.
Significant homegrown contributors in the postseason include: Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Jon Jay, Pete Kozma (if you need a reminder, click here), Oscar Taveras (😢), Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Matt Adams, Allen Craig, and Matt Carpenter.
Heading into 2016, the Cardinals were second in homegrown players on the 40-man, second in projected WAR by homegrown players, and second in percentage of team WAR by homegrown players (in each of these categories they were only bested by San Francisco). They’re number one pick in 2013 (Marco Gonzales) goes down with arm troubles? Thats ok, Luke Weaver was dealing at AAA.
Oh, and the guy they lost in 2012? Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty were better players in 2016, and it wasn’t close. Piscotty and Wacha combined for 4.7 WAR, while Pujols was only worth 0.9 WAR.
Also, the payroll flexibility allowed by Pujols departure allowed the club to extend Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig (hey, I thought it was a good move at the time), and Kolten Wong at team friendly rates.
Supplementing the roster through free agency
No farm system is perfect, so Mozeliak has had to go to market several times to acquire the help he needed. Following a full season of Pete Kozma at shortstop in 2013, Mozeliak signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal. Despite his decline, he exceeded expectations by leading the MLB shortstops in WAR in 2014.
Heading into 2016, Mozeliak failed to sign the organizations primary targets: Jason Heyward and David Price. Both are excellent players who I expect to rebound, but they performed well below expectations. Mozeliak was still able to sign Mike Leake, who despite an ERA bloated by poor defense, posted a career best FIP.
This offseason, a glaring hole existed in center field. After deciding opposing teams were asking far more than Mo was willing to pay, he signed Dexter Fowler to a five-year deal.
Steals in the trade market
Mozeliak has also been very solid in this aspect. Undoubtedly the best deal he made was acquiring (and signing) Matt Holliday from Oakland for career pinch-hitter Brett Wallace and two other players, but he has made other smart trades.
In July 2011 he dealt Colby Rasmus for Marx Rzepczynski, Edwin Jackson, and Octavio Dotel. Rasmus has enjoyed a nice career, but St. Louis won a World Series. That same month, he acquired Rafael Furcal via trade.
After the passing of Oscar Taveras, Mozeliak traded Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward. Both players have since moved on, and Heyward was a key piece to a 100-win team.
The most impressive thing about Mozeliak is his ability to sustain success. Both participants in the World Series experienced significant rebuilding projects, and in the case of the Cubs, tanked shamelessly. Many in recent months have hailed Theo Epstein as the greatest
person general manager in baseball history. In my view, Epstein has been shooting fish in a barrel on the North Side. If John Mozeliak has been successful routinely picking at the end of the first round in the MLB draft, what could he do with the top five picks Epstein has enjoyed?
Imagine if the Giants lost Bruce Bochy and Buster Posey in the same offseason. Or if the Cubs lost Kris Bryant and Joe Maddon after the upcoming season? Would they make the playoffs four consecutive years and win a pennant?
I don’t think so.
Thanks for reading, as always.