In just four years, St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has done just about everything an organization could ask out of that position, and he has done it in steady, yet stunning fashion.
Mozeliak was promoted to the general manager position in 2008 after the Cardinals fired long-time GM Walt Jocketty, who had helped lead the organization through one of its most successful stretches in team history.
Since, Mozeliak took a team that was in the midst of a two-year hiatus from the playoffs and helped turn it into a team that has won a World Series and made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons despite losing arguably the best player in the game, Albert Pujols, at the end of 2011.
Mozeliak made some shrewd moves to reach that success, and he took avenues that weren’t necessarily glamorous, but they were vitally important to the success of the Cardinals.
For example, the only big signing he’s made since taking over as general manager was the seven-year, $120-million contract he gave Matt Holliday after trading for him midway through the 2009 season. Other than that, Mozeliak has deftly made trades that didn’t make major headlines, but paid off huge for the team in the long run.
In one of his first moves, Mozeliak traded Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres leading up to the 2008 season, and the Cardinals received a minor leaguer by the name of David Freese in return. At the time it looked as though the Cardinals had given up a fan favorite at the end of his career for a player who had potential but hadn’t had a stellar minor-league career.
But Freese has gone on to hit .296 in his four seasons with the Cardinals to go along with a .345 postseason batting average that includes the most famous hits of the 2011 World Series, a ninth-inning triple in Game 6 to tie the Texas Rangers, who were one strike from winning their first championship, and an 11th-inning homerun to win the game that sent the Cardinals to their championship moment the next evening.
Mozeliak has also added a great mix of veterans and young players. He signed Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran in back-to-back seasons, and both had their best seasons in recent memory. But he also has developed a farm system that is cranking out big-league caliber players who are on the cusp of stardom.
In just the past two seasons, Freese, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Jason Motte and Trevor Rosenthal have filled critical roles for the Cardinals throughout the regular season, and in the team’s deep postseason runs.
Baseball America also recently ranked the Cardinals minor-league system as No. 1 in baseball. That is quite an honor for a system that the same organization ranked last in 2005. The organization is currently stocked with exciting prospects such as outfielder Oscar Taveras, infielder Kolten Wong and pitcher Carlos Martinez.
The combination of all of those factors is what makes Mozeliak the best general manager in baseball. He hasn’t had incredible amounts of money to throw at free agents to try and buy a winning team, as so many organizations have done. The New York Yankees, Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are just a few examples.
Those teams can overcome poor decisions by throwing money at the problem. Others, such as the Toronto Blue Jays this year, trade for a bunch of high-priced talent all at once and hope it all mashes together to create a winning team.
The Cardinals don’t solely use either of those approaches, but they take pieces from each. They are an organization that has developed a near-perfect combination of developing young talent while maintaining the flexibility to add key outside pieces to the puzzle of a big-league roster. The Cardinals are sort of a balance between the Tampa Bay Rays, who rely almost solely on home-grown talent, and the big market teams that spend a ton of money.
Granted, general managers are often viewed as good or horrible based on the flexibility their owners give them. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was viewed as a genius when the Yankees spent loads of money each offseason, but this year his reputation has taken a hit because the Yankees don’t want to spend as much money. That’s not fair, but it is something that comes along with the job.
Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is probably the closest to Mozeliak in terms of his ability to build a consistent winning team without breaking the bank on free agents. The Rangers had the No. 1-ranked minor-league system in 2009 and followed it with two consecutive World Series appearances.
San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean is another who does an excellent job, and Jocketty is also building a strong foundation with the Cincinnati Reds by applying the same principles he used during his successful 13-year run with the Cardinals that included seven playoff appearances and a World Series championship.
Mozeliak has taken those principles to the next level and built a team that is capable of winning a World Series now, as well as a team that should consistently compete for championships in the foreseeable future.
Given the Cardinals’ recent success and the projections that similar success lays ahead, Mozeliak deserves to be called one of the best, and quite possibly the best, general manager in Major League Baseball.