I recently sat down with my good friend Ron Nuttall on his podcast Ruffled Feathers for Two Birds on a Bat. We talked a lot about the Cardinals, the NL Central, and a bevy of other topics. Part of the discussion landed on the future of the Cardinals organization. It got me thinking about a bunch of “what if” scenarios. The result of that crazy journey in my brain is what you are reading now. It’s a formula for success that I think could ultimately lead to some of the best years of Cardinals baseball we have ever seen.
John Mozeliak Should Stay
Let’s start with the front office. John Mozeliak is one of the longest-tenured executives in Major League Baseball. He joined the Cardinals as Walt Jocketty‘s assistant in 1995 and became the team‘s GM in 2007, before ascending to President of Baseball Operations in 2017.
Mo, as he’s affectionately known, rubbed fans the wrong way a few years back. When asked about fan unrest following an absence from the playoffs, Mo cited the team’s overall body of work and channeled his inner gladiator. “Are you not entertained,” he questioned back. It was an informal interview with Dan McLaughlin during Spring Training and was said somewhat tongue in cheek. That’s not how it was received by fans, though.
Mozeliak can come across as an arrogant, dry, self-righteous know-it-all. He is none of those things. I’ve had the chance on multiple occasions to question him and be in the room during interviews. Not only is he personable and quite funny, but he does also understand the fans and is not as tone-deaf as most people believe.
What Mo is, though, is confident, and rightfully so. I’ve been critical of him in the past, but the man has won Executive of the Year three times, overseen six playoff teams, two pennants, and one World Series Championship. Oh, and by the way, the Cardinals have never suffered a losing season during his tenure. In short, John Mozeliak is a damn good executive, one of the best in the majors.
As with anything else, there’s always room for improvement. What Mo needs is an accountability partner. He needs to find someone he trusts, sit them down, and say, “Don’t tell me I’m right. Tell me why I am wrong.” That person’s sole job should be giving Mozeliak a dissenting voice so he can have a fresh perspective on every decision he makes. I don’t believe he’s had that since Tony LaRussa left the team.
This won’t keep Mo from making bad decisions, but it should mitigate them. And while he’s made his fair share of bad choices, people forget the good ones he’s made as well. Matt Holliday? Lance Berkman? Carlos Beltran? Paul Goldschmidt? David Freese Game 6? 2011 WS win? Yeah, we have Mo to thank for all of that.
Learn How to Spend Money
The problem with the Cardinals is not that they don’t spend money. They just haven’t spent it that wisely in recent years. Bad contracts given to the likes of Mike Leake and Brett Cecil handicapped the team. Their contracts still made up 9.34% of the total player salaries in 2020. That’s to say nothing of the deals given to Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter, two players in decline.
The Cardinals have consistently had one of the top ten payrolls in the league. That doesn’t mean much, though, when you’re paying players not to play for your team. According to spotrac.com, the Cardinals are going from a Competitive Balance Tax Payroll of roughly $181,653,932 in 2020 down to $143,470,833 in 2021. That number drops even more significantly to $38,333,333 for 2022, not including arbitration salary increases and team options. In other words, financial relief is on the way.
This is where this stuff gets fun. The current Competitive Balance Tax Threshold salary is just north of $201,000,000. The Cardinals are never going to spend the max, nor should they. A mid-market team like St. Louis isn’t going to be able to outspend the big boys. That’s why they have to be cr