John Mozeliak is truly compelling.
His approach, I mean. His strategy, the tactics that he utilizes to acquire talent, and his overall philosophy on how to build a roster.
Every winter a large contingent of Cardinal fans gripe when Mozeliak doesn’t use Bill DeWitt III’s money to land one or multiple top free agents on the market. This past offseason was no different and in some ways, the complaints seemed even louder than in prior years.
Some fans almost took it personally when the Cards didn’t land David Price (even though Mozeliak tried), Jason Heyward (again, not for a lack of effort on Mozeliak’s part), Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Zack Greinke or Yoenis Cespedes.
It was as if Mozeliak and DeWitt hatched a plan to take as much of the fans’ money as possible and not reinvest some of it back into the off-field product.
But the truth is less interesting than conspiracies and often harder to swallow as well.
The truth is that Mozeliak was outbid by the Red Sox for Price and was simply spurned by Heyward’s belief that the Cubs offer him the best chance to win.
While there’s an argument to be made that the Cards aimed too low with their offer to Price, in hindsight there was nothing Mozeliak could do about Heyward being lured by the Cubs’ potential.
No matter. Best laid plans, and such.
What’s impressive is what Mozeliak did after Price and Heyward landed elsewhere: He resisted the temptation to view the remaining list of free agents as some sort of paint-by-numbers shopping list for all GMs.
Mo’s Offseason To Do List:
Justin Upton (NOTE: CALL AGENT.)
Chris Davis (NOTE: CALL AGENT IF UPTON’S DOESN’T RESPOND.)
The Cardinals have won 287 games the past three seasons. That’s the most in Major League Baseball over that span. One of Mozeliak’s biggest accomplishments since stepping into the GM role for the Cardinals is his ability to re-tool and not re-build.
The Mets, Cubs and Astros suffered through long rebuilds before making the postseason a year ago. The Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Reds and Rockies are rebuilding now. The Padres attempted to cut corners last year by acquiring a bunch big league talent in one offseason and wound up with a .457 winning percentage and an even rebuilding project this year.
The Cardinals don’t rebuild, and they’re one of the best organizations in professional sports because of it. They’re a model franchise. A consistent contender in a sports world filled with parity.
Under Mozeliak, the Cardinals constantly find ways to integrate young players on their big league roster. Last year it was with Carlos Martinez, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.
The year before, they did it with Kolten Wong and the late Oscar Taveras.
In 2013 it was Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness.
Granted, some of the playing time given to those players came out of necessity due to injury. But the mere fact that those prospects were readily available and more importantly, impactful, is a testament to the organization’s ability to scout, draft, develop and deploy those young players.
How many times are other teams forced to acquire veterans with little return on investment when an injury strikes, as opposed to having the luxury of dipping into their farm system?
Integrating young players at the big league level and actually having that youth fulfill their potential are two different things.
After all, it’s not as if the Cardinals are the only team that tries to balance youth and veteran experience on a yearly basis.
But it’s the Cardinals’ ability to succeed in this area that has them consistently in contention, as opposed to suffering through growing pains while trying rebuild.
It’s because of this that Mozeliak is able to not only build depth but also create enticing pieces for future trades.
Take Heyward for example. Had he not become enthralled with signing in Chicago, he would have become one of the Cardinals’ core pieces for years to come. Heyward, of course, was acquired by Mozeliak in exchange for Miller, who intrigued the Braves enough to part with a 26-year-old, multi-Gold Glove-winning right fielder.
Speaking of the Cubs, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are now trying to emulate the Cards’ success by taking the same approach. Hoyer said as much last year when Chicago was making its somewhat surprising playoff run. (I only say “surprising” because many believed the Cubs were still one more year away from contending heading into last season.)
Being in a big market, Epstein and Hoyer have the ability to constantly spend big in free agency like they’ve done the past two years in acquiring Heyward, Jon Lester and John Lackey. But no matter how much money they spend on big name free agents, rest assured the Cubs will continue to integrate young players to the big league roster after witnessing how much success the Cardinals have had over the years.
And speaking of Heyward, just because he won’t be one of the Cards’ future pillars doesn’t mean the entire structure is suddenly going to fall.
Mozeliak may have displeased fans that demanded instant gratification in the form of a headline-grabbing signing this past winter, but he’s always thinking steps ahead. That’s clear in how much success the Cardinals have year in and year out.