The idea of continuity doesn’t bother me. Continuity, generally speaking, is an asset. And in the specific case of the St. Louis Cardinals, continuity has produced one of the most successful eras in franchise history.
So for the disgruntled or disgusted souls that are snarling over chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.’s decision to give a contract extension to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, I’m not sure what you expected here.
Perhaps a demotion?
Not a chance.
Mozeliak has signed on through 2023. The contracts of GM Michael Girsch and manager Mike Shildt were extended through 2022.
I must confess that I struggle at times to maintain a cool-headed, reasonable perspective when it comes to Cardinal baseball.
No, I don’t like the way Mozeliak has declined to gamble on improving his team’s chances by making in-season trades, especially at the annual July 31 deadline.
Yes, mistakes have been made with distribution of payroll resources — Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Brett Cecil, other relievers, perhaps Paul Goldschmidt — but it’s easy to reach those conclusions in hindsight … after the bad or disappointing performance statistics pile up.
And sure, I believe DeWitt can increase the payroll from its current (and projected) range of $163 million. No one is saying the Cardinals should fly into payroll-tax trouble by spending $200 million a year. But there’s a lot of room between $163 million and payroll-tax penalties.
Our baseball town is obsessed with spending. But isn’t spending a big part of the problem?
What about the contracts that go sour?
When the Cardinals break from character and throw money at their problems — well, you’d better duck, or wear some hazmat. The results will be harmful.
Obvious criticisms aside, the Cardinals’ overall body of work under DeWitt-Mozeliak is impressive.
Since Mozeliak became the head of baseball operations before the 2008 season, the Cardinals have strengthened their position as one of the most eminent franchises in MLB.
Over the past 12 seasons …
• The Cardinals have the third-best regular-season winning percentage in the majors, behind the Yankees and Dodgers. And at a fraction of the total payroll investments by those powerhouses.
• The Cards have made the playoffs seven times, third on the list to the Dodgers (9) and Yankees (8).
• The DeWitt-Mozeliak Cardinals have competed in 73 postseason games since the beginning of the 2008 season. Only the Dodgers, with 82, have played in more postseason games over that time.
• The Cards have 35 postseason wins over the past 12 seasons, tied with the Yankees for third most in the majors. Only the Dodgers (41) and Giants (36) have won more postseason games than the Cardinals since ’08.
• The Cardinals’ 35 postseason victories over the past 12 seasons virtually matches the number of combined postseason wins (36) by division rivals Cubs, Brewers, Reds and Pirates.
• Only the Dodgers (six) have competed more times in the NLCS than the Cardinals (five) over the past 12 seasons.
• The Cardinals have had a winning record in each of Mozeliak’s 12 seasons as the chief baseball officer. STL’s current streak of 12 consecutive winning seasons is the longest in the National League. The Dodgers are next with nine consecutive winning seasons; their streak began in 2011.
In the American League the Yankees have also churned out 12 consecutive winning records since 2008. But the Yanks are on their own planet; their last non-winning regular season happened in 1993.
• Washington, with eight, is the only other National League team (besides STL and LA) to post more than five consecutive winning seasons at any time since the start of 2008. Other than the Yankees, only three other AL teams have produced more than five winning seasons in a row during any stretch since the start of ’08.
• If you think it’s easy to achieve winning seasons — well, you’d be absolutely wrong about that. The Cardinals (12), Yankees (12) and Dodgers (11) lead the way for most winning seasons since 2008. But among the other 27 franchises, 15 have failed to have a winning record in as little as half of their 12 seasons.
• Looking at the overall winning percentage of each MLB franchise over the past 12 seasons, only 14 of the 30 teams are above .500 since the beginning of ’08.
• I’ll use the batting-average model here. The Cardinals are batting .1000 in going 12-for-12 in winning seasons with Mozeliak as the boss. The other teams in the NL Central — Cubs, Brewers, Reds and Pirates — are a combined 18 for 48 in posting winning records since 2008 for a “batting average” of .375.
• And while the Cardinals have cranked out 12 winning seasons in a row, the best the Cubs could do over this time was five in a row (2015-2019.) The Pirates (2013-2015) and Brewers (2017-2019) each have topped out at three consecutive winning seasons. The Reds capped out at two in a row (2012-2013.)
The goal, of course, is winning the World Series.
But I’m thinking it’s difficult to win the World Series without making the playoffs.
(Pardon my sarcasm.)
And I’m thinking that it’s kind of hard to make the playoffs when you have a losing regular-season record. (Pardon my sarcasm again.)
Of the 216 teams to qualify for the postseason since the advent of the wild-card format in 1995, no one has made it with a record worse than 82-80.
So yeah, it’s OK to appreciate a team for being competitive, for being in the hunt with a winning record, in each and every season. I need to remind myself to remember that.
Continuity has been a baseball blessing for the Cardinals. They’ve established a fairly remarkable record of consistency with the DeWitt-Mozeliak leadership team.
That said, continuity can lead to stagnation and staleness unless leadership evolves.
“We’ve always looked at how we think about our decision tree, how we think about our communication tree,” Mozeliak said. “We’re always struggling to make sure someone’s voice doesn’t get old, someone’s voice doesn’t become noise.
“We certainly don’t want to be a broken record. We certainly don’t want to be an organization that doesn’t feel like we’re trying to innovate or be fresh. We recognize all of that.”
Let’s do a brief audit:
1. The front office made a smart move to install Mike Shildt as manager. He’s enthusiastic about advanced metrics. He implemented a defensive-shift strategy that greatly enhanced the team’s defense in 2019. Shildt relied on advanced stats to identify opponent vulnerabilities to develop a more intelligent approach to running the bases.
2. The front office, and Shildt, brought in Jeff Albert to implement a modern, technology-aided, system-wide hitting program that eventually will pay dividends. But Albert has to get more players to buy in. The transition to Albert was rough, and the offense disappointed in ‘19. Albert was the right hire. But he still has a lot to prove going forward.
3. On Tuesday the Cardinals announced a major revamping of their analytics department, an overdue move that I predicted several months ago. After being at the forefront of the analytics movement among MLB operations the Cardinals had slipped considerably in recent years. But they’ve installed fresh leadership and will increase staffing.
4. A more capable and creative analytics staff can only help prevent the front office from making risky financial investments in aging players. The payroll clog is a real issue. The Cardinals have a guaranteed $138.7 million committed to nine veterans for 2020, and seven of the nine are age 30 or older. Six of the nine are 32 or older.
5. The Cardinals have $143 million (guaranteed) committed to 11 players for next season. And as Mark Saxon of The Athletic notes, the team will have $157 million set aside for player contracts by the start of the 2020 campaign — and that’s without adding new players from the outside via trade or free agency.
For all of the folks caterwauling about spend-spend-spend … hey, I’d rather see a more effective display of payroll efficiency here. If DeWitt is going to hold the line on payroll, then Mozeliak and Girsch have to be more astute in their contract evaluations.
The continuity will serve the Cardinals well, as long as Mozeliak and his staff can acclimate and adjust. Continuity cannot become comfort. The opposite is true, actually: discomfort — and restlessness — can foster even more success.
Thanks for reading …