On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, the Cardinals announced that they have signed President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak to a contract extension that will keep him in that role through 2025.
We have extended the contract of President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak through the 2025 season.⁰— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) February 14, 2023
Mozeliak, 54, is the longest tenured head of baseball operations in the NL and has helped guide the team to 15-consecutive winning seasons, matching the franchise record. pic.twitter.com/GfGNjsdJnJ
Mo, with a two-year contract extension as #STLCards president of baseball operations through 2025, says he's "lucky" to be where he is and nothing has changed in terms of the team's goal: "To win a World Series." pic.twitter.com/VsVonredhZ— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) February 14, 2023
Mozeliak came to the Cardinals back in 1995, starting in the scouting department and moving his way up through the front office ranks. Mozeliak took over as General Manager in October of 2007 after the ousting of long-time GM Walt Jocketty. That was the last time that the Cardinals had a losing season.
Since then, the Cardinals have been one of the winningest franchises in MLB. They have 10 playoff appearances, a World Series win in two appearances, and three other trips to the National League Championship Series under Mozeliak’s guidance.
Speaking at the Cardinal’s Spring Training complex in Jupiter, FL, Mozelak said, “As I was thinking about what I wanted to say today, I came to one word and it’s ‘I’m lucky.’”
Mozelaik went on to thank principal owner Bill DeWitt, who he says is “one of the best owners in all of sports.” Mo asserted that it is the level of support he has received from DeWitt that has enabled them to build such a successful model over time.
Mozeliak was also quick to praise their organizational model and the rest of the leadership in the front office. With Mozeliak in the final year of his contract, there was speculation that he might move into another role in the organization while passing more control over roster and player acquisition to General Manager Michael Girsch and Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting Randy Flores. Girsch and Flores were both signed to contract extensions following the season and have been targeted by other organizations in the past.
Mozeliak’s extension keeps the Cardinals’ organizational brain trust in place for the next few seasons but he did acknowledge, without naming any names, that organizational change is part of the plan.
“I know there’s going to be some change coming over the next few years. We certainly want to give individuals at the company and within the organization opportunities to grow, expand some of their roles, and over the course of the next year or two we will work through some of that.”
Fan reaction to Mozeliak’s extension will likely be mixed. Despite the consistent winning, the team has not made it out of the Wild Card round in the National League since 2015, when they won the division and lost in their first playoff series. They have also dropped in payroll rankings relative to the big-spending powerhouses of the NL’s East and West divisions.
Many fans believe the Cardinals are comfortable spending just to challenge for the depressed National League Central crown or a road Wild Card game/series. While the best in the National League are pushing the envelope of spending risk and aggressive player acquisition, the Cardinals are willing to build 88-92 win clubs while playing a high percentage of games against the annually-inept Reds and Pirates. With the Cubs in a rebuilding cycle, the low-budget Brewers have been the Cardinals’ only divisional competition.
This offseason has perhaps reinforced that view in the minds of some fans. Mozeliak prioritized the catcher position following the retirement of Yadier Molina. They invested in Willson Contreras after deals with the A’s for Sean Murphy or Toronto for Danny Jansen fell through. Mozeliak made the bold claim early in the offseason that payroll spending would rise this season. Because of the Willson signing, it has. But Mozeliak also admitted that they failed to complete other deals they were hoping to make to further improve the team.
The result is a club with an increased payroll but it is still well under budget and considerably below the spend-happy contenders in the National League. They have “dry powder” to make needed improvements on the fly during the season.
The 2023 version of the Cardinals is a typical Mozeliak team. Fangraphs’ projected standings, based on Steamer, still have the Cardinals just above the Brewers at about 86 wins. The always pessimistic PECOTA standings were released this week with St. Louis and Milwaukee in a dead heat at 87 wins. Both projection systems believe the Cardinals are a fringe playoff team.
ZiPS differs. While I don’t have ZiPS standings, it’s clear from projections that the system believes the Cardinals are one of the better teams in the NL. The Cardinals and Mozeliak seem to agree.
“Our goal is to still win the World Series and we’re going to put our best foot forward on that,” Mozeliak affirmed, while also bringing special attention to their highly touted farm system. “A very strong major league club, a very strong minor league system. Combine that with an outstanding scouting staff, it usually leads to a very successful model.”
The Cardinals weren’t the only ones making news as teams begin to report for Spring Training.
MLB’s Joint Competition Committee released two noteworthy items that will affect competition on the field for this season and perhaps beyond.
MLB announced plans to extend new rules for position players pitching into the 2023 season. pic.twitter.com/yQWshyOCMZ— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) February 13, 2023
They passed a new rule that will govern team’s use of position players as pitchers in blow-outs. The new rule allows teams to use a position player as a pitcher if any of the following three conditions are met:
1. The game is in extra innings.
2. In the 9th inning when trailing by 8 or more runs.
3. In the 9th inning when leading by 10 or more runs.
This seems like MLB’s reaction to teams more aggressively using their position players as pitchers in non-competitive games to save wear and tear on their relief arms. Using position players as pitchers is an admission of non-competitiveness, which is something that the Competition Committee would want to get rid of.
At the same time, one of the reasons that teams have used more position players on the mound is that MLB has implemented several other rules to force teams that affect pitcher usage. Pitchers have to face a minimum of three batters. The IL was moved from 10 days back to 15 for pitchers only. Players can only be optioned a maximum of five times for a season.
To me, this is an unnecessary rule change. If teams want to throw a position player to save an inning on the back end of their bullpen, who cares? It’s more interesting to watch a position player throw than a reliever in a 7-run blowout.
Lastly, the Competition Committee also re-instated the “Ghost Runner” rule and made it permanent for this season and beyond.
This seemed to be something that teams and MLB likes more than fans. We’ve lived with it. It is what it is. I, for one, am ok with getting to bed at a halfway decent hour when games go to extra innings.