This flashback takes us to the very first article ever published by the Redbird Daily. Coming out of the gates strong, the site launched with an exclusive interview with (at the time) General Manager, John Mozeliak. This interview was conducted by the site’s founder, John Nagel, with questions contributed by the entire writing staff. Keep in mind this was originally published during the 2016-17 offseason, meaning some questions are outdated. For fun, updates/follow-ups have been included.
Redbird Daily: Are you currently looking around to add a reserve outfielder?
John Mozeliak: These types of questions always require the same answer and that is “yes”. As it is our responsibility to look at upgrades but I would say we are focused on finding another LH Bat with versatility but I do want to get a better feel for where Matt Adams is as well.
UPDATE: The Cardinals did not, in fact, add a reserve outfielder in 2017. Famously, the mentioned Matt Adams would take a few turns in Left Field. Outside of him, the “LH bat with versatility” never materialized. Eventually the Cardinals traded Adams, spent 15 fruitless months looking for a versatile LH bench bat with power to replace him, and then re-acquired Adams on a waiver claim in August of 2018.
RD: Assess Randy Flores’ first draft with the Cardinals? Were there any drafting differences from years before?
JM: Randy had a very difficult job this past year with starting late in the process (hired in August) and tasked with learning our staff and process. We knew hiring Randy, these obstacles existed but thought his upside and vision made for an ideal fit. My overall view of his first year was “outstanding” and I believe he managed the draft just as we would like to see. When asking about this past year versus previous drafts we always try to be opportunistic. Some years we have more success than others but I do feel the 2016 draft went better than we may have hoped.
UPDATE: The 2016 draft in question turned out to be quite good and has already produced a Major Leaguer in Dakota Hudson. Other notable names include: Andrew Knizner, Delvin Perez, Dylan Carlson, and Tommy Edman, along with Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano, both of whom were included in the trade package for Marcell Ozuna.
Things would only become more difficult for Flores in 2017, as in the weeks following this interview, the Cardinals were hit with penalties for Chris Correa’s 2013 hacking of the Houston Astros’ database. They lost 2 picks to Houston and coupled with the lost pick for signing Dexter Fowler, they did not make their first pick of the draft until round 3. All things considered, the 2017 was considered to be solid work with a nice mix of high-floor players and a few late round picks with upside. Notably, keep an eye on 9th round pick, LHP Evan Kruczynski.
As for 2018, the first round pick of Nolan Gorman has appeared to be a slam dunk so far with the 18-year old crushing 17 HR’s in just 174 plate appearances. He cruised through Johnson City, but ran into some turbulence (as expected) when he was aggressively promoted to Low-A Peoria. Other names to remember are Griffin Roberts, Luken Baker, and Steven Gingery. Gingery is coming off of Tommy John surgery and won’t debut until 2019, which hurt his draft stock. However, with health, he could prove to be a steal in the 4th round.
RD: What will Mike Schildt’s role be with the team? Are we talking fundamentals or analytics or maybe a combo?
JM: Quality Control is a position that will touch on both fundamentals and analytics as well as integrating medical information into player use. The job of managing or coaching at the major leagues has difficult demands and our thought was to promote or hire someone who had a passion for fundamentals, analytics, and the minor leagues. Why add the minor leagues to this job description? Well I feel it is critical to make sure what is being taught and practiced at the big league level, has to be translated throughout our minor league system.
UPDATE: Well, Mike Shildt eventually replaced Chris Maloney as 3rd Base Coach, then David Bell as Bench Coach, and, finally, Mike Matheny as manager. That combination of fundamentals and analytics, along with a push for organizational synergy, were big reason that Shildt rose to and received the full-time manager’s position. Those that were keen saw the potential for a manager-in-waiting situation when this promotion to “Quality Control” coach happened.
RD: Do you anticipate an innings limit for Lance Lynn?
JM: Lance has had a great off-season and positioning himself for a strong year. We always approach these types questions based on how he feels and how much stress he is under.
UPDATE: Lance Lynn had a solid season coming off of Tommy John surgery, but the team elected to let him walk in free agency.
