Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mozeliak...

Enclosed you will find Johnny's grades for the first term.  I've thoroughly enjoyed having him and look forward to seeing him back in the new term.  Looking over his marks, I hope you will get an idea of where Johnny is in his development.  I hope that you will take this opportunity to discuss with him the areas he needs to improve in, all the while remembering to be supportive and encouraging in recognising his achievements.  Remember, the greatest gains come only when we all work together to provide the proper framework for success.  

If you have any questions, I encourage you to feel free to contact me at any time.  I consider the alliance between pupil, parents, and instructor to be a true partnership, and I would welcome your input or any concerns you may have.  Until next we speak, I remain,

                                 Sincerely yours,
                                 Dr. Theodore E. "Red" Baron

With the completion of the Scott Rolen deal, I think the Cardinals are pretty close to finished for the offseason.  We know, as per published reports, that they remain in the market for a swing man, preferably of the sinister variety.  However, given the relatively slight nature of any such deal, I feel pretty comfortable in looking at this offseason as a fairly done deal.  As such, I think it's appropriate at this time to look back at the Cardinals' first offseason under the stewardship of John Mozeliak, and see how it all looks so far.  Obviously, the product we see on the field will trump any analysis I, or anyone else, can come up with at the moment. However, snap judgements on things that we won't really be able to evaluate for several more months is, quite possibly, the best thing about sports in general.  So, without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, let's get to it.  

First off, a quick word about the Rolen deal.  In yesterday's post, Lboros refers to the framework of a deal with the Dodgers, in which Los Angeles was willing to part with Andy LaRoche for Scott Rolen only under if the Cards were willing to take on the Dodgers current albatross, Juan Pierre.  I've thought about this, considered it from most angles I can think of, and I think I would have been sorely tempted to do such a deal.  Not because I think having Juan Pierre in any way improves your team, but simply because I believe you could have then flipped him to another team.  I know, it's a terrible contract, and if the Cardinals and Dodgers neither one really wanted it on the books, why would some other club be willing to take it on?  Ah, therein lies the rub.  I think the Cardinals could have taken on that contract, then turned around and traded it, paying down the annual cost to the point that it became more palatable.  I think that 3mil. per year, or 12 mil. dollars total, would have brought the deal into range to be at least somewhat acceptable.  The Cardinals were going to be paying Scott Rolen $12 million this season.  Take that salary and send it along to whatever team you move Pierre to.  At that point, you're only paying LaRoche's league minimum salary over what was already a sunk cost.  You then have the younger, potential cornerstone type player you needed, another mid level prospect you get back for moving Pierre and the cash, and the same salary on the books for 2008 that you already had tied up in your current third basemen.  Maybe I'm completely off base, but I think that's a deal that would have worked out in the long run.  

Alright, on to reality.  We'll examine the moves that have actually been made this winter, and attempt to come to a consensus.  

Organisational stability and direction

Overall Grade: A  

When Mozeliak took over as General Manager, he inherited as bad a situation as one could imagine.  Jocketty had been handed his walking papers due to a rift in the front office between his own factions and that of the Cards' minor league guru, Jeff Luhnow.  Following all of that, several of the Cardinals' other GM candidates had pulled out of the running, largely due to what was perceived as a less than desirable situation.  Ownership had already brought back Tony LaRussa, whose shadow was likely to fall heavily on whoever took over in the front office, and the chain of command, specifically in regards to Luhnow's situation, was ill defined.  

Mozeliak was handed the General Manager position in the midst of that strife.  At the time, he was seen as the Cards' second or even third choice, and many were predicting that there was no way he could be successful.  His first move, once in office, was to begin bridging the organisational gaps that so confounded his predecessor.  So far, according to most published reports at least, he's been far more successful than most predicted.  He proved, even during Jocketty's tenure, that he was able to work with the player development/drafting arm of the organisation, and so far, he looks to have done a good job of bringing the front office together.  I feel comfortable giving him a solid 'A' here.  

Organisational Hiring

Overall Grade:  B+  

Mozeliak has brought in several new members of the on field staff, as well as moving a couple of holdovers around.  

John Abbamondi, asst. GM
Abbamondi, most recently of the home office of MLB, is a specialist in arbitration cases.  He brings an area of expertise the Cards will rely on heavily in coming years, given their new emphasis on youth.  I think he's a solid hire.  

