John Mozeliak and the “Definition of Insanity”

I’m sad to write this. I have always been a steadfast, “trust in Mo” fan. However, with each of the last 3 years, I have lost faith in him. Slowly, but surely. At this point, I lack confidence in his front office to make the necessary moves to push the team forward and back into the playoffs. They have become too passive and far too predictable.

If you listen to interviews with Mo on a somewhat regular basis then you have undoubtedly heard him reference the “definition of insanity.”

What Mo usually says is, “you know, the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results,” or some variation of that phrase.

Let me take a couple lines to point out that this is not the actual definition of insanity. The Dictionary definition is either, “the state of being seriously mentally ill; madness” or “extreme foolishness or irrationality.” While performing Mo’s definition can certainly lead to madness and is extremely foolish, it’s technically not the definition of insanity. Moving on.

I hate to break it to Mr. Mozeliak — a man that I have respected for so long — but if you review the last few seasons, the Cardinals are, in fact, doing to same things over and over, and expecting — or at least telling the fans — that the results will change.

Hitter / Reliever(s)

I won’t talk too much about this, I’ll let you examine first. I’ll just say, it fit too easily in a 3-column chart.

Year Key Hitter Acquired Reliever(s) Acquired Other
2013-14 Peralta Neshek Bourjos
2014-15 Heyward Walden/Belisle/Villanueva Reynolds
2015-16 Gyorko Oh Leake/Pena
2016-17 Fowler Cecil NA
2017-18 Ozuna Gregerson/Norris/Leone/Holland Mikolas
2018-19 Goldschmidt Miller Wieters

Every offseason for the last 6 years, there is a key offensive role open on the roster. Every year, the Cardinals fill that spot. The bullpen is perennially in need of at least one late-inning arm. Every year, the Cardinals fill those spots. Occasionally, they add an additional bench player or backup catcher, and the two outliers were starting pitchers Mike Leake and Miles Mikolas.

Take nothing away from the Mikolas signing, it was very good. Of the two starting pitchers, only Mikolas didn’t fill an obvious hole at the time of the signing. Mike Leake was signed on the heels of Lance Lynn’s Tommy John surgery, sliding into his vacated rotation spot.

Cecil was signed to fill the spot of an injured Zach Duke. Gregerson, Leone, and Norris were filling the roles vacated by Rosenthal and Oh, while Holland was replacing Gregerson. Miller filled the gap created by ineffective lefties, including Cecil.

What I am getting at is: for several years the Cardinals’ offseasons have aimed to backfill. For example, the offensive acquisitions replace the production of someone that stopped producing (Goldschmidt replaces offense lost by Fowler/Gyorko production), was traded away (Goldy>Pham, Ozuna>Grichuk/Piscotty), or left in free agency (Fowler>Holliday).

This method is great for maintaining a certain level of success. For the last three years (and this year looks similar) that has been maintaining an 83-87 win level of success. They fill the holes in the roster, but then fail to upgrade elsewhere in order to push the roster to the next level.

While I will gladly acknowledge the talent gaps between a Goldschmidt and a Gyorko acquisition, it remains that the Cardinals have followed the same “fill hole and stop” strategy for 6 consecutive winters.

And they keep expecting different results.

In-Season Trades

The last time the Cardinals made a significant in-season trade to push, or keep, them ahead of the competition was when they acquired Brandon Moss in 2015. At the time, he was a relative luxury item and was generally destined to reinforce the bench and add pop as a fill-in.

Since then this is what the Cardinals have acquired, at the Major League level, during the season:

Year Player(s)
2016 Zach Duke / Jerome Williams
2017 Juan Nicasio
2018 Chasen Shreve / Tyson Ross / Matt Adams

Notes: I did not include the 2016 cash acquisition of Jose Martinez, because his MLB impact was 16 AB’s in September. Also excluded were the 2018 waiver claims of Tyler Webb and Preston “Gas Can” Guilmet because they were clear depth moves, and Giovanny Gallegos did not make a MLB impact in his 2 games in the season’s final week.

These are the in-season moves made by the front office over the last 3 years that were intended to impact the standings for the same season in which they were made.

Pretty weak, right? Heck, Nicasio wasn’t even acquired until September, making him ineligible for the postseason. Good thing they didn’t make any moves in July to close that massive 4 game gap between themselves and the 2nd Wild Card spot in 2017.

That’s the kicker, here. The Cardinals have resolved themselves to only acquire bullpen help in-season over the last 3 years, never pushing the chips in on a big impact move. In those years, they have finished 1, 4, and 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. Yet, fans often get fed a line about “Mo will invest in the team at the deadline if he feels they are good enough to deserve the investment,” or something along those lines. You all know exactly what I’m talking about.

