December 2014 has been one of the most active months of a Major League Baseball offseason in recent memory and followed a similarly packed trade deadline five months earlier. However, the St. Louis Cardinals have benefitted by staying out of the mix in both instances.
While teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins have made a flurry of moves to remake their rosters for the 2015 season, the Cardinals struck quickly after their 2014 season fell two games short of the World Series in October.
General manager John Mozeliak completed a trade that sent right-handed starter Shelby Miller and minor-league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins to the Atlanta Braves for right fielder Jason Heyward and righty reliever Jordan Walden. And it happened Nov. 17, nearly a full month before the Winter Meetings in San Diego that sent players to new places all over the National League.
Yet, the Cardinals remain the class of the NL Central and one of the top favorites to again be big contenders for the league’s World Series berth.
Mozeliak described the team’s approach as “preemptive” in terms of how it has conducted its offseason business not just this year, but in the recent past, as well.
The Cardinals made more moves after they lost the 2013 World Series to the Boston Red Sox in six games, as they signed free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta on Nov. 25, little more than a week after they traded third baseman David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfielder Randal Grichuk.
Those moves, too, fit the “preemptive” classification. That approach – combined with a well-stocked farm system — has kept the Cardinals from having to engage in bidding wars for free agents or from having to scratch the bottom of the free-agent barrel late in the offseason when new players tend to get more expensive if the player and agent know a team is desperate to make a move because it lacks depth at a certain position.
The Cardinals have hardly “won” a single offseason headline in recent years, and they won’t again this year with the Chicago Cubs signing of left-handed ace pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155-million contract and the incessant moves from the West Coast teams, but the Cardinals are second only to the similarly quiet San Francisco Giants in on-field success for the past five seasons.
Another positive tangent of Mozeliak’s early offseason work is the limited rumors that surround the franchise as the offseason progresses and big-name free agents such as Max Scherzer and James Shields remain on the market.
Some people have still tried to link the Cardinals to Scherzer, but a splashy signing for that type of pitcher would stray from the carefully built course Mozeliak has steered the franchise on since he became the general manager in October 2007.
The Cardinals move quickly after each season to identify their needs, fill them and then patiently wait for the spotlight to shift back from the offseason buyers to the postseason contenders when the on-field games are most important.