Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mozeliak, Summer School Edition

I know, Ed. It's okay. We're all sad.

Enclosed you will find John's grades for the special summer session just completed. Please take the time to not only review these grades in detail, but also to sit down with your son and discuss the results with him. 

As you know, the special summer session is only open to a select few students, and is a much more challenging and results-oriented course than the usual schooling. Every year we get applicants from all over the country, from locales as far afield and diverse as Seattle and Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Houston. We take only those we feel have done the necessary course work to be able to compete in such a high-level program ahead of time; there are also a few students who manage to test in without our prior approval. My point is this: you should feel proud of John (I'm still getting used to his request not to call him Johnny anymore, haha), for even getting into this program. Plenty of students are left out in the cold. We've had to turn down one student from Toronto several different times over the years simply because while his work was good, it was clear he simply wouldn't be able to compete with the high level of coursework required. 

All that being said, I must admit this is not, strictly speaking, a happy report. While John excelled in his preparatory studies for the summer session, he seemed to wilt a bit when exposed to the high-pressure situation of the class itself. Several times he made poor decisions in an attempt to catch up to the class, leading to further difficulties for himself. He also seems to have a bit of an issue with confidence, as he struggled with one older boy named Anthony who continually bullied John into giving him his lunch money. (Oddly enough, the student doing the bullying then spent John's money on nothing but junk food and cassette tapes, just empty calories and things past their day of being useful. We think he may be struggling with extreme early onset dementia.)

Still, I have enjoyed having John as a student, and I believe in his abilities enough to think with only a bit more work and preparation he could position himself much better in future special class sessions. 

As always, if you have any questions you may contact me directly; my door is always open. John struggled at times this year, but I think if we as parents and educators can keep our own relationship strong we cannot help but pull John through these tough times and into a better future. 

I remain your faithful servant, 

Dr. Eustace V. "Red" Berrohn, retired  (Mrs.) 

I've been putting off doing another of these ridiculous report cards of mine until we were fully past all deadlines for trades and playoff roster moves and everything else. I wanted to do one immediately following the July 31st deadline but thought better of it, preferring instead to get as much information as possible as to the ultimate composition of the 2010 Cardinals before trying to figure out just how to rate it all.

Well, September is finally here, folks, in all her majesty and glory, and now seems to be as good a time as any to take this look back over the season which is now set firmly on a fixed track to the end. No more changes, no more maneuvering. The General Manager's job for 2010 is now officially done. So how did he do? 

In the past, I've struggled to figure out a good system for dividing these things. I've tried to separate free agent signings from trades or retention, I've tried to go with an holistic approach that brings organisational hires into the picture. It's tough to organise something like this most of the time. However, that isn't true this time. 

I've broken the moves into two simple categories this time around: pre-season and in-season. It's simple, it's elegant, and it speaks volumes about the subject in question. We have a rather dramatic dichotomy here, and I would love to know exactly why. 

Pre-Season Moves

In hindsight, it's easy to say we see all the thin spots on this roster, the places where things might go awry. But honestly, coming into the season, I thought this Cardinal team was poised to do great things, be great things, and I think I was justified in thinking so. The roster at the beginning of the 2010 season was a beautiful thing to behold, the product of intelligent planning and a commitment to developing in-house options to fill out the roster margins instead of paying market price or, worse yet, bringing in constant retreads to try and fill holes. 

Matt Holliday -- My worry then, and my worry now, is the length of the deal. Seven years is a very, very long time in baseball years, and there are an awful lot of things that can go wrong over those years. Nevertheless, the Cards finally had their guy, the player they had coveted for quite a while, and there was no way they were going to let him get away. The money is steep, but certainly not out of range. After all, Holliday is the best at his position, one of the better overall players in all of baseball. 

There were plenty of people at the time who complained about this deal, saying the Cardinals were bidding against themselves and there's no way Holliday should have gotten the kind of deal he did. Personally, I don't agree with that. You can try to hold firm on your line, but at some point other teams are going to get involved even if they weren't to begin with simply because the player could represent a serious bargain. I wish we could have gotten Holliday on a five-year deal instead of seven, but I also know enough about how negotiations work to understand that probably wasn't realistic. Signing Matt Holliday makes the Cardinals better for the foreseeable future, and in this particular case that's actually good enough for me. 

Brad Penny -- Wow, this one has really worked out the worst it possibly could have, hasn't it? We look at this deal now and lament the risk this team took with their rotation in bringing in an injured starting pitcher when what we really needed was innings. 

