With Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha and others entering the last year of the St. Louis Cardinals contracts in 2019, it’s easy to speculate that those free agents to-be are on the proverbial bubble. If they don’t perform more consistently in the coming season, it’s a safe bet that they won’t be back.
But I wonder if it isn’t former Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak who is actually sitting on the hot seat this spring.
First, the team hasn’t been to the playoffs for three years in a row. A fourth swing and miss season isn’t going to look good on Mozeliak’s resume. Second, and maybe more importantly, while he’s criticized by fans for not being more aggressive in the pursuit of big-name free agents like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Max Scherzer and Craig Kimbrel, it’s much more likely the criticism behind closed doors revolves around the fact that he doled out sizable pacts for .180 hitting outfielder Dexter Fowler, reliever Luke Gregerson who had more days on the disabled list in 2018 than he had batters retired and hapless closer Greg Holland who was paid about $14 million to pitch half a season for St. Louis before he was cut loose.
It’s not just free agent moves that have been questionable lately. Mo also presided over some pretty lousy player swaps the past few years, namely the trades for Ozuna and Jason Heyward. Here’s to hoping the Paul Goldschmidt acquisition doesn’t turn out the same way.
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This year could likely be a referendum on Mozeliak’s tenure with the team. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional sports, the guy who designed the 2011 World Series winner and 2013 National League champs can no longer rest on those laurels.
It must be an uneasy feeling if Mozeliak knows that he’s counting on Dexter Fowler and Luke Gregerson to justify his faith in them, especially when this club tries to build through the farm system and there are younger, better players itching for an opportunity. But if DeWitt truly had faith in what Mozeliak was doing, might he have allowed his longtime front office boss to make more moves to bolster the roster. Winning now would probably trump roster arguments about how the team can’t pay Harper $30 million to play right field when it’s already paying Fowler $15 million to play there.
The Cardinals are loyal to their leaders. But, as we saw last season with Mike Matheny, DeWitt’s patience only goes so far. At some point, the brand has to be protected, and the thing that the team uses to market itself is its reputation as a perennial contender. It’s time to get back to October baseball.
The purpose of this post isn’t to make a case for cashiering Mozeliak. I hope the Redbirds play so well that he earns another promotion and a big raise. I just think it appears that he’s been painted into a corner and ownership is waiting to see if he can fight his way out of it or if it’s time for a change of direction. Cutting Mozeliak loose was absolutely unthinkable three years ago. But, in 2019, I’m not so sure if anyone is untouchable.