It’s been a distinguished run for John Mozeliak, the leader of the St. Louis baseball operations for 15 seasons. In terms of sustained success, he’s been one of the most influential executives in franchise history.
To the surprise of absolutely no one who understands how the Cardinals operate, Mozeliak has agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in office as the president of baseball operations through 2025.
Despite the enormous amount of mewling among fake tough guys who traffic in concocted outrage on social media – they would have us believe the franchise is spiraling into the depths of failure and on the verge of becoming the Pittsburgh Pirates – the Cardinals are still an industry leader.
There was no chance of Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. severing the bond with Mozeliak. There was never any doubt over Mozeliak’s job status and security. This contract extension was a certainty; it was just a matter of time.
DeWitt and Mozeliak formed a winning baseball partnership before the 2008 season. They work as a team. They genuinely share — and remain firmly committed to – a team-building philosophy.
So why would DeWitt sack Mozeliak if the Cardinals disappoint during the regular season or postseason? The owner agrees with Mozeliak’s decisions. He is part of Mozeliak’s decisions, fully engaged in baseball-ops activities. DeWitt approves – or vetoes – potential baseball moves brought to him. They work as a tandem.
“All the different jobs you can have in sports, and the type of people you work with, I happen to work with Bill DeWitt, who I think most people would agree is one of the best owners in all of sport,” Mozeliak said Tuesday, in a session with media at spring training. “And so, when you do what I do, having ownership support is critical in being able to create that successful model over time.”
DeWitt said this about Mozeliak during January’s Winter Warm Up event: “He’s top echelon of baseball people. Mo has done a great job for us. I’m a big fan of his abilities as a president of baseball operations.”
DeWitt put the franchise baseball doctrine in place many years ago, in the early aughts. The agenda included a heavy emphasis on scouting, drafting, analytics, player development, building most of the roster within, and finding talent that’s undervalued by the market. The core is supplemented by ancillary trades and free-agent signings. Perfect? No, because nothing is. But the model has produced an elite baseball product for a long time.
Yes, the Cardinals must update their model and become more aggressive about constructing a team that’s better equipped for postseason competition. I’ve growled about that, too – many times.
More than anything Cards management must loosen their own restraints in spending on starting pitching. If you want a true No. 1 starter, or a legit No. 2 starter, you have to pay for it if you can’t develop it. You can’t take a collection of No. 3 starters and insist that you’re all set.
Since the start of the 2015 season the Cardinals are 5-14 in the postseason for a grotesque.263 winning percentage. They’ve lost nine of their last 10 postseason games and have made it as far as the NLCS only one time in their last five trips to the postseason.
Sure, postseason results tend to be random, but the Cardinals haven’t done enough to have a stronger, deeper team in place for October. Accordingly, they’ve been embarrassed too many times on the big stage in recent seasons.
But how can you blame this on Mozeliak as if he’s solely responsible? Again: the owner and the president of baseball ops are 100 percent aligned. Mozeliak isn’t an independent operator. He doesn’t swing a trade and then send a text to DeWitt to let him know. DeWitt isn’t detached; he’s attached at all times. And Mozeliak doesn’t determine the size of the annual payroll expenditure.
Even with the terrible postseason trend in recent years, the overall body of work is impressive. Here’s an accounting of the team’s success since Mozeliak’s appointment to GM before the 2008 season:
1) The Cardinals have the third-best regular-season winning percentage in the majors over Mozeliak’s 15 seasons as the organization’s top baseball guy.
2) They have competed in more postseason games than any NL team except the Dodgers.
3) They’ve won six NL Central titles and qualified for 10 postseasons.
4) The Cardinals have won two NL pennants and a World Series and played in five NLCS rounds.
5) STL’s 10 postseason appearances are the third-most in the majors to the Dodgers (12) and Yankees (11) during Mozeliak’s time. But Mozeliak has done this at a fraction of the payroll cost compared to the Dodgers and Yankees.
6) The Cardinals and Yankees are the only MLB teams to have a streak of 15 consecutive winning seasons going into 2023.
7) Since the start of the 2008 season the Cardinals are tied for the second-best ERA in the majors, and are tied for sixth offensively with an average of 4.6 runs scored per game.
8) They have maintained a strong farm system that supplies much of their big-league talent. On the current 40-man St. Louis roster, 47.5 percent of the players were home grown. That’s the sixth-highest percentage among the 30 franchises.
9) Since the start of the 2011 season the Cardinals have the third-best winning percentage (regular season) in the majors and rank third for most postseason games (76) and most postseason victories (36.) Over that time only the Dodgers have competed in more postseasons (10) than the Cardinals (9) and Yankees (9).
10) The Cardinals are one of only six MLB teams to play in four straight postseasons from 2019 through 2022. The other five are the Dodgers, Braves, Rays, Yankees and Astros.
10a) Making the playoffs isn’t as easy as perceived. Over the last four seasons eight MLB teams have failed to make the playoffs and nine others have made it only one time. Over the past four years, only seven of the 30 franchises have qualified for the playoffs more than two times. Making the postseason matters, and I don’t take it for granted. But the Cardinals must make more of their opportunities.
11) Mozeliak’s three managerial hires – Mike Matheny, Mike Shildt and Oli Marmol – have produced a string of 11 consecutive winning seasons, a .558 winning percentage (4th overall) and eight postseason tournaments. Marmol was only 36 years old when Mozeliak chose him to replace Shildt. In 2022 Marmol became the youngest big-league manager in 53 years to win a division title.
12) Mozeliak’s trades included the additions of Matt Holliday, David Freese, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Jake Westbrook, Rafael Furcal, John Lackey, Jason Heyward, Octavio Dotel, Giovanny Gallegos, Edward Mujica, Marc Rzepczynski, Edwin Jackson, Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, Jose Quintana, Jordan Montgomery, Ryan Ludwick.
I mentioned that specific group of players for a reason. Some were members of the 2011 World Series champion, and/or the 2013 NL pennant winner. Some were All-Star selections. Some did pivotal work out of the bullpen. Others were in-season trade acquisitions who brought stability and success to a broken rotation. This list also includes an MVP (Goldy), multiple gold-glove winners, a World Series hero (Freese), and arguably the best defensive third baseman in modern times (Arenado.)
The Cardinals don’t win the 2011 World Series without Mozeliak signing Lance Berkman as a free agent. And the Redbirds don’t win the 2013 NL pennant without Mozeliak quickly signing free-agent Carlos Beltran after losing Albert Pujols to the Angels. Perhaps the latest free-agent signing, catcher Willson Contreras, will deliver a substantial payoff.
13) Mozeliak reached out to Albert Pujols to bring him home. Pujols’ remarkable return made the 2022 season an unforgettable experience for Pujols, the fans, the team, and all of major-league baseball. Plus 93 wins and a division title.
Of course, Mozeliak made trades that went bust.
Bulletin: every GM does that.
Going forward, I hope DeWitt and Mozeliak will take advantage of the model they’ve created and sustained by adding the final component: a renewal of postseason success. I don’t know if Mozeliak plans to retire after the 2025 season, but it would be great to see him go out on top. This his challenge. But he’ll need help from DeWitt.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference and Stathead.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.