The St. Louis Cardinals’ season ended weeks after most teams’ seasons did. It did end, though, and any conclusion short of a championship is usually declared a loss by fans. This year was no exception. Fans struggling to come to grips with the lack of baseball programming on their television were treated this week to a post-mortem presser held by John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny. Spoiler: not everyone was happy with what they heard.
The team finds itself in a good position. They’re a mostly young team with little payroll pressure, and enough free cash to go after the pieces they’ll need once this year’s free agents depart (if they depart) and anyone that’s non-tendered. In that sense, offseason decisions primarily center around planning for next year’s squad. It’s a matter of which young Cardinal-controlled player will man a position, rather than who the team will try to target for acquisition.
As a result, the presser is pretty much a proclamation that next year’s team will very strongly resemble this year’s squad. For some that’s where the rub starts. Others found themselves frustrated that Mo (and later Mike) had no trouble publicly commenting on areas (conditioning, fitness) they feel Oscar Taveras needs to work on before spring. While such a comment isn’t terribly abnormal, it rubs St. Louis fans the wrong way because of the perception that he wasn’t given a fair shake in his rookie season.
It’s true that Oscar came up, went down, and came up again. It’s also true that despite hitting well late in the season, he was benched in the postseason permanently for Randall Grichuk. The flip side of that coin is that his defense is sub-par. Both John and Mike were clear that his problems with defense are the main reason he didn’t play late. It also wasn’t the first time that internal grumblings about Taveras made their way into the public awareness, and that’s a source of frustration for fans who want one of the Cards’ top prospects to be given a legitimate shot at doing what he’s historically done in the minors. Mozeliak’s added comment that Oscar needs to work on his “passion” for defense likely also rubbed many the wrong way.
Fans have long struggled to figure out why Mozeliak permits much of the alleged mismanagement of the team from Mike Matheny. Such confusion is predicated on one very tenuous conclusion: that John finds his management skill to be lacking. The press conference confirmed his faith in Mike and the tone is decidedly: “Sure, Mike has things to learn, but he’s coming along nicely.” That’s paraphrased, but it’s the gist of what we’ve learned about their relationship over the last three seasons. This presser did little to convince fans that the general manager is just as irritated by his manager’s controversial decisions as fans.
After good news on a slew of players still recovering from injury (Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina), which we later learn is a major miscommunication with respect to Wainwright. we also learn that Jon Jay is having offseason surgery to correct an issue plaguing his left wrist since mid-summer. That announcement itself wouldn’t raise many eyebrows, but it did underline that Jay’s impressive second half and monster postseason hitting were all done while he was struggling with an injury. For some, however, Mo’s proclamation that Jay would be next year’s starting centerfielder was far more unsettling. For some, Jay’s high value right now should make him the ultimate trade candidate. Mo’s position appears to be that Jay’s value is extremely high…in Busch stadium’s outfield. This contentious issue appears likely to divide Cards fans for at least another year.
No set of answers the manager and general manager can give after being eliminated can really make fans happy. Certain aspects of this post-mortem presser appear to have upset fans well beyond the normal frustration of having to wait four more months before watching more Cardinals baseball. At least both of them came out to face the music, and that’s worth something.