Gary LaRocque, senior special assistant
Mr. LaRocque came from the Metropolitan organisation.  He will be handling the professional scouting department of the team.  I like this move, but he seems to have had more success when he was in amateur scouting. (Reyes, Wright, Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heillman, Scott Kazmir, and several others were brought in on his watch.)  I think he may be miscast.  

Brent Strom, pitching coordinator(?)  
Honestly, I'm still a little iffy on how this one works.  Dyar Miller, the former pitching coach at Memphis, and Mr. Strom, are apparently sharing the title of minor league Pitching Coordinator.  As near as I've been able to determine, from interviews and the like, the organisation wants to delegate the responsibilities of the position to two people, rather than relying on just one.  I believe Strom is going to be the top authority on the mechanical side of pitching.  If so, I think he's a great hire.  Strom has been the pitching coach at the major league level for the Houston Astros and the Royals, and minor league pitching coordinator for the Expos franchise.  More importantly, the man really knows what he's talking about when it comes to mechanics and conditioning for pitchers.  You can read one of his essays, on long tossing, here.  Again, I'm not totally certain on what the division of responsibilities is going to be, but I love what Mr. Strom brings to the table.  

Jaron Madison, assistant scouting director
Mr. Madison came from the Padres organisation.  I honestly know very little about him, so I can't say too much one way or the other.  I would appreciate some help from anyone who knows more about him.  

Michael Girsch, director of baseball development
This is an internal promotion.  Girsch has worked in the analytical wing of Luhnow's department for the last few years.  Again, I don't know a whole lot about him, but the department he's been part of has had some nice success.  I don't have enough info to make a real solid judgement on this one either.  

On Field moves

Here we are.  Now we come to the meat.  I'll grade most of these moves individually, as they're a little more cut and dried.  

Resigning Joel Pineiro     Grade: C
This move was made while Mo was still the interim GM.  Pineiro had put up a nice line with the Cards in half of the 2007 season, and word was that Duncan loved working with him, wanted him back, etc.  Personally, I wasn't all that impressed with the decision to bring Joel back, but if the on field staff really believes in him, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.  Plus, at only two years on the deal, it won't cripple the club long term, so it's not terrible.  

Picking up Jason Isringhausen's option     Grade: B-
Izzy, after struggling with health issues and effectiveness in 2006, pitched very well in 2007.  The Cards don't have any slam dunk candidates to step into the closer role as of yet, Izzy appears to be in position to succeed going forward, the manager may have mutinied without an established closer, and he's appreciated by the fans.  Still, this move begs the question: what .500 (or worse) team really needs an $8 million closer?  I think this was probably the proper move, but I can't give it an unequivocal thumbs up.  

Declining to offer David Eckstein arbitration/ signing Cesar Izturis  Grade: D  
I'm putting these two together.  The Cards declined to offer salary arbitration to their outbound shortstop, David Eckstein.  He was a Type B free agent, meaning he would have netted the team a sandwich round pick if he signed elsewhere.  At the arbitration deadline, he was still considering offers from several other teams, and I think he would have declined the offer to test the market further.  Even so, if he had accepted, the team would have had him, declining skills and all, for one year, at a fairly reasonable rate.  Instead of offering him a deal, the Cardinals signed Cesar Izturis to be their starting shortstop for 2008.  This move cost them $3 million, whereas Eckstein likely would have cost them in the neighborhood of $5 million or so.  The problem with this tandem is that the Cardinals, rather than risking being stuck with a declining player, signed a markedly worse player for a nominal savings.  If the organisation was really that desperate to save money and avoid committing to a player, they have minor leaguers who could have replicated the best that we can expect out of Izturis for even less.  Otherwise, taking the chance on Eckstein accepting would have been a far better proposition, considering the potential draft payoff.  Bad move.  

Trading Jim Edmonds for David Freese           Grade: B+
As much as I hated this move at first, I've really come around on it.  The Cards had a severe outfield crunch, particularly once you add in the prospect of Colby Rasmus getting a shot in Spring Training.  With Edmonds on the team, there would be almost no chance of Colby seeing the team any time soon.  Even though I think it would probably be better if Rasmus at least started out in AAA, opening up space in the outfield was probably one of the more important things the team could have accomplished this offseason.  Personally, I don't see David Freese having much of an impact one way or the other, but just freeing up the roster space, and the salary, make this a good move, no matter how much it pains me to say it.

