The St. Louis Cardinals had their end of the year press conference on Tuesday to tell the media and fans which direction the team is headed in for 2019. There were some interesting takeaways hidden in the language used by President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak. That is, if you think like a cryptologist and not a baseball fan.
No baseball executive wants to show their hand to the opposition. Listening to John Mozeliak though, I walked away thinking I was listening to a World War II era Navajo code talker rather than a baseball executive. Per the usual, Mo was completely mum on what the Cardinals‘ front office is specifically planning. There were some things that stood out to me though.
“88 wins was not enough”
Really? We hadn’t noticed. At the risk of sounding overly snarky, “No duh, Mo.” Honestly, I like John Mozeliak a lot. He’s a personable guy and very relatable if you ever meet him one on one. He’s also extremely intelligent and in my estimation is one of the top three executives in all of baseball. That being said, 88 wins was never going to be enough. It appears that the organization had a goal of something in the neighborhood of 90 wins, thinking that would be good enough for the playoffs. Obviously it wasn’t.
The landscape has changed and Cardinals brass needs to rethink their strategy and start aiming higher. They should shoot for 100 wins and hope to land somewhere around 95. The Atlanta Braves aside, no playoff team had less than 91 wins in the regular season. The Oakland A’s won 97 games this year and got bounced by a 100 win Yankees team in the single game Wild Card. There has to be a greater emphasis on winning the division outright. Too much can go wrong in a one game playoff and the Cardinals need to make sure they aren’t left in that position going forward.
That’s where the good news is for Cardinals fans. Mozeliak recognized that the team is not where it needs to be and that it still needs to improve. Again, Mozeliak is extremely intelligent and I have every confidence that he and the rest of his staff is already diligently exploring options to improve this team.
”Trying to improve our offense on a more consistent level is going to have to be our goal.”
There was more to that than what I just quoted, but that is the biggest takeaway. In other parts of the discussion, Mo said that it didn’t have to be a lefty bat, that the youth movement needed augmented, both the trade and free agent market would be explored, and that it would take investment and intelligence. Speculation abounds and I could put any name down and it would fit perfectly into that narrative. There was one other thing Mozeliak said though that needs to be pointed out. The certainties at every roster spot is written in pencil, not pen.
That means that nobody is necessarily safe. While Mo did say that there is optimism that Fowler can get right, that doesn’t mean that Cardinal Nation should overreact and worry that it means the team is planning on Fowler as the everyday guy in right field. The team is putting everything out there on the table. While he didn’t state specifics, and Mozeliak won‘t do that, he did give some insight into the front office’s thinking. The bottom line being that they are going to improve the offense no matter what that looks like.
”You’ll start to sort of hear rumors on that.”
That answer was specifically in response to a question regarding the trade market. Mozeliak said they have already had discussions in those regards and that he has no problem guessing on what that might look like behind closed doors. When you couple that with some of the other things Mo said, then I think you really begin to get a sense of where his head is at.
First base is not set in stone, so there’s the thinking that Matt Carpenter will play either first or third. Mozeliak also stated that he feels the need and takes pride in being fiscally responsible and does not want to make an impact move for 2019 and 2020 that handicaps the team moving forward. So that would seem to take away the idea that the team is going to be one of the players for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. If that’s the case, what are they thinking?
If I were to speculate, it seems to me like the names that appear to take shape for the Cardinals are Josh Donaldson and Paul Goldschmidt. Donaldson is a free agent. Goldschmidt would have to be acquired via trade. Either player is a nice addition, but if that is the direction that Mo and the rest of the front office is leaning they better have another name in mind as well.
Don’t get me wrong, 2018 aside, Donaldson’s 6.86 average WAR over five seasons would definitely be an improvement. So would Goldschmidt and his 5.46 average WAR over the last six seasons. Keep in mind though that 88 wins wasn’t good enough. So if you add five or six wins, 93 or 94 wins isn’t going to make it either. That’s also assuming the Cubs and Brewers do nothing to improve their rosters. Maybe they are thinking Donaldson or Goldy with a rebounded Fowler is enough to get this team over the hump. If that’s the case, I would tend to disagree and I don’t think I am alone in that.
“I would hope our fan base knows we’re trying, and we’re going to continue to try to get this right.”
The bottom line here is this: The front office knows there is a crack in the foundation and they are trying to address it. We can speculate all we want. I can try to decipher what Mozeliak is saying, but in the end I don’t know with any level of certainty what direction this team will move to address the issues. I get the sense that Mozeliak would love to add a guy like Bryce Harper, but that he understands the risks and challenges associated with landing him.
If the conditions are right, the Cardinals will make a strong play for Harper. Mozeliak’s statements seem to support this when he mentions not being scared off by past free agency failures and the uniqueness of a player like Giancarlo Stanton and the huge deal the team was willing to take on. I think he is also pragmatic enough to explore absolutely every option. Like he said, they aren’t taking anything off the table.
Keep the faith Cardinal Nation. The one thing we can take away with a level of certainty is that Mozeliak and his team see the same things we see. They’re working on it. As always, actions speak louder than words. As the saying goes in Missouri, “Show me.” While I wait in eager anticipation to be shown what the solution is, I am going to continue to trust in Mo and company to get the job done.