The problem with that, of course, is that at the time this deal was signed Penny was actually the least risky lottery ticket on the pitching market. The sort of guys the Cards were targeting were all pitchers along the lines of Rich Harden and Ben Sheets; outstanding performers with concerns (mostly health-related), which drove their price tags down into an acceptable range. Oddly enough, Rich Harden turned out to probably be the best bet, I suppose, though all three of these guys have missed time this season. (Sheets is out for the year with elbow issues and Penny is presumed deceased.) 

When the Cardinals signed Brad Penny he had thrown more than 170 innings in 4 of the last 5 seasons; he certainly fit the bill of a guy who could give you substantial innings with some solid upside better than either Sheets, who missed all of last season and has seemingly been circling the drain with his health for some time now, or Harden, who is as legendary for his remarkable amount of DL time as he is his performance on the field. You could argue against the logic of taking a risk at all, but I think with Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lohse already under contract you should absolutely be in a position to take on a bit of a lotto ticket. Brad Penny should have been the least risky of those. Oh, well. 

Rich Hill -- Hey, remember when Rich Hill was in line to maybe win a job out of spring training? No? Well, he was. It was weird. I totally believed he would come in and seize the fifth starter's spot, and I was more than a little disappointed when he didn't. Of course, I was only disappointed because I was watching with the eyes that still thought of Hill as the dude we couldn't hit when he was with the Cubs, and that dude is sadly long gone. Still, I thought Hill made a very nice competitor for the back end of the rotation. He had No. 2 stuff once upon a time; if he had been able to regain some semblance of command he easily could have offered a huge boon pitching against the worst pitchers on other teams. Plus, he was a very cheap risk. I still think it was a good shot to take. 

Felipe Lopez -- Perhaps no other player more perfectly encapsulates the story of the 2010 Cardinals than Felipe Lopez. Picked up late in spring training, Lopez was the bargain of the offseason, a strong offensive contributor with actual (rather than Aaron Miles-esque), versatility in the field. The day the Cards picked up Lopez they got stronger and deeper at all three infield positions. 

Five months later, we're all beginning to see why Felipe Lopez seems unable to find a home for more than a season at a time. His defense has been brutal, his hitting has badly fallen off, and while we haven't heard that much about his attitude in the clubhouse or anything, he also doesn't look like a guy who's out there giving it his all on a daily basis. That doesn't mean he isn't, of course; judging a player on how hard it looks like he's playing is dangerous business. Still, there are times when Lopez has pushed us all to the brink. (To be fair, part of that is because he's had to play so much at third, where he seems unusually inclined to throw the ball around the park. He wasn't signed with the intention of starting at the hot corner more than a day or two a week.) 

All in all, even having watched this team implode for these past months I can't find a move I dislike here. I thought Penny was a good bet to have a good season and a much safer bet than some of the other options to give the Cards at least 150ish innings. I suppose you could say Hill was a waste of a spot in spring, but that was also before Jaime Garcia went all Cliff Lee Jr. on us, and Kyle McClellan was seen as the prohibitive favourite to win the fifth starter's job. Felipe Lopez fell into the big club's lap the way Zach Cox fell into the draft guys' laps, and the Cards wisely jumped on both opportunities to add players who long before should have been snatched up. As I said before, I wish the Cards could have gotten Holliday on a shorter deal, but they added the best overall left fielder in the game to their roster on a long-term basis and got him to defer money to lessen the blow a bit. (And yes, I know the Cards still account for that money in this year's budget, so don't bother bringing it up. The reality is they have extra money because of what he deferred, regardless of how they want to put it in the books.) 

The only real caveat I can see here to saying Mozeliak had a brilliant offseason is Kyle Lohse. No, I'm not going to blame him for signing the Lohse deal two years in a row; that's just not fair. But after Lohse struggled so badly last season, I could see an argument that the Cards needed a better option as a sixth starter. Who that would have been I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure there were a few guys on the market they could have picked up. (Or even stashed K-Mac in the rotation in Memphis? If it looks like you're not going to need him bring him back up to relieve? I'm not sure how realistic that idea is, honestly.) Then again, many of us have been clamouring for the Cardinals to use the kids they're developing, and Adam Ottavino seemed the leading candidate to be that first guy up this season. Unfortunately, he got hurt. So maybe there's a bit of criticism to be leveled here, for not having a better first-up option for the rotation, but I think I'm probably saying that now because we know how things worked out. 

Overall, I would give Johnny Mo a B+ for his offseason work. Say what you want about how certain things could have been done differently, but when I look back at that early April roster I see a remarkably good team. I also think, in looking at the Cards' run differential, we have a team that was constructed to be better than this. Why they aren't I don't know, but I'm not sure a different plan in the offseason was going to make the difference. (Philosophically, I also think judging a GM by Pythagorean record is maybe a little more fair than actual record, the same way I think looking at the difference between those two records is at least helpful in trying to evaluate a field manager's performance. Feel free to tell me I'm stupid, though.) 

