ST. LOUIS -- While continuing to reiterate that the franchise’s offseason focus remains on acquiring “pitching, pitching, pitching,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made another thing abundantly clear on Friday: The club’s expected worst season in 16 years won’t cost Oliver Marmol his job, and he will return as manager in 2024.
A Cardinals’ 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Friday -- their 82nd defeat of the season -- guaranteed that their National League-record-tying streak of 15 straight seasons with a record better than .500 will end. After getting off to their worst start in 50 seasons, the Cardinals have been in last place at the conclusion of 109 of their 147 games and could finish last in their division for the first time since 1990 (70-92, last in the NL East). Despite opening as favorites to repeat as NL Central champs, per FanGraphs, the Cardinals became the first team to be eliminated from contention for the NL Central division title on Thursday.
Despite all that, Marmol is expected to return in 2024 for his third season as manager of a ballclub that won 93 games and made it to the playoffs for a fourth straight season in 2022. Barring a contract extension in the offseason, Marmol will almost certainly go into 2024 managing for his job.
“In terms of Oli, I do support him, and I know he’ll be back next year,” Mozeliak said on Friday while discussing a variety of topics throughout a 22-minute session with the media. “I think the job he does is good, I really do. I think this year’s tough, and there’s always going to be finger pointing with what went wrong and what could have been done differently. That starts with myself.
“We know, when we look at 2024, things have to be different,” Mozeliak continued, referring to the job done by the 37-year-old Marmol, who guided the Cardinals to a 6-3 run on a recent road trip against the Braves, Reds and Orioles. “I’m certainly encouraged with what I see out of Oli as a young manager. He’s extremely well organized, he’s prepared, and I think he gets a lot out of his players.”
The Cardinals have gotten plenty out of an offense that ranks eighth in MLB in OPS (.752), ninth in home runs (200) and 13th in batting average (.253). However, a pitching staff short on depth and strikeout stuff to enter the season faltered badly. The Cardinals are 25th in team ERA (4.75) and starter ERA (4.98), 20th in starter wins (40) and 15th in starter innings pitched (774).
Those struggles made the Cardinals sellers at the Trade Deadline. Ironically, a team in need of pitching dealt starters Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery and relievers Jordan Hicks, Chris Stratton and Génesis Cabrera before the Deadline. Now, they face the monumental task of going into the offseason needing to restock their starting staff and a bullpen with 26 blown saves.
“I think I’ve been very clear -- pitching, pitching, pitching,” Mozeliak said. “Whether it’s an R next to their name for reliever or S for starter, clearly we’re going to need to ramp this up [with more pitching].”
Mozeliak said the Cardinals will be in the market for three starting pitchers. Miles Mikolas and injured lefty, Steven Matz, are the only starters under contract for 2024, so the franchise will be aggressive in adding talent via free agency or trades.
“I think the answer is likely yes,” Mozeliak said when asked if the Cardinals need three starting pitchers. “I definitely feel like you need protection on the innings side. We’re encouraged with what we’re seeing with some guys here, but adding that depth will be important.”
While he expects Marmol to return as manager, Mozeliak said there likely will be “the natural churn” to the rest of the coaching staff. Mozeliak said several other changes -- in terms of personnel and/or approach -- could be made to avoid a repeat of a season where the Cardinals started slowly, made a brief charge in a 15-13 May and faded out of contention with poor play in June (8-15) and August (11-16).
“We have to agree that this year happened and it’s behind us,” Mozeliak said. “It was not what we had hoped, and it was not good. So, to do nothing, regardless of how you think about the organizational structure, I do think we should be looking at different ways to solve our problems and our situation. So, I just think all those things are on the table.”