ST. LOUIS – The 2023 season has been far from the standard of St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
Heading out of the All-Star break, the St. Louis Cardinals will carry a 38-52 record and stand 11 games back of their closest path to postseason. At their current pace, the Cardinals are on track for a 68-94 record, which would be the team’s worst finish in nearly a century.
The season has been filled with challenges and frustration for St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak. This is his 28th year in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and 16th year as the team’s lead executive.
The 2023 season: An enigma unlike anything he’s ever conquered. Blowout defeats. Comeback efforts just short. Late-game heartbreakers. All after one of the more memorable seasons in recent history that saw two franchise icons retire in Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina.
So what now? Just before the All-Star break, Mozleiak agreed to a one-on-one conversation with FOX 2’s Sports Director Martin Kilcoyne. The Cardinals baseball boss acknowledged some front-office mistakes, fan frustration directed toward him and even some calls from fans to resign. One of his more notable statements, came near the end of a 12-plus minute interview.
“When you look at how things have unfolded, I don’t want to go through every little excuse we see,” said Mozeliak. “We know it hasn’t worked. We know changes have to happen.”
Mozeliak anticipated more success heading into the season, though is now pondering changes he feels could help the Cardinals beyond 2023.
“When you look at what we’ve put on paper, it should’ve worked better, but it didn’t,” said Mozeliak. “The front office [and] ownership know we have to do something different. This is not the model we’re going to follow. That’s something we’ll take a hard look at [and] try to address it, but changes will happen.
Mozeliak discussed a variety of topics in his recent chat with Martin Kilcoyne. These were among the top discussions:
Making sense of the 2023 season
Martin: “As we sit here, Mo. it’s all pretty unpleasant. What’s your assessment of what’s happened this season.
Mozeliak: “Well, it’s been a very frustrating year for us. I think you have to start back in the offseason. I think there are some opp in hindsight I wish we would’ve done. You look at the overall makeup of the rosters, there are things we would definitely do differently as we sit here today. The injuries have really mounted up for the Cardinals this season.
When you go back to spring training, we just never really got our team together, whether for injuries or the WBC. As the season started, we got off to a really slow start, dug ourselves a deep hole. When you do that, it all of a sudden changes how you’re playing. When you factor in that you’re always playing from behind, you feeling like you’re always playing catch-up, it feels like there’s a lot of pressure on these players to do more than they need to.
Right now, when you’re just looking at overall performance, it’s just not there. When you think about all the injuries we had and how it’s affected our starting rotation, bullpen and every day club it’s hard to work through all that.
We are where we are now. There are no excuses. We’re just not playing like we hope we would. [The approach is] going to be, how do we think about the next 3-4 weeks? What changes could be made? We’re not necessarily waving the white flag, but all decisions or all moves we do are really going to try to set us up for next year.”
Building a pitching staff
Martin: “It seemed like everyone was screaming for pitching. The fans, the media. Why weren’t you guys more aggressive in terms of adding pitching?”
Mozeliak: “A couple of reasons. One, some of the pitchers we did chase, just weren’t able to get done. The other, we really wanted to give some of these guys an opportunity.
When you’re trying to give your internal guys that first shot, the hindsight is we probably should’ve had some depth to cover for it. Dakota Hudson was someone we penciled in for our rotation, and he’s pitched almost the whole season at AAA. That’s a problem. [Matthew] Liberatore is a guy we wanted to give a chance to pitch. He got optioned out in spring training and ultimately has pitched for us, but hasn’t taken that next step to where we could count on him every fifth day.”
Martin: “Because you didn’t have a lot in [Triple-A] Memphis, did you think there was more need for that depth? Historically, you always say you never have enough. We’ve been at spring training where we’ve had seven or eight starters, and you say ‘it always works itself out.’ What changed? Did you go hard after some people in terms of the market. Did the market shift?”
Mozeliak: “I don’t think the market really shifted, I think people we were looking at [were options worth considering] am I really going to get those innings? It wasn’t like we were necessarily chasing top-of-market players or pitchers. But clearly as we sit here today, yes, we would do something different.”
Fan and team frustrations
Martin: “You always seem to be in tune with the fan base. How aware are you, I think there’s angst in some circles, there’s anger, how aware are you right now of the frustration that is out there?”
Mozeliak: “Well, it depends. I still speak to groups, and I’m still out there. I think when [fans are] face-to-face with you, they have empathy and feel bad for where you are. I think when you go online and read what people are writing about you, there’s real anger. I’m sure a lot of people are calling for my job. I can understand that to some level. It hasn’t been a good year. We get it.”
Martin: “What’s your level of dialogue been with [Cardinals Chairman and CEO Bill Jr.] Dewitt? How engaged is he with what’s going on?
Mozeliak: “I talk to Bill regularly. Obviously, I think he’s frustrated too. I think if you were to talk to both of us first day in spring training, we had a lot of optimism going into the season. For a variety of reasons, it has not played out.”
Martin: “What’s next for Adam Wainwright [amid IL stint in final season]? Is this a conversation you will have [with Adam] at somepoint as to how to go about this?
