Last Thursday, the Cardinals ensured that perhaps the most crucial brick its foundation would remain in place. The club reached an agreement with general manager John Mozeliak to a three-year contract extension that will carry him through the 2016 season, which will be his ninth serving the team in his current capacity.
During those nine years, he has guided the team through two crucial restructure phases, both built around World Series victories. The first came when he assumed his role after the 2006 victory and former GM Walt Jocketty departing for the Cincinnati Reds, and the second after the 2011 season and the departure of both manager Tony LaRussa and three-time MVP Albert Pujols.
Yet throughout these times, the team’s overall roster has continued to improve. Due to a combination of smart Major League level moves and a reinvestment in the minor league system, building resurrecting it from the among the most depleted to one that has been ranked the best in baseball entering 2013. While his place in St. Louis is secured, Mozeliak is facing yet another crucial turning point in equipping the team to continue to keep its relevance. Adam Wainwright’s pending free agency and extension negotiations are the top order of personnel business for him. This would be one of the signature moments of his career, keeping the club’s top arm in tow for likely the rest of his career.
It is a good opportunity to reflect on the most signature moments of his tenure, which has both seen bold moves, as well as some notable concessions.
This was a trade that had to be done, yet was still slightly stunning when it happened in July 2011. Rasmus had been long hailed as the club’s future franchise player, but his explosive relationship with LaRussa, then the fans, made it a must that a change be made. Mo made it the first big move that turned around that season for the club, and received back plenty of strategic depth. Edwin Jackson stabilized the starting rotation and Octavio Dotel was a crucial late inning veteran. Rzepczynski was a revelation in the playoffs that season, posting a 1.26 ERA over the NLCS and World Series.
Edmonds was one of the great Cardinals of all-time, a six-time Gold Glove winner in the Busch Stadium outfield and a fan favorite for eight seasons. But by the winter of 2007, he was in his decline coming off a season where he struggled to hit .252 and hadn’t played in over 120 games in two years. It’s always tough to trade a franchise cornerstone, and when Mo dealt him for a 24 year old that was still in Single-A in 2007. Although he had hit .307 with 96 RBI the previous season, it was still a considered a reach at the time. Freese responded by jumping Double-A completely, and responded by taking the regular reins at third base for the big league club just two years later. This transaction has gone on to represent the first of Mo’s string of moves dedicated to building through the minor leagues for future MLB payout.
In the post-Edmonds and Scott Rolen days of 2009, Albert Pujols had been left to carry far too much of the offensive load for the team. In his first blockbuster move, Mo pulled the trigger on a deal based around the team’s top prospect at the time in Wallace for Holliday. Wallace had hit .311 while rapidly rising through the Cardinal organization since being made the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft. However, he wasn’t truly a fit at the MLB level in STL, and his high regard as a prospect made him an ideal trade chip. Holliday on the other hand, was a high priced rental in Oakland with an expiring contract. The Cardinals needed a bat, Oakland wanted more youth as usual. It was a match made in heaven.
Holliday went on to hit .353 after the trade, helping to push the team into the playoffs. However, the concern was that the team wouldn’t be able to keep off the Yankees or Red Sox to keep him in town. However, Mo aggressively finished out the high stakes dealings with acquiring Holliday by inking him to a seven-year, $120 million deal. It remains the largest in team history, and also a move that showed much needed foresight, due to a future for the organization he likely had already envisioned looming…
2. Not resigning Albert Pujols
Not being able to retain a player of the status of Pujols never sounds like it could be a tally in the great accomplishments list of a GM. Yet in the case of the departure of Pujols in December 2011, it was high mark in Mozeliak’s tenure for the shear boldness and overall organization insight in showed. If the Cardinals had issued a 10 year deal at over $200 million to Pujols, it would have effectively killed the ability to retain any depth for the club over the next decade. Deals for Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina would have been impossible, and staying competitive when Freese, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Jason Motte and virtually any other player hit the open market. By refusing to do the big move in the moment, he set up the future.
1. Resigning Yadier Molina
The concern after the loss of Pujols was that Molina wouldn’t be far behind. Amongst the fan base, there were murmurs of the Cardinals not willing to put up the money to keep its cornerstones intact. In the whirlwind of changes that happened leading into the 2012 season, an extension for Molina was a priority, and one he delivered on. Yadi’s five-year, $75 million deal kept the club’s new most valuable player in tow and showed the team was prepared to spend where it needed to. It was a calming signing for both team and fans, and showed Mo’s grasp on the big picture is always on point.