Today on Twitter, a conversation began about whether John Mozeliak was a good General Manager. Outside of John Mabry, there may not be an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization that brings more mixed feelings from fans than John Mozeliak. Some see Mozeliak as an overrated GM who has ridden the coat tails of those before him. Others see him as a genius at team building. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
For full disclosure, I’ve been a John Mozeliak apologist for quite some time. I usually find myself defending him and the decisions being made by the organization. I’ve enjoyed watching him work and the way he takes an even-keeled approach to managing the team. With the way he calculates his moves and hedges against risks, he is exactly the kind of person I would want overseeing my billion dollar investment.
My favorite characteristic of his decision making though may be that he doesn’t just look at the current year with blinders on. He is always looking down the road to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. That’s good because if you spend all your chips trying to win now, you’ll eventually run out and lose, like the Cardinals did in 2007 and 2008. And I prefer winning.
He has been great at building and maintaining a strong foundation. He might be the best foundation builder in the business. Part of that is the way the Cardinals run their scouting and analytics department. The other part of it is a team owner that allows Mozeliak to operate this way. Many owners shoot themselves in the foot when they place pressure on their GM to make big moves rather than the right moves.
However, when it comes time to elbow up at the big boy table and gamble, Mozeliak has come up short to other teams who have been willing to go further and take more risk than he has. Part of that is necessity, they don’t have the same minor league infrastructure the Cardinals do. Part of that is ability, they have more money than the Cardinals do. Part of that is willingness, other organizations and absorb big failure in ways the Cardinals can’t.
This offseason, the Cardinals circled two names on their wish list: David Price and Jason Heyward. Mozeliak pursued and lost out on both, reportedly finishing second both times.
When it comes to managing his team, Mozeliak’s style might best be described as a poker player who entered the World Series of Poker. But he’s just slow playing in the hopes of sneaking into the money. Though once you get there, you find out that you still need to gamble to win.
That he hasn’t been willing to take that extra risk in an effort to bring in talent to help the team has baffled me a little bit. He has made some gambles during his tenure as GM of the Cardinals and has historically came out ahead.
He traded Jim Edmonds to San Diego for David Freese as his second official move. Freese would become a postseason hero four years later.
He traded for Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday in 2009. DeRosa got injured within days of arriving. Holliday, meanwhile, would go on to sign the richest contract in frachise history and be a key cog in the lineup.
He dealt former top prospect Colby Rasmus in a deal that patched all the team’s holes. It became the year of the “Happy Flight” as the Cardinals won the World Series.
They let Albert Pujols walk. And got better. Stephen Piscotty and Michael Wacha, who are key pieces of today’s Cardinals team, were drafted with the compensatory picks the organization received by letting Pujols walk.
He dealt former first round pick Zack Cox for a little known reliever Edward Mujica at the deadline in 2012. Mujica would go on to be an All Star closer for the Cardinals in 2013.
Following the 2013 season, Mozeliak dealt Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Grichuk appears to be on the verge of a breakout season after hitting 17 home runs in 353 plate appearances last year.
His latest gamble might be the only one that didn’t pay off. Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jordan Walden and Jason Heyward. Mozeliak hoped he could bring Heyward back, just as he had done with Holliday and like Walt Jocketty had done with Mark McGwire, Edmonds, and Rolen before him. Heyward would leave for the Cubs in October. Miller would go on to put up a career year before being dealt to Arizona. And Jenkins stayed healthy.
The irony with that deal is that Walden was probably the least risky part of the deal for either side. He hasn’t seen a Major League mound during the regular season since last May and is still on the disabled list.
So when we’ve seen Mozeliak push, he has had a great track record. Part of that is that he has an organization with a great foundation that lets him make some gambles. I would honestly like to see a little more.
But maybe the problem is the explosion of analytics in baseball over the last five years is making it more difficult to find opportunities to gamble. With the massive amounts of data these teams are now playing with, it’s harder to find a good value. Big data always informs big decisions in business these days.
I still believe that this team is a good hitter away from being able to be a legitimate World Series threat. I’d like to see Mozeliak go after someone this summer that can be the game changing talent we need.
I like having prospects It’s nice to hope that they will all pan out and become the stars of tomorrow, but we know that they won’t all turn out. The only reason that prospects are heavily coveted by teams is because they’re low-risk, high-reward.
My fear has been that the window is closing on this team. It would be nice to get another World Series run, but I don’t see this team, as constructed, getting there.