Mozeliak: “He and I have chatted. He certainly wants to come back and pitch. He really wants to prove he can do this. But there’s a physical element to this. Out of respect for what he’s done with this organization, we’re going to try and allow for that to happen. But we’re going to have to be realistic. If it’s not going to happen, then that page may have to be turned.”
Martin: “You and I talked a couple of weeks ago, and you said ‘I believe in Oli Marmol and his staff.’ Is his job safe beyond this year? When do analyze Oli and the role he played this year?
Mozeliak: “I don’t think the coaches have any fault in this. They’re handed the players. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but I think Oli and his group do a really good job, they work really hard [and] they continue to do that. Their level of frustration is probably as real as the fan base.”
Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia departures
Martin: “You and I have talked before about [Randy] Arozarena, and I know he’s an All-Star. But maybe Adolis Garcia, explain to folks how he might have slipped through the cracks.”
Mozeliak: “At the time, where we thought our outfield was going to look like, has not achieved the success like someone Garcia has or even Arozarena. You try to pick the right players. At the time, I think [Tyler] O’Neill and [Harrison] Bader were more valued than them at the time of those deals. Now things have changed. You’re trying to get it right, you really are. But clearly those look like mistakes.”
Upcoming trade deadline
Martin: “You said ‘not waving the white flag,’ but your counterpart of the Blues, Doug Armstrong, at one point, looked at the fan base and said, ‘Hey, it’s not happening. We’re going to trade Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Barbashev. Big name-players.’ Is there any value in your position where you could say, ‘Hey, folks, we’re just going to have to be honest. If we have to trade people we will?’
Mozeliak: “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. 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.”
Martin: “Is anybody untradeable at this point?”
Mozeliak: “I always hate that phrase, because there’s always something that would make you say, ‘I would trade someone.’ I think the fact is, I hope we can keep our core together and supplement it properly.”
Narrative of the Cardinals
Martin: “Has the bar lowered from ‘We’re going to win a title’ to ‘We’re going to win a division?’ There’s a narrative that the Cardinals want to be just good enough to get in, and granted you can get in and anything can happen, I think we all believe that. But are you guys content with just getting in as opposed to being a little more bold?”
Mozeliak: “No I think people acquaint bold with spending, and I don’t know if that’s the fairest way to look at it. However you want to phrase it, there are many teams that outspend us, or out-aggressive us, and they’re finding themselves in similar situations. I don’t think that’s solely the answer.
What you’re trying to do is build a roster you believe in that will give you a chance to win. Then you look at the trading deadline to add those extra pieces that could put you over the top. History says that can work, and sometimes it doesn’t. The fact remains, where we are today, it’s hard to imagine this current group getting to where we need to go.”
Martin: “Because you guys have had success, is there any fear of complacency to where you can point to ‘Hey, we’ve always been good.’ Is there still that urgency to win each year?”
Mozeliak: “I think I hear that more than maybe we are complacent, or maybe arrogant in the fact that we’ve had the success we’ve had. But I assure you, even when you look at what we’ve put together on paper, it should’ve worked better, but it didn’t. Remember what’s on paper isn’t the human being and that element of how it all gels. Clearly, the front office [and] ownership know we have to do something different. This is not the model we’re going to follow. That’s something we’ll take a hard look at [and] try to address it, but changes will happen.”
Martin: “When people, I think you were joking about or were aware, are saying ‘Mo’s got to be fired,’ how much does this season weigh on you? How much are you stressed by this? Even with the success, this is sort of uncharted territory. How are you wearing it?”
Mozeliak: “Yeah, I don’t think well. I think my wife would tell you, I’m not as friendly at home. Not sleeping very well. Yeah, it’s tough.”
Martin: “In terms of moving forward long-term, you’re under contract for a couple of years. Tell folks why you feel you can get this turned around? People that are criticizing you, if you could address them, what would you say?
Mozeliak: “I think I have a pretty good resume. I think the history of our decision-making overall has been pretty good. I think, the best way to approach this is recognizing that we do have a problem, admit it and try to find a solution. We understand that. I’m not trying to sit here with you right now and defend what we did and blame other people. I know we’ve made mistakes, and we’re going to try and get it right.”
Martin: “Is the lesson in baseball, there’s going to be some years where it goes sideways. … Do you chalk some of this up to, ‘Oh, it’s just baseball.’ I know nobody wants to hear that, I know I shouldn’t be saying that, but is there some part that this is going to happen at somepoint to every team?
Mozeliak: “I think statistically, yes, you’re going to have a clunker at some point. What’s frustrating about this year is that it’s been at so many levels. We went into the season thinking, O’Neill, Carlson and Nootbaar would be our everyday outfield. I’m not even sure how many games they’ve played together, but I think in aggregate, they’ve missed over 125 games. How do you plan for that? A young Jordan Walker steps up, certainly a young exciting player, but he’s still learning the game, so there’s going to have to be some patience there.
When you look at how things have unfolded, I don’t want to go through every little excuse we see. We know it hasn’t worked. We know changes have to happen.”