The Annual Chat With Mo: 2019 Blogger Day Event

In 2011, the Cardinals held their first Blogger Day event.  It was held the first weekend of the season and Jaime Garcia blanked the Padres 2-0 behind RBI from Ryan Theriot and Yadier Molina, getting the Cards their first win of the season.  Their last win brought home trophy #11.

This weekend, the bloggers again were invited to Busch Stadium.  Like the first one, this ninth annual event was held with a Cardinal team sitting under .500, though 44-45 is a little more daunting than 0-2.  Unlike every year previous, this year’s event was held on Saturday instead of Sunday, with the Arizona Diamondbacks providing the opposition.

That wasn’t the only thing different either.  Every year* the Cardinals have placed John Mozeliak (first as general manager, then as president of baseball operations) and Bill DeWitt III (team president) at our disposal.  Mo opens the event up with remarks, then takes questions.  After a while, the focus shifts to BDW3 as he talks about the business of the club and then takes questions as well.  (Mo often leaves after his portion, though sometimes he waits around.)

*–I was unable to attend the 2015 event due to the passing of my father-in-law, but I am confident the pattern held.

This year, DeWitt was in the room first waiting on Mozeliak.  Once Mo arrived, DeWitt opened with his remarks, then passed the baton to Mo for his before opening it up for mixed questions.  I’m not sure if that was just what happened or if it was by design to perhaps lessen whatever fury they thought the bloggers were going to direct on Mo about this team, but it was a little odd.  (Not as odd as something that came later during the Q&A, but we’ll get to that.)

As I said, DeWitt began by talking about the business of the Cardinals, and the business of the Cardinals is good.  They are pleased with the strong attendance given the circumstances around the team, which allows them to invest not only in the team but in other projects and avenues.  (Given the nature of how this was presented, we didn’t get back around to asking whether the lower physical attendance–tickets sold but not used–played a role in their thinking.)

Ballpark Village Phase I has been a great success and Phase II has an even bigger imprint and impact.  DeWitt talked about the various portions, most notably the apartment complex, which he said is about halfway up above the parking deck compared to how high it is going to get.  He also said that 35% of the apartments are already leased a year before they are to open.  According to DeWitt, most projects of this nature don’t even start leasing until about a year out, so they are really excited about the response so far and hope to have it completely leased by time it is ready for occupancy.  He also mentioned that the Busch Stadium II infield, which had been torn up during the construction, was a couple of weeks away from being reopened.

The spotlight shifted to Mozeliak, who admitted he was a bit nervous coming to the suites to meet with us.  “Usually we are doing this early in the season, coming off of a good spring training, and this year….I’m sure there won’t be any questions or concerns.”

Unsurprisingly, he highlighted the inconsistent offense as the major frustration.  “Shildty and his staff are getting grey hairs trying to figure it out.”  Then, on top of that, the injury bug has hit.  All in all, it’s not the most ideal situation but he stressed he’s not providing excuses.  He just feels that improvement is going to have to come from within and the players are going to have to do better.

Mo allowed that perhaps new hitting coach Jeff Albert “brought a steep curriculum” to the players and maybe there will need to be an evaluation on whether they should or can back off a little on some of the changes.  However, the players know that it falls on them.

Unlike what he’s done in the past (if his comments in an earlier article are recalled), Mo doesn’t want to change just to change.  He also doesn’t want to bring people up from the minors and put them into an environment where they won’t get to grow or play.  Which didn’t rule out Randy Arozarena or Dylan Carlson coming up, but it did sound like some things would have to change before they’d get much of a chance.

The next two weeks matter, according to Mo.  He doesn’t know how other teams will approach this unified deadline, but he doesn’t feel that one single move would alter the team’s current trajectory.  (Which we as bloggers have focused on that meaning that there won’t be much movement, but it could, in theory, be an opening for multiple moves.  Probably not, but it’s possible.)

The question portion then opened and questions went back and forth for both men.  The first question was for Mo, how the hard deadline would change their approach.  Mo said it’s always about getting the team better.  Right now, you could make an argument for 20 teams that could be trying to improve given the wild card.  He also talked about teams like the Dodgers, who know they are in but need to decide what they need for the playoffs.  “It’s like you need to plan for two seasons, getting to the playoffs and then being in the playoffs.”  He still doesn’t know what we’ll see from the market, as right now he’s just getting preliminary, ground-staking calls.  He also pointed out you don’t see many pure salary dumps anymore.