Signing Matt Clement     Grade: A-  
I really like this move.  The Cardinals brought in one of the highest upside, one year contract pitchers on the market.  True, I would have liked to see them kick the tires on Mark Prior, but there appears to be more reason to believe that Prior is done than there is for Clement.  It's only one year, he's actually costing quite a bit less than what Kip Wells did last year, and he's had plenty of time to rehab from his surgery.  The payoff could be very good, and it's not much of a risk.  Nice move here.  

Signing Jason LaRue     Grade: C
He's a backup catcher.  I can't imagine a less important move.  That being said, LaRue has been brutal the last couple of years.  He offers more upside than Sno Cones, so it's not a bad move.  Really not a whole lot on either side of the ledger.  

Letting Aaron Miles go, then resigning him     Grade: D-  
It was a good idea to release him.  Bringing him back doesn't really serve any purpose that I can see.  I don't have any thing else to say.  

Releasing So Taguchi     Grade: A
It's tough to let a fan favourite, (not to mention a Tony favourite) walk away.  Credit to Mozeliak for recognising it was the right move to make.  

Trading Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus     Grade: B+
This is the big one.  Under the circumstances, Mozeliak did as well as one can possibly expect him to have done.  He eliminated a year off of a contract, improved the offense, and saved some money.  Hopefully, Rolen will do well in Toronto, and the Blue Jays will come out looking fine in this deal as well.  I think moving Rolen as successfully as he did brings Mo's offseason average way up.  As I said above, I might have been even happier with a slightly different move, but this is really solid, given the situation.  

Roster Management    

Players Added to 40 man roster:  
Jason Motte
Mark Worrell
Kyle McLellan
Jarret Hoffpauir
Mike Parisi

Removed:  
Andy Cavazos
Brian Falkenborg  

Overall Grade: A  

I think all of these moves were good ones.  All the players added should have a chance to contribute at least something to the team, if necessary, in 2008.  The two players removed were both middle relievers, both with lower upsides than the players added.  I like all of these.  

Adding Brian Barton via Rule V     Grade: A
Barton was, quite possibly, the highest ceiling player in the Rule 5 draft this year.  Due to health concerns about his knees, he dropped down to where the Cardinals were picking.  They took the chance on him, and it was a great risk, in my opinion.  Barton has a good chance, I think, to stick on the roster; he even has a chance to become a starter.  All for $50k and a roster spot.  Great move.  

Picking only one player in the Rule 5 draft     Grade: D  
Specifically, I think there was one move that should have been made here that wasn't.  Leyson Septimo, a left handed pitcher, was still available when the Cards picked in the second round.  Septimo is a converted outfielder who can occasionally hit triple digits with his fastball.  I don't know anything else about him, but Kelvin Jimenez is still on the roster.  I think Septimo's upside has to be worth not seeing Jimenez pitch another year in red.  It's not a huge thing, but I think it's an opportunity missed, and the Cards can't afford to miss many, regardless of how small.  

Final Grade for John Mozeliak as GM of the Cardinals:  B  

I'm giving Mo a solid B for his work so far.  I could cop out and give him an incomplete, seeing as how he's only been on the job for a few months, but I prefer to be bold and wrong than timid.  

I really like what he's done restructuring the front office, and trying to repair the rifts from the previous administration.  He's brought in some solid baseball people, and I think that everyone is finally on the same page going forward.  

I'm cautiously optimistic about most of the major league level player moves Mozeliak has made so far.  The job he did moving Rolen, in a terrible situation, makes pretty throws a shadow over anything else he's done in the offseason.  That being said, I think the Miles situation is a black mark, and I don't think the Eckstein arb./Izturis signing was handled very well.  For the money spent, the organisation could have gotten a better return, at least in terms of the future.  Some of the other, truly marginal moves don't make much of a difference one way or the other.  The Pineiro signing really will need to be revisited; the Izzy option is probably worth it.  A first time GM could have done much worse, with pressure from fans, manager, and owner pressing in on all sides.  

I like the construction of the Cards' 40 man roster as it stands now; outside of a few obvious exceptions.  

Given all of the pressures that came with the job Mozeliak was inheriting, I think he's done a solid job so far.  He appears to have a definite idea of where he wants the team to go, and hasn't made any significant moves that negatively impact it long term.  He's still saddled with a bit of a lodestone in his on field manager and the long shadow he casts, but Mo has mostly been his own man so far.  

The Cardinals may not have gotten their first choice, but I think they ended up with a very good choice in the end anyhow.  

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