These Deadline moves have ignited the Cards

August 23rd, 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.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Sitting halfway up the lower bowl and directly behind home plate at lovely Hammons Field so he could closely watch Jack Flaherty’s rehab assignment Sunday, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak fielded requests from several fans who came up and asked for autographs and photos.

Never mind that former Cardinals All-Star Ryan Ludwick -- he of the 154 career home runs over 12 MLB seasons -- was sitting beside Mozeliak and was mostly unbothered by autograph and selfie-seeking fans.

Quite frankly, Mozeliak deserved every bit of the acclaim he was getting on a sunny Sunday afternoon during the game between Double-A Springfield and Arkansas. While Cardinals fans all over Missouri and several of the surrounding states clamored for Mozeliak to make a move for superstar Juan Soto, the Cardinals president ignored the roar. Instead, he hung onto the organization’s bevy of top prospects -- namely 6-foot-5 slugger Jordan Walker, but more on him later -- and dealt for proven left-handers Jordan Montgomery and José Quintana.

While those moves received mostly a shoulder shrug at the time, Mozeliak looks like a genius now with the way the two pitchers stabilized the starting staff and ignited the Cardinals. After an underwhelming 54-48 record at the time of the MLB Trade Deadline, the Cardinals have gone 15-3 since with four series sweeps.

Montgomery, a 6-foot-6 lefty with three plus-grade pitches, is 3-0 with an 0.54 ERA over his first three starts and 16 2/3 innings, while Quintana was 1-0 with a 2.65 ERA before Sunday’s clunker in Arizona. The duo was a combined 4-0 with a 1.60 ERA in their first 33 2/3 innings as Cardinals.

“Any time your starters give you a chance to win, it’s an immediate confidence boost for your team,” Mozeliak said. “When you add depth and guys like [Montgomery and Quintana], your rotation gets stronger, your bullpen gets stronger and your team gets better.”

While the offseason additions of Drew VerHagen, Aaron Brooks and Corey Dickerson were mostly swing and misses, Mozeliak hit a home run by bringing Albert Pujols back to St. Louis for the slugger’s 22nd and final season. From the time of the signing during Spring Training in Jupiter, Mozeliak and Pujols insisted that the legend’s return had little to do with nostalgia and instead “The Machine” was back because he still had plenty to offer. That has proven true as Pujols has done just what he was brought to St. Louis to do -- beat up lefties to the tune of a .388 average, an astonishing 1.205 OPS and nine home runs to get him to 692 for his career before Monday.

“Instantly, when he joined our club, he brought a presence,” Mozeliak said. “Young players thrive around him, and he was a mentor and a father figure around some of them. Since he was named to the All-Star Game, he’s performing now at another level. It shows you that he still has greatness in him, and it shows you he smells something now. What he’s doing is more than for records; it’s for winning.

“We’re all extremely pleased with how it’s played out,” Mozeliak added. “It’s like he has a magic touch on our ballclub. Not every great player ends their career on a high note -- very few, actually. And that’s what makes this season so special. His work ethic, determination, and will to be a part of this are incredible.”

Incredible, too, is the work by Mozeliak, who greatly changed the course of this season for the Cardinals with his additions -- both before the season and at the Trade Deadline. Unlike the criticism he so often receives on social media, Mozeliak got nothing but bouquets thrown his way in Springfield on Sunday. And, quite frankly, he deserves them for how he radically altered the course of this Cardinals season.