Building on that, the next question asked if the teams are all in a bit of groupthink in their approach.  Mo said it’s all about postseason possibilities for everyone.

Next was a question about Carlos Martinez, specifically whether the Jordan Hicks injury modified what the club was going to do with him.  Mo said it did and that he was bullish about him returning to the rotation, calling him a “true #1”.  However, when Hicks went down there was less confidence in anyone else closing out games.  However, that could still change.

Someone asked if they could address the starting pitching issue by getting a reliever and moving Martinez to the rotation.  Mo, recognizing his less-than-stellar track record, deadpanned, “You really think I should use the bullpen market, with my success?”

Mo was then asked about optimizing time for the young guys coming up from Memphis, given his earlier comment about not wanting them to sit when they are promoted.  Mo suggested the questioner (unsurprisingly, Mr. Kyle Reis) was referring to Andrew Knizner‘s recent promotion.  Kyle confirmed but also mentioned Lane Thomas.  Mo felt Thomas was a different situation, with a “noisy” outfield as they try to improve Harrison Bader, which leads to Jose Martinez getting a lot of at bats that could be shared.  With Knizner, the plan is to see eventually close to a 50/50 split while Molina is out, though he did note that Matt Wieters swung the bat well on Friday night and might get some play in the short term.  (Wieters did play Saturday, but Knizner started Sunday.)

In the middle of this discussion, Bill DeWitt III brought up rule changes that he’s hearing about from MLB and wanted to list them off for our reaction.  (This got sidetracked by Mo then jumping in to comment on some of them.)  He mentioned the universal DH (Mo: “Hey, people in here are progressive, right?”), making the bases bigger to help in stolen bases (Mo: “I’ve seen some of the prototypes.  They are flatter and tacky.  They look really neat.”), three-batter requirement for pitchers, eliminating shifts, moving the mound back or down, pitch clock, automatic strike zone, and limiting throws over to first.

He questioned how do you tweak to get a balanced approach as the game has changed.  He was asked what was driving these changes, if it was attendance.  DeWitt said it was not that per se, but more a function of looking at evolving trends.

He also said that “no one is messing with the ball”.  He sits on the board of Rawlings and he said that he believes the process of making the balls may have gotten better, which could make the seams flatter, the ball harder, and the results bigger, but there was no directive to juice them up.

DeWitt was then asked which rule change he was most interested in.  He said he was open to anything.  “You would think with how long my family has been in baseball that I would be a traditionalist, but I’m not.”

A followup was asked to both of them about the data from the Atlantic League where these changes have been implemented.  Mo said that they haven’t been in place long enough yet to really get a lot of results, but he is glad that they have this independent league to test some change in.  With the lower minors, there are 18-year-olds just trying to learn how to play the game and the results would likely be skewed.

What was strange about this was not the content but the placement.  It was like DeWitt thought he’d save Mo from an inconvenient line of questioning, though I’m not sure why.  Many of the bloggers discussed it later and we felt at the time that DeWitt was going to come back around to tie it into something with the minors, perhaps service time or the like, but he didn’t.  It was….odd.

Back to Mo and the baseball questions.  He was asked if Daniel Ponce de Leon had done enough to prove he was major league ready.  Mo said yes and he should definitely get another start.  (When Michael Wacha started warming up in the second inning, that kinda solved the question of how that would be possible.)

Mo was asked how things have changed since he moved to his current role and Michael Girsch became GM.  He said that Girsch’s day to day has changed significantly, that he’s more responsible for the minors and the international markets, but at the end of the day Mo is responsible for the department and that is why you see him out in public more than Girsch.  “As of today.  That could change–hopefully not tomorrow.  But I have to be responsible for succession.”

