clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Birdos in Brief: Mozeliak’s “Opportunistic” Window is Right Now

I just couldn’t resist using a picture of Ohtani and his dog.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

2023 Ameican League Most Valuable Player Award Announcement

Baseball is so comfortable with the slow burn.

We saw a bit of this this last week at the Winter Meetings. It’s the league’s annual big-spender auction, but it came and went with only minor movement. Alex Verdugo and Jarred Kelenic were traded. Eduardo Rodriguez signed. Solid pieces, sure, but hardly the headline-inspiring fireworks show that baseball wants for their featured offseason event.

It’s also a bit surprising considering the talent available. This year’s winter market featured a mid-20s future Hall of Famer in Juan Soto, a true unicorn in Shohei Ohtani, and a dream-on-him ace in Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The less generational available talent was still noteworthy: Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, Cody Bellinger, Dylan Cease.

There’s talent to go around. And maybe that’s been the problem.

Things did start to pick up as soon as the Meetings ended. Juan Soto was moved to the New York Yankees. They were the first mega-market team to get their mega-star.

If you followed Twitter over the weekend, Shohei Ohtani was/was not on a private jet to Toronto where he did/did not sign with the Blue Jays. The truth was that Ohtani never left southern California. He signed a $700M contract on Saturday with the Dodgers, landing a second mega-market team their megastar.

Is that enough to get the market moving? Ohtani’s deal won’t have a financial impact on the market. An agent can’t sit across from a GM and say, “Since Ohtani got $700M we feel that Blake Snell is worth half that, since he’s not a hitter, too.” That’s absurd.

No, Ohtani’s contract won’t influence pitching contracts. It does influence the timing of the market.

Teams who were vying for Shohei Ohtani are likely to also be teams who will bid for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the next big name up. Teams willing to bid for Yamamoto are likely to also be teams that will chase Blake Snell. Teams interested in chasing Blake Snell would also be logical trade partners with the White Sox and Dylan Cease. The logical trade partners for Dylan Cease could also desire the Ray’s Tyler Glasnow. Throw Jordan Montgomery, Shota Imanaga, and a few other names in there, too.

For whatever reason, this offseason agents and teams who want to maximize their player’s value have had to wait their turn to gather the most willing bidders.

This one-at-a-time approach has created a slow-burn pitching market, at least at the very top. As those top arms start to come off, MLB will matriculate its way slowly down the pitching aisle toward the place where the Cardinals parked their cart three weeks ago.

The Cardinals aren’t done. Well… maybe they are done. Well… we don’t really know if they’re done or not. Because the Cardinals themselves don’t yet know. They are still waiting for teams to clear out at the top end of the market so they will know what the market looks like for the players they’re still interested in.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

In an article this weekend, Katie Woo reiterated the club’s desire to pursue back-end bullpen help. While the Tyler O’Neill trade for Nick Robertson and the Rule 5 drafting of Ryan Fernandez gives the Cardinals a projectible 26-man roster, the club remains in conversation with veteran reliever Phil Maton and former Redbird Jordan Hicks. Both relievers have the late-inning experience the Cardinals desire and could slide into the 7th or 8th-inning spots in the bullpen.

Or not. Because Woo also reports that the club could “become creative with their internal options” and depend on lefties Zach Thompson and Matthew Liberatore, as well as prospect Gordon Graceffo to fill that spot.

The same ambiguity exists in the rotation. The team can project five starters. Still, Woo affirmed that Mozeliak has “not ruled out adding another starting pitcher”, almost certainly through a trade.

So, just to be clear, the Cardinals might or might not sign a back-end reliever. And might or might not target another starting pitcher.

Good to know they have a strategy.

Mozeliak would argue that their strategy is to be “opportunistic”, a word we have heard before to describe the club’s approach to transaction periods when the club doesn’t necessarily have what they view as a desperate need.

The Cardinals’ opportunities largely depend on the league’s checklist-style pitching market and what teams are left shopping when the more expensive names have their turn. Will the Dodgers, with Ohtani in hand, pull their deep farm system out of the running for Cease? If the Mets miss out on Yamamoto, will they look to jump in on Glasnow or just turn to Snell?

The acquisition cost of the players the Cardinals are still interested in depends on moves that haven’t yet taken place.

This whole situation reminds me of the club last year. They filled their one pressing need, signing Contreras to a backloaded deal that left them plenty of budget space for additional moves.

Then they waited. We heard that same word – “opportunistic” – and read reports that the front office “liked their club” but were “not necessarily finished”. They were looking for some relievers. Maybe a starter. Maybe some offensive push to replace Pujols’ bat. They had budget space. They had roster weaknesses. But they also had a club that looked capable of winning the division and, if you squinted hard enough, could contend in the NL.

In the end, either those “opportunities” the Cardinals were waiting on either never materialized, or weren’t attractive enough to motivate the club to spend their prospects or dollars.

They pocketed their excess money, crossed their fingers, and lost 91 games.

Mozeliak has since admitted it was a mistake not to seek additional depth for the 2023 team. And one they would learn from.

Well, here we are again. Take everything I just wrote above and change the year.

They have filled their rotation and added Gray to the front end with a backloaded deal that has left them with plenty of budget space. Mozeliak likes the club but they’re not necessarily finished. There are roster weaknesses. But Mo recently said that “yes” this team can contend for a World Series. They’re planning, again, to be “opportunistic”.

Maybe the club needs to recognize that this is their opportunity.

As I sit in my recliner in front of my warm fake “hot stove” fireplace, this team is far from a lock to win their division. Mozeliak is right that “yes” they could contend for a World Series. Get in and hope that luck takes over. But a famous man once said, “Hope is not a strategy.”

Especially when this club still does have the opportunity to do something to better secure that hope.

This is a team that could really use an “opportunistic” influx of talent that would raise their ceiling from maybe sneaking in the Wild Card at 81-85 wins to the class of the division and a threat in the NL.

A veteran back-of-the-bullpen reliever and (not or) a trade for a true #1 or #2 caliber starter would do just that.

The Cardinals know it, too. This is why the rumors of their interest in arms like Maton and Hicks, Cease and Glasnow won’t die.

With Ohtani out of the way and the clock ticking on Yamamoto’s signing window, Mozeliak’s window of shop-ortunity is coming soon.

The big market teams with money to spend and motivation to contend will want to have their rotations lined out before the Christmas/New Year’s break. These star players are going to want to have their futures settled before Christmas travel and holiday vacations begin.

That’s about 8 business days away.

Hey Cardinals, that opportunity you’ve been waiting on? It’s right now.