Mo misses an A or A- in the offseason because I do think the Holliday deal was pretty steep, especially on years. It's tough dealing with Scott Boras, especially when it's the player literally everyone in your organisation seems to have coveted, but if the deal were five years I'd toss an A Mo's way without hesitation. Still, there's absolutely nothing he did I don't believe made the team better, or at least should have made the team better based on what we knew before the season began. 

Offseason Grade: B+ 

In-Season Moves

Oy. Here, things are not so rosy, to say the least. I firmly believe Mo did an outstanding job building a team prepared to not only compete, but win the division going away. The team which took the field on Opening Day was a 93-96 win team, I think. Unfortunately, things fell apart in a big way, and when that happens it falls on a GM to try and patch on the fly. And this is where Mozeliak has really dropped the ball, I think. 

Whereas all of the offseason moves brought with them either depth, or upside, or both, the in-season moves have almost all seemed like steps backward. For perhaps the millionth time I have to wonder what the dynamic in player procurement is between Mo and Tony La Russa, but I'm really in no position to make an assumption there if I'm trying to do honest analysis. I can give my opinion, but it doesn't likely offer a whole lot of value to the discussion. So I have to assume Mozeliak is responsible for all the players he acquires, regardless of the manager's history with roster construction. With that in mind, this is going to be a rough section. 

Jeff Suppan -- Oddly enough, as much as I personally cringe every time I hear the phrase, "Suppan to take the hill tonight for the redbirds, against ___________ of the ___________s," this is actually the move I hate the least, I think. When the Cards acquired Suppan they were in desperate straits, and needed someone to take the ball a couple times and throw some innings. Sure, they were junk innings, but someone had to throw them all the same. Suppan didn't cost anything (eat it, Brewers!), and we knew there would be no Dave Duncan-induced drama here. 

Personally, I still would have preferred the Cards give someone like P.J. Walters a couple more starts to see if he can't find a comfort zone in the majors, but that's offset by the (rather larger) part of me which doesn't believe P.J. Walters is a major league pitcher. Ottavino was already showing signs of being hurt, Lance Lynn hasn't done well for himself in Memphis this season, and Evan MacLane is, well, Evan MacLane. I certainly would have been happy offering MacLane a couple starts just to see if he could pull a Chris Narveson for us, but that could have also been extraordinarily ugly. 

Bottom line, I wasn't happy when the Cards brought in Suppan, but I understood why it was done. Doesn't change how I feel, but I understand it. The shame here, of course, is Adam Ottavino being hurt when all circumstances seemingly were converging to offer him a golden chance. I wish he had been in a position to take advantage of it. 

Aaron Miles -- And here's where things start to really become inexplicable. I know, Aaron Miles is a .300 hitter! And Aaron Miles is a producer! Yeah, I've got all that you want to throw at me. Guess what? He's still not a particularly good baseball player. And staunchly ignoring the fact Miles himself credited the manager's lobbying for his return, I blame Mozeliak for weakening the overall infield by bringing him in. Of course, I will give Mo a small break in that I do expect if Dan Descalso hadn't been hurt at midseason I think he might have gotten a callup, but we'll never really know, will we? 

On the other hand, if Aaron Miles is the last guy on your bench you're probably okay. For all the teeth gnashing Miles engenders 'round these here parts (and I'm more guilty than most, I freely admit), he's not the worst guy in the world to have available late in the game if you need to get a guy into the game who at least owns an infielder's glove. The problem is this: it was basically a question of either Aaron Miles or Tyler Greene, and robber-fighting skills aside, there's just no comparison between the two players. 

Mike MacDougal -- I actually tried to be optimistic when the Cards picked up MacDougal. I really did. I remember watching him a few years back throwing straight gas as his hat popped off his head and thinking, "Man, that guy can really bring it." Certainly an arm like that couldn't be the worst thing in the world, could it? 

Well, what we've seen from MacDougal since he's been here is a pretty perfect explanation of why a guy with his arm is so very well-traveled. He's been terrible, and has taken inning away from a much better reliever in Fernando Salas to boot. Even when Jason Motte got hurt I would have much rather seen the Cards give a guy like Eduardo Sanchez a cup of coffee to audition in a low-leverage role than run the Scarecrow out there. Hell, look at the season Adam Reifer is putting together pitching for Springfield in a pretty strong hitter's park. The jump from Double A to the majors isn't a huge one for a reliever, who's just throwing his best stuff for 12-15 pitches anyway. I would be willing to bet my next VEB paycheck that Reifer could have done a better job than MacDougal; the only problem seems to be he wasn't on the pitching coach's list of guys he's wanted over the years. (A list which included Kip Wells, I feel it necessary to point out.) 

