Breaking down Mozeliak's team-building approach

August 1st, 2022

This story was excerpted from John Denton's Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak paused what he was about to say because he knew it would anger a certain segment of the fanbase. Then, he continued because he knew a completely different segment of the fans find a great deal of joy in the model the organization employs on a year-to-year basis.

“What I’m about to say, I have to be careful because I don’t want our fanbase to feel like because we’ve had success that we’re not willing to go and do something. That’s not the case,” Mozeliak said when asked on Bally Sports Midwest on Sunday about the steep price the Mariners – a team riding a 20-year playoff drought – were willing to pay for starting pitcher Luis Castillo.

Then, Mozeliak pressed on with the part of his answer that, undoubtedly, some fans will despise, while others will take great delight in.

“Everybody is in a different spot, but the Cardinals don’t look at windows to win,” Mozeliak said. “A lot of teams will have that thought of, ‘The window is open, and we’ve got to go through it and (win) at all costs.’

“We prefer a much more competitive and consistent model where year-in and year-out, we always have a chance,” Mozeliak said. “I’m sure people are listening now and saying, `That’s an awful idea; change your strategy and do it differently.’ But there are also a lot of people who love the consistency and love that we put a winning product out there day-in and day-out.”

You don’t have to parse Mozeliak’s words to know that swinging a monumental trade for, say, Juan Soto, goes against most everything the Cardinals have stood for through the years. They deeply value their prospects and use the organization’s abilities to draft, develop and deliver that young talent to the parent club to keep the personnel from going stale or flatlining. That steady stream of talent has allowed the franchise to make the playoffs seven of the last 10 years since winning it all in 2011. In that time, the Cardinals have also reached the NLCS four times and won one NL pennant.

However, a very vocal segment of the natives is restless and pushing the franchise to “go for it” more than ever, especially with franchise fixtures Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina in their final seasons. The “go for it” crowd wants Soto in the lineup now, and the future of the franchise be damned. Just remember that crowd was the one that pushed for a big bat years ago, and that ultimately cost the Cardinals possible NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara.

The Cardinals have used their prospects to acquire an unhappy asset from a team that could no longer afford said superstar before. They used that method to get Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in recent years, and Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Matt Holliday, Larry Walker, and others in the past. But they made those moves in times when they had the upper hand in trades, and it was clearly a buyer’s market.

Now, however, the sellers clearly hold the advantage with Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT Trade Deadline closing quickly. To get Soto – or even dabble in the likes of Pablo López, Frankie Montas or Nathan Eovaldi – it will likely cost the Cardinals a fortune – both in young MLB talent (Dylan Carlson? Nolan Gorman? Juan Yepez?) and in their prospect pool (Jordan Walker? Masyn Winn? Matthew Liberatore?).

When the Cardinals signed 19 of their 20 2022 MLB Draft picks, and went above their bonus pool to do so, it seemed to signal that they are ready to absorb some hits among their prospect ranks. To address the holes in their starting pitching staff – ones created by injuries to Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz – they will assuredly have to unload talented players who will be at the MLB level soon. While adding pitching depth will likely make the Cardinals a playoff team once again, but it will hardly make them favorites.

Should Mozeliak shed “The Cardinal Way,” and “go for it,” as a segment of the fans want? Will a Cardinals franchise that was unwilling to give Pujols $240 million 11 years ago be willing to pony up $500 million for Soto in 2024 if they pull off a trade in the next two days? Or should the Cardinals stay the course, add band aids to the pitching staff and know that they have the young talent to remain competitive for years to come?

Some finality to those questions will be coming Tuesday afternoon, and Cardinals fans – both the “go for it” crowd and “stay the course” crowd -- can hardly wait to see how things will play out.

“Based on what I’m hearing and the discussions we’re having, I would imagine it’s going to be an exciting 36 hours for the game of baseball as far as getting the game in the headlines and seeing player movement, which is what the fans like to see,” Mozeliak said on Sunday to Bally Sports. “Hopefully, the Cardinals are a part of that in some way.”