Five good, five not-so-good Cardinals moves under John Mozeliak

ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Cardinals are on track for their worst finish in nearly a century, uncharted territory for longtime lead executive John Mozeliak.

Now is his 28th year in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and 16th year at the top of the front office, Mozeliak has taken lots of heat from fans in what’s shaping to be a nightmare season. The Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations recently sat down with FOX 2 Sports Director Martin Kilcoyne to discuss some front-office mistakes, fan frustration directed toward him and even some calls from fans to resign.

Mozeliak suggested some models for building the roster haven’t worked this season and vows that “changes have to happen.” Just a few weeks away from the trade deadline, Mozeliak will be tasked with making some tough decisions on how to shape the Cardinals for the rest of 2023 and beyond.

As for the trade deadline approach, Mozeliak hinted just about anything is on the table.

“Right now, I can tell you, we’re going to trade people, you just don’t know if it’s going to be household names or guys who are more likely to not be here next year,” said Mozeliak to Kilcoyne. “It’s easy to talk about what we may or may not do at the moment, but we’re not going to just give away players. We want to get some value in return. We want to get some value that helps us in 2024. And that’s really going to be our focus as we enter the trading period.”

Mozeliak’s comments would lead people to think more moves are on the way prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline. It’s also a chance to reflect on some previous moves he has made to consider what might unfold.

FOX 2 did some research to pick out five good and five not-so-good moves that have transpired since Mozeliak took over as general manager in 2007. Keep in mind, not all of these are trades or happened around the trade deadline.

Five Good Moves

2007: Trading Jim Edmonds

In one of his first big moves after inheriting the GM role, Mozeliak agreed to trade Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres for David Freese. Though the move proved a bit of a salary dump, the Cardinals accelerated a rebuild and acquired a future postseason hero and All-Star who handled the hot corner from 2009-2013. Edmonds retired after the 2010 season and never came close to his career norms in St. Louis after his departure.

2009-10: Trading for and holding onto Matt Holliday

After coming close in the Holliday sweepstakes before the 2009 season, the Cardinals were aggressive in their pitch for an underachieving Oakland A’s team that quickly sought to change course. Mozeliak dealt three prospects (Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson) to the A’s for Holliday, who hit .353 with 13 home runs and 55 RBI in just around two months worth of action.

The Cardinals made postseason in Holliday’s first run, though a first-round exit built uncertainty that he might depart in free agency. After some lengthy negotiations, Holliday signed the largest contract in Cardinals history at the time: A seven-year, $120 million deal. Holliday went on to become a 2011 World Series Champion and a four-time All-Star with St. Louis. As for the prospects that went to Oakland, including a former first-round pick in Wallace, none of them ever accrued more than a 1.0 WAR in their MLB careers.

2011: Letting Albert Pujols walk in free agency

It was very unpopular at the time and still has some Cardinals fans uneasy today, but letting their longtime franchise icon Albert Pujols leave in free agency after the 2011 World Series helped the team invest dollars elsewhere and promote one-time emerging stars, like Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig, in larger roles. Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million contract in the Los Angeles Angels that was largely plagued by injuries.

His best seasons out west never matched up to some of his hardest in St. Louis, and though difficult it gave Cardinals fans more time to appreciate the greatness Pujols displayed in his first 11 years. Pujols returned for one grand sendoff season with the Cardinals in 2022 and became just the fourth player to reach 700 career home runs.

2012-2022: Maintaining core of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright

Right after the Pujols departure, the Cardinals needed to make key decisions on whether two other veterans, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, would fit the bill for the long haul. In the two seasons following the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals inked Molina and Wainwright to five-year extensions. Molina earned another three-year extension and a few one-year deals before retiring last year. Since 2019, Wainwright has pitched on one-year deals with some extra incentives.

From 2012 to last year, Molina and Wainwright accrued WAR values of 28.0 and 23.7 respectively. Their intangibles, such as Molina’s ability to guide a variety of pitching personalities and Wainwright’s ability to bounce back from injuries, have oftentimes proved more valuable than their stats. The two also enjoyed a memorable run last year breaking MLB’s all-time starting battery record, and Mozeliak made it a priority to find ways they could best fit in with the team even with age.

