No one knows Cardinal Nation’s passion better than John Mozeliak. First as general manager and now president of baseball operations, he’s been a figurehead who’s taken plenty of criticism when the team has under-performed.
And he knows they’ve under-performed.
Mo conducted his end-of-the-season/State-of-the-Cardinals presser Tuesday at Busch Stadium, heading a media roundtable and acknowledging things aren’t where they should be; meaning he’s got an earnest winter of work to do. Tuesday’s proceedings kicked off with 2019’s first major changes in the form of Jose Oquendo stepping down, causing a domino effect and leaving first base and hitting coach vacancies to be filled.
Mozeliak then noted his other winter responsibilities, praising the Cards’ 2018 “youth movement,” but admitting the front office needs to “augment” the young guns with reinforcements.
“A lot of times when you’re talking about augmenting you have to hit on the players you’re bringing in, but you also need things to happen internally to build upon,” Mo said. “And if you’re looking at it like, ‘Well, what’s the difference between the Cardinals of 2019?’ the very first thing you should start with is the manager and coaching staff that’s going to be different, and how they approach spring training is going to be different.
“In terms of the strategy of the lineup or the roster, we have a collection of really good players, but you’ve got to find a way to improve upon that. So, as you look at our team today it might not be like what it is in February,” he added.
Which brings us to the missing mid-order bat Mo mentioned as topping his winter shopping list. Whether or not it’ll be in the form of marquee free agents Bryce Harper or Manny Machado remains to be seen, but he noted more than once the club’s historically long-term approach to improving as opposed to splash signings for immediate impact.
“There’s no doubt that as we prepare for next year our focus is going to be on how to improve the 2018 team for 2019, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to have to sell our soul to be all-in for ’19 and ’20 and then worry about ’21 later,” he said. “That’s never how we’ve tried to operate this organization…Whether you agree with that philosophy or not, you could argue that we have had sustained success over this period that very few organizations can mirror.”
The Cardinals do have had sustained success if you measure such by always being in the playoff conversation and never having reverted to MLB’s tanking fad. But as Mo also noted, 88 wins isn’t good enough when you’re playing in the NL Central.
“As we look to this offseason we know we have to be engaged,” he said. “We have to focus on ways to truly improve this club, where if you look at some of the past offseasons, we’ve definitely had some swings-and-misses. We’ve definitely had some successes, but we’ve got to find a way to get over that hump…We now know 88 (wins) is not good enough.”
“And our division doesn’t look like it’s going to get any weaker,” he added. “It’s going to require investment and intelligence to get us over that hump.”
As far as fans upset over three Octobers with an empty Busch, Mozeliak says he and staff are devoted to improvement, but also admits the club could have pulled a quicker trigger on particular choices they’ve made.
“I would hope that our fan base knows that we’re trying and that we’re going to try and continue to try and get this right,” he said. “When you look at the past couple years, they’re not just complete failures. If we had a few breaks go the other way; if we had made a decision a little earlier, or something like that along those lines, I think we could get there.
“I hope that our fan base understands that we continue to invest heavily below, and that investment will hopefully pay returns here,” he added. “In terms of the anxiousness of the free agent market, I feel like we have that discussion every year and I hope that the organization as a whole…we can find those solutions that improve us.”
Stay connected with 101 ESPN for more on Mozeliak’s exit press conference, as well as analysis on what the Cards’ offseason could bring.