As sports fans in a society that lives for instant gratification, we’re naturally impatient. We are prisoners of the moment and can’t wait for the next thing, especially if the current thing has had a bad run. Rather than look at the big picture, the complete body of work, we see the snapshot and make judgements on sports personnel that way. That’s fun, but it isn’t always prudent. Right here in St. Louis, we as fans would have been victimized recently, but we’re fortunate to have patient people at the top that think longer term than we do. Here are five recent examples:
-Marcell Ozuna: Playing with a bad shoulder last year, Ozuna got off to a rocky start with the Cardinals after his trade from Miami. He slashed .250/.260./.333 in his first month, and improved to just .268./.309/.385 at the All-Star Break. Reaction in The Fast Lane on 101 ESPN and on social media was negative, with the belief that the Cardinals had made a mistake in dealing four prospects for damaged goods. After an injection into the troublesome shoulder on August 22, Ozuna wound up leading the club in RBI with 88, and hit seven homers with 20 RBI with a .906 OPS upon his return.
After last season, Ozuna had a cleanup procedure in his shoulder. And he worried us when he showed up at spring training looking like he couldn’t throw. Our Cardinal insider Mark Saxon reported that Ozuna showed up in Jupiter weighing 250 pounds (subscription required). After a rugged spring training, all of that faded into the background. Ozuna is off to a great start, leading the team in home runs, RBI, slugging and OPS. And of course, social media is rumbling with suggestions not of a mistake, but of a contract extension.
That might be a bit of an overreaction too. But it’s one example of how patience…and trusting in a player’s long-term body of work…can work to your advantage.
-Jay Bouwmeester: After watching Bouwmeester before his hip surgery last season and after the surgery this season, I thought he was used up. In fact, in November, I thought he should be voted out of office. As it turned out, he wasn’t healthy yet. He couldn’t win those races to the puck that he used to win; he couldn’t get to a spot to deflect a pass because he wasn’t quick enough. This is a guy that was charged with protecting one goal leads for Canada at the highest levels of competition, in the Olympics and World Championships. Father Time catches up with everyone, and it was reasonable to think the Bouwmeester was losing that race. But as the Blues were revived in January, so was Bouwmeester. After being a minus-5 player in October and November, he was even in December, and then plus-2, plus-4 and plus-3 in the succeeding months. His time on ice increased to the 21:40 range after the All-Star break, and he became a key force on the penalty kill. Like Ozuna, we didn’t appreciate how much an injury affected Bouwmeester, and now the Blues have given the 35-year-old, who’ll play next year at age 36, a one-year contract extension.
-Dexter Fowler: Fowler had one of the worst years in MLB history last season, and it looked like he had dropped off a cliff. It seemed impossible that a player could get that bad, that fast. There didn’t seem to be major physical issues with Fowler, but as it turned out there were some emotional ones. Fowler did suffer a season ending foot injury on August 3rd in Pittsburgh. A player who had been a career .268/.366/.428 hitter turned in a season of .180/.278/.298. Of course, many wanted to see him gone. Wanted the Cardinals to eat the remaining $49.5 million on his contract. Wanted them to sign Bryce Harper to play right field.
Well, here we are nearly to May of 2019, and Fowler is leading the Cardinals with a .419 OBP. In fact, his slash line of .316/.419/.430 gives Fowler a higher OPS than Jose Martinez, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. And for fans of the WAR statistic, Fowler’s bWAR is 1.2, higher than Ozuna (0.8), and higher than Harper (0.4). The guy had a terrible year, but it seems like the Cardinals are better off spending that $49.5 million on him playing for them than not.
-John Mozeliak: A big time target of critics, Mozeliak gets much of the blame for the Cardinals not making the playoffs for the last three seasons. Once the Cardinals got rid of Mike Matheny, the social media mob moved on to Mozeliak, who has never presided over a losing Cardinal season. Mozeliak laid the groundwork and pulled the trigger (with Bill DeWitt’s approval) on trades for Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt. His staff oversaw the drafts of Harrison Bader, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Paul DeJong and Jordan Hicks, the signings of Miles Mikolas from Japan and John Brebbia from independent ball.
Because we focus on the Cardinals and have built up extraordinary expectations, sometimes we forget how good we have it. During much of this decade, the Cardinals and Giants dominated the National League. San Francisco will miss the playoffs for a third straight year and is in the opening process of tearing down for a full rebuild. Markets surrounding St. Louis include Minneapolis, Miami, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, all of whom have experienced or are experiencing teardowns and the use of high draft choices to try and rebuild. Since Mozeliak took over in 2008, the Boston Red Sox have finished in last place three times and missed the playoffs five, the same number of missed playoff appearances as the Cardinals. The Cardinals have rebuilt and put a young team out there while fielding a winning team every year. Relative to other baseball executives, Mozeliak has done a great job of keeping the Cardinals competitive and not having to tear down to build back up.
-Doug Armstrong: There were numerous fans that wanted the Blues to fire their President of Hockey Operations-General Manager last season, and certainly when the Blues got off to their terrible start. This despite the Blues being one of four teams that had made the playoffs in six straight seasons prior to last season. In their division over the last eight years through this one, the Blues have made the playoffs seven times. Elsewhere in the Central, Chicago has made it six times in that time period. Dallas had made three postseasons, Minnesota six, Nashville six, Colorado three and Winnipeg three.
Yes, the Blues haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 51 seasons, but Armstrong isn’t responsible for the years through 2009-2010. He took over a franchise that had missed the playoffs in four of the five years before he took over, and presided over a six-year period in which the Blues were second in the league in points and had four of the five best seasons in club history. Like Mozeliak and the Cardinals, the Blues have transitioned to a new core without missing much winning. While franchises like Tampa Bay, Calgary, the Islanders, Toronto…and now it appears the Kings and Red Wings…must endure multiple non-playoff seasons, the journeys to the playoffs continue for the Blues. When the Blues didn’t make the post-season, Armstrong went out and traded for Ryan O’Reilly and signed David Perron, adding to the new core rather than going to the bottom and hoping for draft picks to work out. This season when he recognized it wasn’t working with coach Mike Yeo, he advocated for promoting Craig Berube. And again, rather than tearing down he had the personnel acumen to keep his team together for a playoff run.
Heck, Armstrong’s most egregious personnel move may be drafting Jamie Benn when he was in Dallas.
Like the Cardinals, it’s easy for us to focus on only our team, and not look around the league and understand how good we have it. There are a lot of teams that would love to regularly make the playoffs, because you can’t win the Stanley Cup unless you make the playoffs. And when you make the playoffs, you must hope you can come up with that rare goalie that can get you to the top. Perhaps Armstrong drafted that guy in Jordan Binnington.
I’m all about being reactionary. I AM reactionary. Thank goodness the people in power are more patient than many of us are. Because of the patience of guys like Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt and Blues owner Tom Stillman, along with Mozeliak and Armstrong, we have it pretty good in St. Louis.