2019-2021: Trading for Paul Goldschmidt & Nolan Arenado

Two tricky contract situations ultimately led to the Cardinals taking advantage and landing their two biggest bats of the 2020s. St. Louis acquired Paul Goldschmidt ahead of the 2019 season for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Andy Young and a competitive balance pick. Two seasons later, the Cardinals acquired Nolan Arenado for Austin Gomber, Mateo Gil, Tony Locey and Elehuris Montero.

Goldschmidt signed a five-year contract extension with the Cardinals in 2019 for $140 million. The Cardinals convinced Nolan Arenado to opt in to the remainder of a long-term deal they inherited from the Rockies, keeping him under team control until 2027. Goldschmidt and Arenado finished first and third in NL MVP voting last year. Of the four guys who have made the majors in their deals (Weaver, Kelly, Gomber, Montero), none have a career WAR over 3.2.

Five Not-So-Good Moves

2016: Signing Mike Leake

With once highly-touted prospects Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver on the cusp of their big-league calls, the Cardinals didn’t quite commit to a youth movement for their rotation. Mike Leake signed a five-year, $80 million contract ahead of the 2016. He didn’t even last for half of his contract until the Cardinals parted ways.

Leake went 16-24 with a 4.46 ERA over parts of two seasons with the Cardinals and was relatively healthy during his stint with St. Louis. Alarming batting average rates against him, almost .300 with St. Louis, made it difficult to sustain momentum. Mozeliak ultimately traded him to the Seattle Mariners in August 2017 in a move mostly seen as a salary dump, eating about half of his remaining contract.

2017: Signing Brett Cecil

The Cardinals have experimented with several left-handed relief pitchers over the years, but particularly had a hard time developing them in the mid-2010s. A former All-Star named Brett Cecil presented some promise and joined St. Louis on a four-year, $30.5 million.

Cecil blew six save opportunities and lost four games in his first season with St. Louis. He hit the injured list a few times in the next season and never really returned to the form he had with the Blue Jays. Holding onto that contract beyond his first year made it difficult for the Cardinals to add new pitchers to rejuvenate the bullpen. He missed the whole 2019 season to injury and was released before the 2020 campaign began.

2018: Offering a haul for Marcell Ozuna

There’s not much doubt the Cardinals needed a big bat for the middle of the order at the time they acquired Marcell Ozuna. His average numbers were a bit down in his Cardinals tenure, but he averaged around 25 home runs and 90 RBI in his two seasons. Ozuna left for free agency before the 2020, which also seemed like a good decision after some signs hinted at decline.

What stings most, was what the Cardinals ended up trading for him. A future Cy Young winner in Sandy Alcantara, the most recent NL All-Star Game starter in Zac Gallen and a speedy young outfielder in Magneuris Sierra. For a Cardinals pitching staff ranking among the worst in the majors in most metrics this year, albeit without Yadier Molina, it would be a welcome sight to have even one of Alcantara or Gallen in the current rotation.

2019: Extending Matt Carpenter

Before the Cardinals had Goldschmidt and Arenado, they were relying on Matt Carpenter to carry the load offensively. He slugged a career-best 36 home runs in 2018 and looked poised to be another bat the Cardinals could build around for a few more years.

Carpenter signed a two-year, $39 million extension in 2019 that would stretch into the 2021 season. His average declined in each of his final three seasons in St. Louis, including to a career-worst .169 mark over 130 games in 2021. As he aged, he had to settle for reserve roles due to a lack of production and not quite as much versatility as year’s passed. The last few seasons left a sour note on what otherwise was an admirable career with the Cardinals.

2020: Parting ways with Adolis García and Randy Arozarena

Described most recently as “a St. Louis Cardinals nightmare scenario” by ESPN, longtime teammates in the Cardinals farm system Randy Arozarena and Adolis García showed their power and defensive skills during this week’s All-Star Game festivities.

Arozarena was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2020 that sent Matthew Liberatore to the Cardinals. García was also traded to the Rangers before the 2020 campaign, but only for cash after the Cardinals designated him for assignment. A Cardinals outfield that looked promising with the likes of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson has quickly crumbled. Mozeliak recently said in the interview with Kilcoyne that those three had higher value in the team’s long-term plans than Arozarena and García at the time they were moved.


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