The dumb thing about that sentiment is that going into the deadline the last 3 years (end-of-day on July 30th), the Cardinals have been 56-48, 52-53, and 54-52, respectively. In 2009, the Cardinals finished July 23rd at 52-46. The next day they traded for Matt Holliday. They were 55-49 through July 27th, 2011. The next day they made the Rasmus trade. One of the last 3 years is a better record than those years in which they were far more aggressive. The other two, while middling, were not exactly “think about next year” bad.

The truth is, all of these teams have been on the periphery of contention, a position that begs for a bold move to make a postseason push. In 2017, JD Martinez was traded for mid-level prospects and had an MVP-type run in Arizona. Josh Donaldson was available last August for nothing more than his remaining $4M salary, and they didn’t place a waiver claim. The same goes for Daniel Murphy. Instead, they picked up a sore-wristed Matt Adams. Rather than making aggressive moves, they have settled for the, “Hey, (unamed all-star) isn’t walking through the clubhouse doors, this is on us. We believe in this team,” approach.

In reality, the rosters have only been built to be adequate during the offseason, so riding out the season with that roster is a recipe for a middling season (see: 85ish wins). They employ the same strategy every winter, as discussed, and then don’t supplement it during the year, year after year.

And they are surprised that the results haven’t changed.

Player Churn, Honeymoon Periods, and Letting Talent Get Away

I watched for years as Mo made key trades and acquisitions and managed to never really give up a player that we would come to miss. Through 2016, the biggest black marks on his 9-season resume appeared to be (for free agency) signing Ty Wigginton, Mark Ellis, or Brayan Pena — pick any, the point is that they were inconsequential bench players — and (in trades) allowing Luke Gregerson to slip away as a Player-To-Be-Named-Later for Khalil Greene. Shelby Miller was an almost miss, having an All-Star campaign in 2015, only to fight injuries and, ultimately, ineffectiveness in the years that followed.

You see what I’m saying though. There were no Luke Voit’s, Tommy Pham’s, Stephen Piscotty’s (unique situation), or Carson Kelly’s floating around as traded-away Cardinals having great success elsewhere.

It simply didn’t happen for about a decade, but in the last year it’s happened at a stunning rate. Part of that is a testament to the Cardinals system, which has been consistently producing viable Major League players for several years. If you trade from that system, you are bound to see those guys have success.

The team will tell you that they tried something different last year with the way they made trades. The truth is, they were still getting relievers and prospects in return. The only difference was the amount they had to give up in order to get THOSE EXACT SAME THINGS THAT THEY ALWAYS ACQUIRE.

Parting with talent is acceptable when you get talent back. The Goldschmidt trade doesn’t upset me, despite his struggles. I understood the Voit trade and can live with it, it looks bad in hindsight mostly because the Cardinals offense has gone AWOL. Giovanny Gallegos was a legitimate return in that deal. Piscotty was traded as part of unique circumstances. The Tommy Pham trade is still a head scratcher because a) guys with 6 WAR potential don’t grow on trees and b) it was part of the continued tire spinning.

Consider that in 2015, Grichuk appeared to be the CF of the future. Jon Jay was traded and Grichuk took the job. He struggled offensively and one calendar-year later, they were dropping $82M on Dexter Fowler to replace him. One calendar-year later, after watching Fowler’s defense lag and Pham’s soar, they pushed Fowler to RF and planted Pham in CF. Just 4 months into that season, they traded Pham to create more At-Bats for slugger Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader. Enamored by his defense, the Cardinals put Bader at the center of offseason public relations and O’Neill became a footnote in 2019.

The Cardinals have a bad habit of falling in love during the “honeymoon period” and falling out of love as soon as it’s over. The Cardinals are the guy that hops in a relationship with a girl, only to dump her because the “new” wears off and some other hot girl just came single.

Sometimes they seem to turnover the roster just for the sake of change, not necessarily stopping to consider whether they are parting with superior talent and keeping lesser players because of “fit.”

No Change Given Here

The team will tell you that Goldschmidt was a break from their normal operations. It wasn’t. While he certainly carried a far superior track record compared to past acquisitions, he was another move made necessary because the lineup had a major hole, and via the shift of Carpenter to 3B, so did the 1B position. They filled the gap — albeit with a terrific player — and then said, “ok, we’re done.”

They have been doing the same thing for the last 3-4 years.

The same blueprint for offseason acquisitions.

The same in-season trades for relief pitching.

The same cycle of roster turnover.

Over and over.

And telling us the results will be different.

Fellas, if you meant it when you said “2019 matters,” then be bold. Be aggressive. Quit driving your fans insane and do something you haven’t done in-season for at least 4 years in order to do something you haven’t done in the past three.

Supplement the roster with impact players, push the team over the hump, and make the damn playoffs.

Thanks for reading!

  • James Greenwald July 4, 2019, 9:01 am

    It’s not easy. I listened to MOs recent interview with Frank and I honestly think he feels this team can do it.

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