RD: Have you considered the idea of a 6 man rotation to limit innings?
JM: We have considered this and typically the month of April you have so many off days you could almost approach the month of April with 4 starters but we use 5 to take stress of early innings. Typically June on is when this might have the most benefit. We are always open to ideas to protect our pitchers.
UPDATE: This philosophy can really carry over season-to-season. However, it’s something to think about as we did see the Cardinals use off-days and insert a 6th starter during this September in order to build in extra days of a rest for a young rotation, specifically Jack Flaherty as they aim to keep him fresh and viable for postseason play.
RD: What area of the team do you think is a strength going into 2017? Weakness?
JM: Strength: Balanced line-up, strong rotation, and deep bullpen.
Weakness: Hopefully nothing glaring but we certainly we want to see improved base running and defense.
UPDATE: The rotation was solid, but generally average for most of the season. The bullpen proved to be not so deep as the first year of Brett Cecil was a bust and Sueng-Hwan Oh did not have a strong follow-up to his first season. The line-up flopped as too many players being counted on to take a step forward (Grichuk, Diaz, Piscotty) ended up taking a step back.
2018 was looking eerily similar with exception of the rotation, which has held very strong despite several injuries. The bullpen and lineup both took months to get going.
It was about 18 months after Mo expressed a desire to see improved defense and baserunning that the improvements actually came, thanks to managerial and personnel change.
RD: What are your thoughts on the WBC? Do you have any hesitation sending your players?
JM: WBC is about growing the game globally and I think it is a great idea. Timing of these types of events are never easy and demands on players always appear to be growing but having it during spring training is always for optimal success. I do not have any hesitation or concerns as MLB has built-in many measures to protect the player.
UPDATE: Not much to say here. It is fair to wonder if gearing up early for the WBC contributed to Oh’s 2017 struggles, as he bounced back well in 2018 after signing with Toronto.
RD: How closely do you watch Winter League results? On the same point, how closely do you work with Winter League teams?
JM: We do have a few staff members that are responsible for following this and I typically get a weekly update on how our players are doing as well as a watch list of free agents or players of interest.
UPDATE: Backing up these words, the Cardinals signed infielder Ramon Urias after he continued to show well in the Mexican winter league during the 2017-18 turn. Urias had an outstanding .996 OPS in AA this season, but didn’t fare as well in his first look at AAA with just a .720 mark.
Not necessarily concerning the Winter Leagues, but some players to watch (just follow all of the Cards prospects) in this season’s Arizona Fall League are the aforementioned Kruczynski and Tommy Edman. As a switch-hitting middle infielder, Edman could position himself to challenge for the Greg Garcia role with a strong Fall and subsequent Spring.
RD: We heard about how Dexter Fowler was at the dentist when you were calling. Has that ever happened to you? You had to take an important call but were unavailable some how?
JM: I have been doing this job long enough where there are times you get calls that are not ideal from a timing standpoint. But I’m sure my examples would not be considered all that interesting to your readers.
RD: Have you publicly shared a view on PED users and the Hall of Fame?
JM: I’m not sure if I have ever publicly responded to this but I do feel like players that have tested positive versus players that were suspected should be treated differently. I’m also someone who believes in forgiveness and mistakes happen and if people change and grow from those mistakes then they should be given opportunities to grow.
Update: To date, the big names are still out of the Hall, though Bonds and Clemens continue to show strong on the ballot and may still make it with time.
RD: What is the plan for Marco Gonzales at this point?
JM: Marco will report to Jupiter shortly and continue his rehab. Our hope is we can stretch him out and get him innings. Early reports from the medical staff are very positive.
UPDATE: Marco recovered well, but became expendable. In July, he was traded to Seattle for OF Tyler O’Neill. O’Neill is obviously bursting with the potential to be a legit slugger. Gonzales found success in Seattle’s rotation during the 1st half of 2018, posting a 3.41 ERA with a 10-5 record, but he faded in the 2nd half before landing on the DL.
Thanks for reading!