Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mozeliak, Trois

headmaster

Enclosed you will find Johnny's grades for the term just completed. I encourage you to go over Johnny's marks with him at your leisure, as the best way for a student to understand where his future lies is through parental and scholarly involvement.

This year was one of great growth for John. We all watched as his various projects grew in size and sophistication, going from the middle of the pack with so many other children to the very top of the class, a feat you should surely be proud of. He also progressed greatly in his study of finances. Why, I remember a time when Johnny would go the very first day of apple season and not only buy an apple, but buy several apples at once for much more than they were worth. Now, he's so grown up seeming, refusing to pay a premium for goods in class just because they're new to the market. My one concern has to do with his eating habits: I feel I must inform you that John often trades his lunch for candy bars, giving up several nutritious and healthy foodstuffs for one treat which doesn't provide the nutrition he truly needs. He seems especially partial to Mark Bars, but also seems to get fooled by other boys trading him smashed or damaged ones when dealing with them. Still, it's a minor concern in a boy's life and I trust you'll have the necessary discussion with him.

On a personal note, I wish to convey with the greatest possible sincerity my regret in not having spoken to you in quite some time. I'm sure you were informed by the headmaster I had taken safari at last term's end, having been instructed by my wife's physician to remove her to more temperate climes for a period of recuperation. Thus, the grades were delivered without my prior approval or notations, leaving, I'm sure, all of you somewhat in the dark as to the particulars of your child's development. I do apologise once again, and remain, as always,

                           Sincerely Yours,

                           Dr. Major General Reinhold Alexander Zacharias "Red" Baroninger, esq

So here we sit, at the tail end of the 2009/2010 offseason, and we have at least a fairly clear picture of what the Cardinals' team will look like in the upcoming season. There are competitions to be competed in spring training, of course, which will determine many of the margin spots on the roster, but the outline of the team is clear. The major parts are in place, and the holes are mostly visible.

Thus, I think it's high time we took a look at the job Johnny Mo did turning the 2009 Cardinals, who took a huge step from transition to competitiveness, into an even brighter outlook for 2010.

Signings

There weren't a ton of moves made by Mozeliak before the 2009 season; the team was largely in transition still and there was a strong desire to let the roster reset itself a bit as the Cards pared back dead limbs and brought in fresh talent from the farm.   As a result, the payroll fell from over $99 million in 2008 to just over $88 million in 2009.  

The signings in 2010 have been much more interesting, as a whole. Where the 2009 Cardinals were about finishing the reset begun as far back as 2007, the 2010 Cardinals are about the beginning of a new competitive era.

Matt Holliday - Alright, let me get this right out in the open up front: it's too many years, and an awful lot of money.

Now that that's been said, the fact is the Cardinals signed one of the biggest free agents in their recent history. Holliday is one of the best left fielders in baseball, if not the best, depending on what you think of Ryan Braun's defense. Holliday is a game-changing player; a force in the lineup to complement Albert. (I say complement, not protect. Pay attention, media guys.)

As for the contract itself, I think the Cardinals should have been able to get something done with Holliday for less. So few teams were really in position to bid on his this year that I thought his ultimate price would fall further than what it did. The problem with that line of thinking, of course, is we don't really know all the details of the negotiations, or what other offers there may have been on the table. We do know Holliday has stated publicly his highest priority was to get as long a deal as possible so as to stay in one place, and we can speculate with a reasonable amount of certainty that, at some price point, the Yankees would have just gone ahead and signed him just because he was there.

What is overlooked, I think, is the impact the deferred money has on the value of Holliday's contract. Two million per year of his salary will be deferred without interest, to be paid out from 2020-2029. I know the Cardinals still include that $2 million in this year's salary numbers, but the fact is there's $2 million worth of flexibility in the payroll if they really need it that wouldn't have been there without the deferrments. And because the money is deferred sans interest, it will actually cost the Cardinals much less than the stated cost to pay Holliday. An excellent contract detail that I don't think has gotten enough attention.

Grade: B 

Brad Penny - Brad Penny is an interesting case. On the surface, he looks a bit like a big (very big), lottery ticket, but on closer inspection, you have to worry a bit about just how much trust the Cardinals are putting into him. The Cardinals have two co-ace type pitchers, one of whom is infamously injury prone, and unlikely to pitch the entire season without at least something taking a bite out of him. Their #3 is Kyle Lohse, who has never been much better than mediocre in his career and was bitten by the injury bug for the first time in 2009. The #5 spot is an open invitation to half a dozen pitchers to come in and try to win a spot. For a rotation so good last season, there's a surprising amount of uncertainty surrounding this group going into 2010.