Or, finally, how about Josh Kinney? I myself wrote Kinney off long ago; his brilliant two-month major league career was over, I thought. But then you look at his numbers this season at Memphis and you see a 1.96 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and a K/BB rate of better than 3:1. I would like to point out once again we're really only looking for someone to do a better job than Mike MacDougal has done. The bar is not very high. A bad pickup. 

Randy Winn -- Honestly, what does Randy Winn bring to the table? His speed is gone, he's a terrible fielder now, and as a hitter still needs to be both fast and brilliant in the field to have any real value. There has been much discussion of Allen Craig needing more regular at-bats to play well, which is why he should be at Triple A. Well, guess what? If there were no Randy Winn those at-bats just might have existed for Craig all along. Another move for a guy whose only real skill seems to be veteranness, and I just don't understand it. 

Jake Westbrook -- I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I liked the Cardinals trading Ryan Ludwick, even during the season, and I like them acquiring Jake Westbrook. I just kind of wish those had been two separate moves. 

Still, while this is really the one move which somehow seemed to convince everyone Mozeliak is incompetent and possibly mentally defective, I just don't see it that way. The Cardinals absolutely had to do something to shore up their rotation, seeing as how the Suppan acquisition failed to stabilize things and Blake Hawksworth was looking more and more like a guy suffering that mythical 'overexposure' we always hear so much about. Westbrook represented a solid option, a guy who had been a #2-ish pitcher in the past and was looking stronger as he moved further away from Tommy John surgery. He fit the philosophy of the team as well as he rolls up tons of grounders, a measure we all know if very important to the Cards. 

Ryan Ludwick was a very good player who the Cardinals were almost assuredly not going to retain after this season. As such, it made some real sense to move him and try to get value for him now. I liked the move. I just wish the Cards had gotten a little more value for him, you know? 

The thing is, I think the Cards could have made the deal for Westbrook without sending Ludwick to San Diego. I can't imagine the asking price in minor leaguers was particularly significant, and they would have then been free to try and move Ludwick for a promising prospect either from the Padres or someone else. On the other hand, I think some people are conflating Ludwick's quality with Ludwick's value, and those aren't the same thing at all. Related, certainly, but not the same. 

In the end this is what I have to say about the Ludwick for Westbrook deal: it was probably the simplest way to achieve the goal. The goal was to improve the rotation, which the Cardinals did, and if you look at the roster Ludwick was probably the most easily moved commodity they had. I'm not saying the deal made was necessarily the best path, but I do believe it was probably the path of least resistance. Make your own mind up as to how you feel about that. 

Pedro Feliz -- This one hurts me. It really does. It doesn't hurt me because Pedro Feliz has been one of the worst players in the game of baseball the last couple years. It doesn't hurt me because I have to watch him swing the bat in a way my own dear mother laughs at. It certainly doesn't hurt me because we gave up David Carpenter (no offense to the Carpenter family; I'm sure your son is a wonderful person and you're all lovely as well), who is, as far as baseball players go, as fungible a commodity as there has ever been. No, this deal hurts me because the only honest reasoning for it is panic. Panic at watching Felipe Lopez throw the ball away and hearing the rumblings in the stands. Panic at seeing a season which began so promisingly leaking away down the drain and feeling the need to do something, anything, to see if you can't change things up. 

Joe Mather can play third, and he's dreamy. Allen Craig was given exactly one day to try and show he could play third. Tyler Greene can play third, and he's talented. (And you can bitch about Tyler's DL thing all you want; none of us honestly know the story unless someone here is related to him and I don't know it. I have no idea what the real story behind all of that is, and I honestly don't care. If he's hurt, he should be on the DL. If he faked an injury to avoid a demotion, it seems a little shitty to me but he never should have been demoted in the first place so I still don't care.) Descalso is healthy now, and he played third in college. Let him fill in over there for a while. (He's probably a utility guy long-term anyhow, though I'm loathe to downgrade my hopes for him.) Hell, Skip's got a good arm, put him over there. What's that? He can't play third? Never played it before? Well, he can't play second, either, and that didn't seem to stop our coaching staff from putting him there. 

The bottom line is this: there's really no upside to bringing in Pedro Feliz at all. He's been much better than I expected since he got here and he's still terrible. To be fair to him, it is nice to see someone who looks competent at third base in the field, but that doesn't make up for all the other problems he has as a player. I hate to break out that old saw about deck chairs on the Titanic and all, but if ever there was a move that qualified, Pedro Feliz has to be it, I think. 

