The Cardinals have not signed a player out of Japan or Korea since So Taguchi in 2002, and generally have not actively pursued players coming out of Asia. So I was surprised when I heard over the weekend that they were on the cusp of signing a deal with Korean Reliever Seung Hwan Oh. And then I read this:
Oh did not have to go through the posting process because his contract with Hanshin had expired, so he could sign with his choice of team and that team did not have to pay a posting fee.
And suddenly, I realized this wasn't some new direction after all. It was just Mo being Mo.
"The market" for MLB talent is really a collection of markets - the major league free agent market, the amateur draft, multiple international free agent markets, and so on. During his time as GM, John Mozeliak has shown a willingness to get very involved in some of these markets. Others? Not at all.
Since the implementation of the Posting System between MLB and Nippon Pro Baseball in 1999, the St. Louis Cardinals have never paid a posting fee for the right to negotiate with a player looking to jump from the Japanese league. Taguchi, like Oh, was an unrestricted free agent when he came to the Cardinals from Orix Blue Wave.
Twelve major league teams have paid a posting fee under the system, and while the most frequent to use the system have been the big-money Dodgers, even smaller teams like the Twins and Padres have posted for Japanese players twice each.
Another "market" that comes with a fee attached occurs when teams sign players who have received a qualifying offer, and thereby forfeit a draft pick. Since that system was implemented in 2012, 20 of the 30 MLB teams have signed a free agent who came with a qualifying offer attached. But the Cardinals never have. St. Louis ranked 11th in Payroll last season, and among the ten teams above them, only Philadelphia had also never signed a player attached to a QO.
As John Mozeliak walks through the casino of Major League Baseball, it's clear that he thinks several of the tables are sucker bets and refuses to play them. It's the kind of grinding dedication to playing the percentages that professional gamblers use, and in the long run, it's almost certainly the right move. But it's also perhaps less likely to yield a jackpot, and as a fan, that can sometimes grow frustrating to watch.
Given his track record, it's hard to question how Mo plays the game. But I do wonder when fiscally conservative crosses over to intransigent.
The "opt-out" is the hot new, must-have option in free agent contracts. The Cardinals have never signed a deal with an opt-out, or even (to my knowledge) a contract with a player-option-year tacked on the end.
I think it's still an open question how good these opt-out deals are. There's certainly an argument to be made that it's a lose-lose proposition for the team. But of course, anything can be a good deal at the right price, and it's looking unlikely that many premium players under 30 will sign a contract WITHOUT an opt-out in the future. Will this be a market that the Cardinals invest in eventually, or one they walk away from entirely?
I think we know that Mo's front office is rigorous and analytical enough that they have a number for all of these markets. They haven't paid a posting fee and they haven't signed a player with a QO attached, but each player has a number, and if the cost of the fee or the value of the draft pick is low enough, they will make a move. But in the dead of winter, with only the Hot Stove to keep us going, it's hard to watch the Cardinals fold hand after hand when we want to see them go all-in.