THE REDBIRD REVIEW
It was enough to make me want to smash a dugout cooler, just like Willson Contreras did earlier this week.
After being struck down by another thunderbolt in Wednesday’s 8-5 stinging loss to the Giants, Cardinals players set up a post-game defense. Well, at least it was more effective than their on-field defense that ranks 28th in MLB for runs saved.
Speaking to reporters about the team’s atrocious 27-42 record and a season that’s flamed into a full-blown inferno, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Adam Wainwright presented a vigorous defense in support of manager Oli Marmol and the coaches.
While their intentions were honorable, the sermons were about as predictable as the Cardinals losing another game. C’mon now. What would you expect them to say? Does anyone of sound mind really believe the clubhouse elders would go off on Marmol and his staff with blistering, public criticism? That, or decline to say anything positive? No chance.
You’d have to go to sleep with a stuffed Fredbird doll at your side each night to attach significance to this. Of course, some members of the STL sports media were pleased to do just that.
I found one quote interesting.
In a conversation with Katie Woo of The Athletic, Arenado said this:
“I think Oli has been dealt a tough hand the last two years, I really do believe that.”
Arenado proceeded to talk about how young the Cardinals were in 2022, and young again this year. He praised Mamrol and concluded with, “I just think it’s not easy to come in and try to put this together.”
Arenado overstates the young-player factor. There are plenty of winning teams around major-league baseball that are thriving with young talent. STL’s young players have done some really good things. And even with some disappointment baked in, that does not justify the Cardinals’ worst start through 69 games since 1978. It doesn’t justify the Redbirds wallowing 15 games under .500 for the first time since the final week of the 1997 season.
Among Arenado’s comments, what stood out to me was his “I think Oli has been dealt a tough hand” thing.
Is that a little jab at the front office?
If Arenado believes Marmol has been dealt a tough hand the last two years, that’s definitely a statement about the roster. And the implied criticism is accurate. We all know that president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and aides have gone into the last two seasons with holes in the roster, and they’ve ignored the obvious need for starting pitching. The front-office complacency is a definite factor in this team’s demise, and there’s no getting around that.
Mozeliak added one notable player last offseason, catcher Contreras. And the former Cub is hitting .198 with insubstantial power. A bullpen that wasn’t addressed last offseason is collapsing and turning wins into losses.
(By the way … what did Mozeliak promise Arenado last offseason in their meeting before the third baseman decided to remain with St. Louis instead of opting out of his contract? I’m not sure … but I doubt that Mozeliak made a pledge to turn the Cardinals into the Colorado Rockies.)
You know what’s funny? One of the comment made by Mozeliak about Marmol to The Athletic in during the recent series at Texas: “Unfortunately, he wasn’t dealt the hand he thought he was going to get.”
What? So Mozeliak agrees with Arenado? And isn’t Mozeliak responsible for making sure he’s doing all that he can to give the manager a stronger roster and a better set of Cards to play with? Mozeliak supplies the deck of Cards before the start of each season, right?
The lack of aggressiveness is a serious fundamental flaw. But nothing changes. No adjustments are made to the outdated organizational model. Management does not recognize the industry change in spending. Management does not permit reality to penetrate its arrogance. Management believes that the Cardinals are smarter than anyone else – and their system that worked 15, or 20 years ago is still clicking.
The absence of any real accountability is glaring. How can there be accountability when the hierarchy is set in place and basically unmovable and unbreakable? That point became even more obvious when the three veterans stepped up to protect Marmol and the coaches from the intensifying heat coming from the outside.
Let’s walk through this …
Bill DeWitt Jr: He isn’t accountable. He owns the franchise. And the franchise has been among the most successful in the majors, posting MLB’s third-best regular-season winning percentage since 2000 and ranking No. 2 for most postseason wins over that time. Sure, the Cardinals are no longer imposing as a postseason force, but DeWitt stands on his overall record – and it’s a damn good one. So no, I don’t think BDJ will fire himself. An alarming drop in ticket sales might get DeWitt’s attention and motivate him to shake up the baseball operation, but once again the Cardinals rank second in MLB home attendance this season with an average of 40,358.
John Mozeliak: He is Dewitt’s guy. Period. They have a close working partnership. DeWitt likes him, trusts and is firmly loyal to him and appreciates Mo’s success over a long period of time before the Cards stopped winning postseason games. Mozeliak makes him money. There’s always that. Just a few months ago DeWitt extended Mozeliak’s contract through 2025, and that’s all you need to know. Mozeliak is safe and secure. How can there be true accountability when the president of baseball ops is in no real danger of losing his job?