So in comes Brad Penny, essentially replacing Joel Pineiro and his Magic Sinking Sphere of Wonder. Here's my incredibly jumbled-up way of looking at Brad Penny's chances this year: Brad Penny has very little chance of being as good this year as Joel Pineiro was last year. However, Brad Penny also has a better chance of being better this year than Pineiro was last year than nearly any other pitcher on the market, including, quite possibly, Joel Pineiro.

Now let me explain that. Of all the free agent pitchers on the market, the two I thought best fit the Cardinals' needs and capacities were John Smoltz and Brad Penny. John Lackey was, let's face it, well out of the budget. Most of the other pitchers who might command mulitple years didn't fit largely because of Kyle Lohse's albatross. So what the Cards really needed was a pitcher who would take a one-year deal, who could hopefully deliver some innings, and who has at least a chance of replicating El Pinata's 2009 performance.

Brad Penny fit the bill best of anyone on the market. Even Smoltz, who I love as a pitcher and would still dearly love to see back in a Redbird uni this year, comes with more concerns in terms of innings that Penny. I believe Smoltz is healthy and will pitch very well for someone this year, but if I need someone who can give me 180 innings, I'll have to take the guy who's 10 years younger and has a track record of durability. Penny was the best option, I believe, for the Cardinals. Sure, I would love to have seen a Rich Harden or someone, but with as many question marks as the Cards already have in the rotation, I'm just not sure they could afford to take that risk.

Grade: A-

 Rich HillIt's shocking how quickly you get to Rich Hill, isn't it? He's basically the third-biggest signing of the Cardinals' offseason, and he's just a non-roster invitee. Still, considering just how unsettled the back end of the Cards' 2010 rotation could very well be, we might be seeing more of Hill than we hope.

I will say this: Rich Hill is certainly one of the more interesting names on the market. When he was right, Rich Hill was a bad, bad man with a bad, bad curveball. I remember, quite clearly, looking ahead to Cubs series in 2007 and just dreading having to see Hill, convinced he was going to toss a gem. I can't say I've ever really thought that about any of the other bargain-basement pitchers who were out there for the plucking.

So he's interesting, and makes no money. The downside? Well, Hill has as bad a case of Steve Blass Disease as you're ever going to see, and could very well just be done. Still, if he's that awful, you just cut him loose, and there's really no loss. Hill is an interesting arm with no real downside because he cost essentially nothing. Now, we can debate whether or not he has upside as well...

Grade: B-

Ruben Gotay - Ruben Gotay had an on-base percentage of .426 last year in Triple A. That's good enough for me.

Now, I should also say Ruben Gotay doesn't do a whole lot else that's really all that exciting. He's a journeyman utility infielder, just the sort of guy you should expect to see getting a spring training invite. His fielding has always been okay, he runs alright, doesn't hit for much power; you know, utility infielder stuff. But he does have one very interesting facet, and it's that OBP last year. Sure, that's all he's got, but that's more than most others of his type.

And this is something I find very encouraging about the Cardinals' non-roster guys this year. Each of the guys they've brought in from elsewhere have something about them that makes them more interesting that the typical player. That ability to look at a sea of same and pick out the guy who has even just one interesting thing that sets him apart is a skill, and one I think John Mozeliak has in spades. Sure, the most likely outcome of all this is Gotay comes into camp, does okay, and we never hear from him again. But the fact there's something really intriguing about him means there's at least a chance he'll surprise, I think.

Grade: B+

Non-signings

These are a little trickier to grade, in my opinion. How much skill does it really take to do nothing? The question, of course, is whether there was anything that should have been done in the first place. Knowing when to do something and when to do nothing, it is the art of the true Zen GM.

Joel Pineiro - Pineiro immediately jumps out and screams for attention when you look at the Cardinals' non-signings this winter. We know he wanted to stay, we know he and Dave Duncan obviously have a good working relationship, we know that Pineiro really did learn a new skill in 2009 that led to genuine improvement.

The problem, as we all knew going in, was going to be that improvement. Joel Pineiro was a genuinely improved pitcher in 2009, and deserved to be paid as such. And what did that mean? That meant a nice, big multi-year deal. Only one problem with that: he didn't get that nice, big multi-year deal. What Jo-El had to settle for was a 2-year, $16 million deal. The Cards are paying Brad Penny $7 million this season; don't you think they would gladly pay an extra million bucks for two years of the new and improved Joel Pineiro? The problem with that, of course, is they couldn't really wait around until El Pinata's price dropped into that range. Or, maybe they could have. Tough to say. Still, when a clearly superior pitcher gets only a million more on a two-year deal than the guy you got, you have to feel as if the rug was just yanked out from under your feet.