At the beginning of the season I loved what I saw when I looked at this roster. I could even look at Nick Stavinoha, who I'm not at all a fan of, and say, "Yeah, but he's basically just a pinch hitter. Things could be a whole lot worse." The philosophy behind the roster seemed sound, and the decisions made to get there followed the philosophy. This was a Cardinal team we could get behind, as it was sustainable and looked successful. There was homegrown talent to offset the cost of the high-dollar guys and a nice blend of experience and youth. It seemed like it was going to be a good year. 

Now I look at this roster and not only is it a disaster, it doesn't even look like it was put together by the same people. As the year has gone on nearly every hole has been filled with retreads as better (or at least more interesting), options languish away in the minors or on the bench. I'm not going to criticize for moves that haven't been made; that's heedless speculation and I try to avoid that. Sure Kelly Johnson seems really attractive, but you look at his home/road splits and you have to wonder if you would actually be getting the player he looks like. And even if you did get that guy, the cost might still be steeper than you should pay. I would have loved to have picked up Roy Oswalt, but there were plenty of obstacles to that, too, not least of which is Astros' ownership thinking it somehow matters they would be forced to watch Oswalt pitch against them the next couple seasons. (Memo to the 'Stros: you guys are in rebuilding mode. Worry about what's going to happen once you're good again, not what's going to happen the remaining two months of this season and next year.) 

Overall, for the in-season moves I have to give John Mozeliak a straight D. I know many of you want to just slap a big F on his season, but I think that's too harsh. The Cardinals have had a terrible run of luck this season, a run which anyone would struggle to keep up with, and not all the moves have been awful. However, I certainly couldn't go any higher than a D either, because the roster management this season has been just abysmal. As I said before, what's most distressing to me isn't the fact we have to watch some seriously bad baseball and at least a couple seriously bad players, it's the fact the overall philosophy seems to have been completely abandoned in favour of gritty veterans and hope. Mo is a very smart guy, one whom I've been lucky enough to speak to briefly in my capacity of working for the RFT, and I know for a fact he understands the advanced methods of player evaluation very well. (Much better than I do, to be quite honest.) But the way this roster has evolved over the course of the season has been totally inexplicable, and it makes me wonder just what is going on down at Busch Stadium some days. 

In-season Grade: D 

If I were to average these two grades together, I would likely get something in the neighbourhood of a C+ for Mo on the season, but I'm going to knock that down to a C- overall. I'm not doing that out of spite or to pander to an angry fanbase, I'm doing it because I feel many of the moves made in-season have specifically and directly contradicted so much of the solid, intelligent planning which went into the season. So that's my overall grade for John Mozeliak on the year. A C-. I'm still a big supporter of Mo, to be honest, and I'm glad he's going to be around for awhile longer because I like the overall direction he's moved the organisation in, but I don't think he's done a great job this year. Then again, that applies to many of the players on the field, too, and we have hopes most of them will rebound. I'm looking for a strong offseason for Mo in 2010-2011. Or maybe just hoping. 

Overall 2010 Grade: C- 

So? Fair, too harsh, or Kool-Aid? Bash away, folks. 

Also, I would like to apologise for the lateness of this post. It was long, and I didn't get started until late on it due to real-life scheduling and the like. Sorry about that. Take care. 

The Baron's Playlist for the 1st of September, 2010 

"Go Outside" - Cults (a huge hat tip to Rob Levy for these guys; he played them on Juxtaposition a couple weeks ago and I haven't been able to stop listening to them ever since. This song is available as a podcast, which is largely why I chose it; otherwise you have to somehow find their 7" and I try not to put songs in here that you can't get hold of with a fairly brief effort. Also, if you aren't familiar with Rob's show go and check it out immediately; you can stream it at kdhx.org. He's a big Cardinal fan, too, so we need to band together and comfort a fellow sufferer.) 

That reminds me of a joke, actually, so in order to bring some lightness and fun to this post, here goes. 

Q: Why do record geeks make such lousy lovers? 

A: Because they're always complaining about the seven inches they don't have. 

I love that joke. 

"Then He Kissed Me" - The Crystals (I love Phil Spector records) 

"Heart to Tell" - Love Language (so catchy it's almost criminal) 

"Hurry For the Sky" - Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus Three

"Playground Love" - Air (another song I heard on KDHX just recently and remembered how much I loved it. the rest of the Virgin Suicides soundtrack was alright but didn't really hold my attention, but this song is gorgeous.) 

"The Long Way Home" - Tom Waits

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