Oli Marmol: He’s Mozeliak’s guy. “I think he’s done an amazing job,” the prez told The Athletic on June 7. “Anytime you’re in turbulent seas, things get tested. From my standpoint, I trust him, I believe in him and I stand by him.”
Mozeliak is 0 for 2 in hiring managers since Tony La Russa retired after leading the Cardinals to the World Series championship in 2011. If Mozeliak fires Marmol, he’d be 0 for 3 and seeking his fourth manager since the All-Star break in 2018.
The Cardinals have played 682 regular-season games since Mozeliak fired Mike Matheny and promoted Mike Shildt to manager. After Shildt’s outster, Marmol took over for the 2022 season.
So that’s three managers over the last 682 games. Hypothetically speaking, if Marmol got sacked at the 2023 All-Star break (he won’t be) Mozeliak would make his fourth managerial appointment in 703 games.
The Cardinals had one manager in place for 16 seasons and 2,683 games including the postseason. With TLR in charge, DeWitt and his front office never had to worry about finding a new manager. But since TLR left, St. Louis management has been piling up the whiffs on manager choices.
Mozeliak is 100 percent supportive of Marmol, and doesn’t want to have to make another change in the manager’s office. So in that context, how is Marmol accountable if the current baseball boss brought him to the Cardinals as a coach in 2017, steered him into the bench-coach role before 2019, gladly put him in the manager’s chair in 2022, and stands by him during a wrecked 2023? And as I’ve written, If Mozeliak dismisses Marmol, it’s akin to Mozeliak confessing that he’s clueless about choosing managers.
The Coaches: They’re Marmol’s guys. The coaches he’s been able to keep, anyway. Sure, it’s easy to throw a coach over the side to appease the angry mob. But is that real accountability? No. That’s a distraction, a ceremony and an attempt to claim, “See, we’re holding our people accountable.” Besides, how many staff changes has Marmol made in a relatively short time? Can’t blame the coaches when you bring in those coaches.
The Players: Yes, they’re held accountable … but only to a point, and I’m being charitable. It’s one thing to make an example of Tyler O’Neill by embarrassing him publicly for a non-hustle offense. And though Mozeliak certainly played a role in the nonsense, Marmol didn’t hold whining pitchers accountable when they complained about Contreras’ work behind the plate. Marmol babied the pitchers and scapegoated Contreras – benching him for fewer than 10 games until backing down under a storm of criticism from national media.
Goldschmidt, Arenado and Wainwright made it clear Cardinal players care about what’s happening, work hard to prepare, hate losing, and want to change it. They believe that the players’ mistakes, lapses and poor performances are responsible for the team’s current condition. And I respect Arenado for pointing out the flaws in his own performance this season.
All of that is well and good. But aren’t they supposed to care, and work hard, and despise losing? Isn’t that their job? Isn’t that their minimum-level obligation?
And if the players care so much and work so hard – and don’t want Marmol and the coaches blamed for the team’s glaring decline – then why are the Cardinals getting worse instead of improving? Does that make sense to you? These people must think the fans are gullible.
Accountability is more than a word.
It shouldn’t be a public-relations strategy.
It has to be real. It can’t be selective. It must be consistently applied.
The players’ devotion to the manager and the coaches should be personified and demonstrated on the field where the games are won or lost.
Most of us agree that the Cardinals have the talent to be more successful than their record shows. And even with Mozeliak’s neglect, the Cardinals have no excuse to be 15 games under .500. This team, at the very least, should be playing above-average ball and hanging close in the division.
And if the accountability is legitimate, then why are the Cardinals festering as the last-place team in a weak division and flopping around at the bottom of the majors with Oakland and Kansas City?
The Cardinals are seven games behind the REDS in the NL Central.
And if the managers and coaches are working so hard to prepare the players and hold them accountable — then why has the defense collapsed to 28th in the major and last in the NL in defensive runs saved? The Cardinals were either first or second in the NL in defensive runs saved in 2021 and 2022.
We’re supposed to believe that this is one happy baseball family. The owner is fully committed to the president of baseball operations, the president of baseball operations is fully committed to the manager, the manager is fully committed to the coaches, the players are fully committed to the manager and coaches, and the players say they’re committed to each other and Marmol, and the staff and the fans.
OK, so where is the commitment to winning?
You know, a commitment to winning that shows up in the standings?
Arenado and the others are right; this downfall is on the players. But it’s not that simple. The fault line starts at the top of the organization. But the manager and coaches are paid to take what they have and make it better, and that ain’t happening. And as I said earlier, the Cardinals shouldn’t be this bad. So what are the manager and coaches there for?
All of this talent and hard work and dedication and caring and determination and commitment and love and a supposedly strong clubhouse vibe should translate into something a helluva lot more than 27-42. None of this adds up. Nice try, though.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his 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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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
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.