Exit Interview 2023: John Mozeliak

This season didn’t go like most seasons.  The Cardinals were terrible.  I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary.  However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series!  Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals.  We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same.  As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!

President of Baseball Operations: John Mozeliak

Grade: C

A lot of the comments Mozeliak made this year got thrown back at him repeatedly as the season progressed.  “We like our team.”  “We have six starters.”  “I’d say be patient because we know this will turn around.”  It’s not like you can expect the face of the front office to come out and say, “Man, this is not going well” but the comments in the early part of the season held a whiff of denial about the dire situation the club found itself in.

It was a mess of his (again, as a representative of the decision-making process) own making, for the most part.  The Cardinals were unable to go out and get starters this past winter because they had five spots already locked up with veteran money, making it difficult to entice free agents into a spot with uncertain playing time.  While the trade market was an option, of course, none of those arms were particularly tradeable either, with most of them being at the bottom of their value.  The front office also decided to hold on to the 3,720 outfielders that are in the system instead of clearing room and turning some assets into other useable parts.

To give Mo credit, though, come June it was clear that he was going to be moving at the trade deadline.  He was more active in mid-season than we’ve seen in a long time, sending out every possible free agent (save Drew VerHagen) in deals to Toronto, Texas, and Baltimore, and getting quality prospects back in return.  Tekoah Roby is probably already the best pitching prospect in the organization depending on your thoughts on Tink HenceThomas Saggese might make Tommy Edman expendable soon.  Prospects take time to fully grade, of course, but the deadline seemed a very solid win for the front office.

That solid winning continued into the winter.  The club let dead weight like Dakota Hudson and Jake Woodford go.  They were even aggressive enough to let Andrew Knizner walk.  They signed solid pitchers in Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson and getting one of the top pitchers on the market in Sonny Gray was a definite coup.  There are probably some moves still to come, as there has been talk about getting a couple of relievers and there are still a lot of outfielders that they could send out.

What we continue to miss, though, is creativity and boldness.  At the trading deadline, Mo did what he need to do–and no more.  He didn’t package Tyler O’Neill into a deal that might have upped the prospect haul.  They weren’t able to pry away a young pitcher with some control.  Maybe those deals weren’t out there.  They likely weren’t given the limitations of the July deadline.  However, when you see Texas going after a Max Scherzer even after getting Jordan Montgomery, you feel like maybe something else could have been done with the assets the club had.

That lack of creativity goes back aways–the Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado moves, while wonderful trades, were almost telegraphed months before they were made, with the only question whether St. Louis would pull the trigger–and it continues forward.  The pitchers that the Cards have signed so far are good pitchers that fill a need.  They also feel like a short-term solution to a long-term problem, a band-aid put over the wound to try to get by for another year, instead of a bold strategy for the future.

Granted, bold strategies don’t always work.  I still think that going after Yoshinobu Yamamoto this winter would have been a bold strategy, getting a 25-year-old ace locked up, continuing to extend your footprint in Asia, and throw down the gauntlet that things were going to go differently in St. Louis.  Instead, it seems (and I stress seems, since it is still at least in the realm of possibility last year’s embarrassment stretches the payroll budget more than we think) that the Cards dipped their toes in the water, didn’t like the temperature, and bolted back inside rather than easing in and having a good time.  The conservative play is the right one more often than not but it’s also how you wind up sliding into situations like last year without even realizing it.

What’s in store for 2024: Mo’s final extension kicks in next year.  Given that there are only two years on it, there seems little chance that even a bad season gets him fired.  I could see a change in title, a shift in portfolio, a different look at things.  Maybe he could finally get to that “big picture” thinking that he was supposed to do with his move from GM to POBO.  Hopefully it’s a moot point and the Cards get a World Series for him before he rides off into the sunset.

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