Cardinals are a team from top to bottom
The mid-market organization from the Midwest has been anything but middling
The St. Louis Cardinals are baseball's version of the American Dream.
They don't have all the built-in advantages of a major market. But they win. Oh, do they ever win.
And they do it without having to outspend everyone else. Crunch some numbers.
In the first 15 years of this century, the Cardinals have won more games (1,387) than any team in baseball other than the Yankees (1,442). They have made more postseason appearances (11) than any team other than the Yanks (12).
And they are showing no signs of slowing down. The Cards woke up Wednesday morning with baseball's best record (23-9).
They are doing all this despite the loss of rotation ace Adam Wainwright, who is out for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon. But when Wainwright spent the entire 2011 season on the disabled list after undergoing right elbow surgery, the Cardinals won a World Series championship that season.
They may wear Cardinals red, but they are a blue-collar success story.
In the past decade, they have never ranked higher than ninth in payroll (2010), and they have been as low as 17th in the salary standings ('09).
What's the key to the Cards' success? They are a team -- from top to bottom. It's an organization where egos aren't allowed.
There's no general manager of any team that has been half as successful as the Cardinals who is less of a public figure than St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak.
Talk about an American success story.
Mozeliak ran the radar gun at Mile High Stadium in 1993, the inaugural season of the Rockies. When Rockies assistant general manager Walt Jocketty left Colorado in '94 to become the Cards' general manager, Mozeliak went with him.
Mozeliak worked his way up in the organization from an assistant director of scouting to a director of scouting to director of baseball operations to assistant general manager. He stepped into his current role of general manager following the October 2007 departure of Jocketty.
And when it came time to replace Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, Mozeliak went with the man he felt could best continue the Cardinals' tradition -- Mike Matheny -- even if Mozeliak knew there would be skeptics, because Matheny had never managed nor coached professionally.
Matheny, however, had been a Cardinal. And he has maintained success. The Redbirds are, after all, in search of a fourth division title in Matheny's fourth year as the manager.
Mozeliak hasn't forgotten where he came from, which is apparent when looking at the Cards' roster.
Think about it. The only free-agent acquisition in St. Louis' starting lineup and rotation is shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and he came at the reasonable price of a four-year, $53 million package, in part because he was looking for a chance to redeem himself after a 50-game PED suspension with Detroit in 2013.
Mozeliak did make trades for left fielder Matt Holliday in July 2009 (then re-signed the slugger that offseason to a seven-year, $118.65 million deal), right-handed starting pitcher John Lackey (whose contract required only a salary of $500,000 this year) last July and right fielder Jason Heyward this past offseason.
And how much did Holliday buy into the Cardinals Way in those final months of 2009? He told agent Scott Boras to do whatever he felt necessary in checking out the free-agent market, but to make sure the end result would be Holliday re-signing in St. Louis.
The Cardinals have 16 homegrown players on their roster, and it's a group that underscores the emphasis the Cards put on player development.
Oh, there are a couple of high-profile Draft choices. They have three former No. 1 Draft picks on the roster -- second baseman Kolten Wong (2011), backup middle infielder Pete Kozma ('07) and right-handed starter Michael Wacha ('12). Starting pitcher Lance Lynn was a supplemental pick from between the first and second rounds in '08. Center fielder Jon Jay was a second-round pick in '06.
But catcher Yadier Molina was a fourth-round pick in 2000, and backup Tony Cruz was a 26th-round selection in '07.
First baseman Matt Adams was a 23rd-round Draft choice in 2009. Third baseman Matt Carpenter was a 13th-round pick in '09. Starting pitcher Tyler Lyons was a ninth-round pick in '10.
They did supplement the bullpen by signing free agent Matt Belisle and re-signing lefty Randy Choate during the offseason. They also signed right-hander Miguel Socolovich, a 10-year veteran of pro ball who has been with six organizations and has made only 17 big league appearances, including five this year.
The bullpen foundation, however, is built around closer Trevor Rosenthal (21st round, 2009), fellow right-handers Seth Maness (11th round, '11) and Mitch Harris (13th round, '08), and lefty Kevin Siegrist (41st round, '08).
The Cardinals' players may not make headlines individually. They don't care. They are a part of a successful organization.
And isn't that what it is all about?