The next question was that, given his comments about it being a young man’s game, how do the Cardinals get to that given the age of some of their key contributors?  Mo said they were cognizant of that, even during the Paul Goldschmidt trade.  “If he was OPSing .900, we wouldn’t be worried about him blocking someone.”  The Matt Carpenter extension “was only adding another guaranteed year” but, most notably, he said that “the contract is not an impediment” if his performance doesn’t change and he is blocking someone, meaning (at least to me) that they are open to having Carpenter be a bench bat even with the contract.  Mo also stated, with Dexter Fowler, they didn’t know or realize how fast the talent in the minors was going to rise.  However, when someone like Carlson is ready, they will have a spot for him.

Marcell Ozuna was brought up and the question was asked if there’d been thoughts about extending him.  Mo said, again, they’ve got to be cognizant of creating spots for younger players.  “Could we get something done with him? Yes, but what does that mean for the youth coming up?”  They always want that flexibility.

Staying in the outfield, Bader returned to the forefront as someone asked about platooning him.  Mo mentioned that there are two outfielders (Arozerana and Carlson) that are exciting but how do you get them playing time.  He said Shildt is always trying to get the hot hand into the lineup.

A couple of years ago, Mo mentioned at this event that they were trying to build their own pitching lab in Florida.  He was asked about an update on that and he said the lab should be breaking ground in late August.  Along with that, the question asked how they are implementing and integrating the other various tools that are out there.  He said they are being aggressive about trying to introduce the tools but it also takes getting buy in, which they are typically getting.  He said he’d put the Cardinals about in the middle of the pack when it comes to getting this stuff integrated as compared to the rest of MLB.

Going back to his earlier comments about Jeff Albert, he was asked how you make sure the players didn’t get overloaded.  Mo said he looked at it as teacher-student, where the teacher needs to understand the student, how they learn, and what is the best plan for them.  However, the player also has to realize the need and try to learn what is being taught.  Ideally, they would work together at the best pace for the player.

Continuing with Bader questions, Mo was asked whether the success of Tommy Pham and Oscar Mercado in other organizations made them more patient with Bader.  “You are really picking at a scab there,” he said.  Looking at those situations, Mercado was fourth on the depth chart at best and they wanted to see if they could get younger and get some talent for him before having to add him to the 40-man, as he might have more value off of it than on.  Pham was a different story–one that he seemed to indicate there was backstory for that he didn’t elaborate on–but Mo also said that at the time of the trade, “we were having trouble getting him AB”.

Mo and BDW3 were asked if they’d been able to “play around” with the Stanley Cup.  DeWitt said they had spent some time with it–he joked that the Blues were “milking it for all its worth”–and said that it was great to see the Blues do well and their story has not gone unnoticed by the Cardinal players.  Apparently it’s a hockey superstition that if you touch the Cup you are never going to work in hockey again.  DeWitt said he touched it but Mo was quick to note he had not.  “Hey, you never know.”

The last question came from yours truly and was aimed at Bill DeWitt, which probably disappointed Mozeliak as he always seems to have a jab or a remark in the middle of whatever question I ask him.  I asked DeWitt how the sale of the regional sports networks to Sinclair Broadcasting would impact their relationship with the broadcast.  DeWitt outlined the history a bit–the fact that the RSNs were part of the FOX family, then sold to Disney in the big sale of most of FOX’s assets to the Mouse, then the FCC required Disney to sell them off given they have ESPN, so Sinclair wound up with the winning bid.  DeWitt said that fans probably wouldn’t see any difference other than signage (which wasn’t even a given, though it’d be weird if Sinclair left the FOX name on there) and he didn’t think their relationship would change.  So it sounds like the Cardinals still have their equity stake in the broadcast, just with a new partner.

Usually the Q&A session lasts closer to an hour, but this year things wrapped up in more like 40 minutes.  Of course, this year we didn’t have a presentation from the chef or from anyone in merchandising, so that might have been part of it, but it did feel like it was quicker this year but they didn’t cut us off, we just seemed to run out of questions earlier.  I mean, how many times can you ask why people aren’t hitting?

Again, our thanks to the Cardinals for having us up, providing us this opportunity, then feeding us and letting us watch a game.  Diane may have a transcript or video of the session over at her blog later on, so you might keep an eye out for that.  All in all, it was a great night getting to see folks that I don’t get to see often enough and meeting some new faces!

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