Grade: C-

Mark DeRosa - Mark DeRosa was bad in a Cardinal uni. No other way to say it. He was bad. He didn't hit well, he played his standard acceptable-but-only-if-he's-hitting defense at third, and he just generally wasn't healthy enough to contribute meaningfully to the team. It's a shame the Cards gave up a couple promising young pitchers to bring him in.

That being said, when DeRosa left he netted the Cardinals a supplemental pick, which is how they drafted Chris Perez in the first place, so it wasn't a total loss. Personally, I thought it was absolutely the right move to let DeRosa walk; I know there are plenty of concerns about David Freese, but Mark DeRosa just doesn't bring anything so markedly superior to this team that his price tag was worth picking up. Add in the fact he's in his mid-thirties and coming off wrist surgery, and letting the man go where the road may take him becomes a no-brainer.

Grade: A

Rick Ankiel - Ah, now here's an interesting one. The thing is, we all knew Rick Ankiel needed to go. Will Leitch knew Ankiel needed to go. Hell, Rick Ankiel knew Rick Ankiel needed to go.

But here's the rub: did Tony La Russa know Rick Ankiel needed to go? Late in the 2009 season, we saw La Russa clearly turn to his young center fielder, Colby Rasmus, in place of Ankiel. It was an extremely encouraging sign, as we all worried for most of the season that Rasmus was never going to get regular playing time so long as Ankiel was here.

The problem, though, is that taking playing time from Ankiel is different from letting Ankiel walk away from the only organisation he's ever played for. You have to wonder if there was any pressure on Mo to make a move keeping Ankiel in the fold. Or then again, maybe Tony was so lost in his post-Holliday signing bliss he never even noticed as Swingin' Dick slipped out the back door. (And yes, that sentence was meant to sound appallingly dirty.)

Either way, letting a fan favourite like Ankiel leave is never easy. He's one of the great stories in recent baseball history, and now you have to figure out how to just let that walk away. It's a tough call to make, and I'm impressed and gladdened to see Rick Ankiel plying his trade elsewhere for the upcoming season.

Grade: A

Final Grades

Mozeliak did some very, very nice work this offseason, I believe. He got deals done with Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick, both of whom were arbitration eligible and signed very reasonable contracts. He let the players walk who needed to walk, and signed players who should come in and complement the team already in place.

Now, there are some holes left, and I would like to see a move to fill them. The backup CF position concerns me, as I'm not sure I really like any of the internal candidates to fill it. The guys the Cardinals have who could potentially play a bit of center when needed could all either use some more minor league time or else are named Shane Robinson. Third base will be a frightening unknown until David Freese comes in and whelms us all with his whelming performance and wins the league MWP.

To my mind, though, the most glaring weakness in the Cards' plans for 2010 is at the back of the bullpen. I simply don't like Ryan Franklin as a closer, and I sure as hell don't have any real confidence in Kyle McClellan getting meaningful outs. The left side should be very solid again, but the right-handed relief corps the Cards will take into the first season of the new decade frankly worries me. I love Jason Motte's arm; I just wish someone would teach him to throw something with his arm that isn't fast and flat. Perhaps Eduardo Sanchez makes the team and can help solidify the back end, but I certainly wouldn't count on it considering how limited roster spots appear to be at this juncture.

So I'm marking off for Ryan Franklin still ostensibly being the stopper. I actually like the move to leave third base open for an internal candidate, so Mo gets a tiny bit of that back. Backup center fielder, I'm cautiously neutral. I would like to see a better option brought in, but I also don't see it as a make or break proposition.

And so, tabulating all the grades together, weighting them pretty much however the hell I feel like, and applying my final filters as stated above, John Mozeliak, for the 2009-2010 offseason, receives a grade of:

88% B+

The only thing that keeps Mozeliak from an A this offseason, in my opinion, is letting Pineiro go. I know the odds seemed stacked heavily against Jo-El returning early in the offseason, but as time went on it became clearer and clearer he wasn't going to get the contract we all thought he would. With the advantage of Pineiro wanting to return and the pitching coach, I think the Cardinals should have been able to retain Joel for no more than the contract he signed with the Angels. And that certainly wouldn't have broken the bank.

Oh, well. I blame Kyle Lohse.

The Baron's Playlist for the 10th of February, 2010 - The Pre-Valentine's Day Romancestravaganza

"I Only Have Eyes for You" - The Flamingos

"First Day of My Life" - Bright Eyes

"Mellow Mood" - Bob Marley

"Lay Lady Lay" - Bob Dylan

"Blue Moon" - Elvis Presley

"At Last" - Etta James

"All I Want Is You" - U2

"When a Man Loves a Woman" - Percy Sledge

 "These Arms of Mine" - Otis Redding

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You" - Frankie Valli

"Alright" - Jamiroquai

"Wonderful Tonight" - Eric Clapton

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