Don’t Underestimate John Mozeliak

Don’t Underestimate John Mozeliak

John Mozeliak has been the Cardinals general manager for ten seasons, but does he really deserve faith that he can turn the team around?

The 2007 season was over and in the books when the St. Louis Cardinals reflected back on the season. It wasn’t good. They ended up with a record of 78-84 and relations in the front office weren’t any better. The Cardinals had promoted Jeff Luhnow to their Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development position months ago, and reigning GM Walt Jocketty wasn’t, and hadn’t been, happy about it.  He’d had control over that area prior. Reports came out that owner Bill DeWitt saying that the rift began with philosophical differences and then deteriorated into personality conflicts as mentioned here.

The unrest continued to the point where Dewitt stated that the organization couldn’t achieve it’s goals with what was going on. It was obviously an environment of tension and conflict everyday to the point where the organization just couldn’t function properly. So, as DeWitt put it, the Cardinals and Jocketty “cordially and respectfully parted ways.”

The Quest for a New GM

The Cardinals then named Jocketty’s understudy and Assistant GM, John Mozeliak, the interim general manager for the time being, and began their search for a permanent solution. Several candidates were considered, including Mozeliak, and reports were that Cleveland Indians Assistant GM Chris Antonetti was the early favorite to get the job. But Cleveland sweetened the pot to coerce Antonetti to stay in Cleveland (as the full GM), and it worked, leaving Mozeliak as the front runner for the Cardinals’ position. The Cardinals awarded the GM job to the guy we now know as “Mo” on October 30, 2007.

So where did this Mo guy come from?

John Mozeliak grew up in the Boulder, Colorado area where he played baseball for Fairview High School. He pitched and played some first base. Although he never played professionally, he’s certainly familiar with the game.

Mo went on to attend college at the University of Arizona, but transferred to and then graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a business degree. But how did Mo get into the professional baseball side of things? It started with a fly-fishing trip. Mozeliak fly-fished, and a friend of his who worked for the Rockies as a video coordinator introduced his to Rockies pitcher Bryn Smith who was looking for a spot to fly-fish.

Not long after their fly-fishing excursion, the Rockies invited Mo to toss some batting practice for them because they needed a lefty. Mo agreed and was soon pitching batting practice to guys like Dante Bichette and Andres Galarraga. Bichette and Mo hit it off, and opportunities in the Rockies organization started popping up for Mo. He soon found himself under the tutelage of the Rockies head brass like Bob Gebhard (GM) and Walt Jocketty (Assistant GM).

Eventually, Jocketty went to St. Louis as the Cardinals new GM and brought John Mozeliak with him. Mo worked his way through the scouting department and eventually became the director of scouting, before accepting a position as Jocketty’s assistant GM. And that’s how we got to October 30, 2007. That’s how some guy nicknamed Mo from Colorado wound up as the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

So how did the fly-fisherman from Colorado do as GM?

Before we get to his accomplishments as a GM, let’s talk about some notable things Mozeliak did as the scouting director. He became the scouting director in 1998 and was directly responsible for drafting some of the most recognizable Cardinals players of the past decades. Players like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, cornerstones for the Cardinals in the 2000s, have a direct link to John Mozeliak.

Before Mo took over as the Cardinals GM, the farm system under Jocketty, wasn’t good. At all. In fact, from 2000-2007, the highest ranking for the Cardinals farm system was 21st. More embarrassingly, they ranked dead last in both 2002 and 2005 and were only marginally better (28th) in 2003 and 2004. I might as well throw in that the Cardinals basically had a non-existent international program. In a word, embarrassing. Read more on that here. So Mo knew big changes had to be made. With the help of Jeff Luhnow, he went to work.

The transformation that ensued was nothing short of remarkable. After years of being in the basement in farm system rankings, Mo’s farm system was ranked the best in baseball by Baseball America in 2011. The organization’s farm system was ranked first again in 2013 by both Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law. Additionally, the Cardinals were named “Organization of the Year” by Baseball America in late 2011. It was quite the turnaround. The baseball world looked to the organization John Mozeliak was building as a model franchise to pattern themselves after.

A lot has been said by some fans lately about Mo’s competency as a GM or as the President of Baseball Operations. In general, there’s been a lot of grumbling. We could debate over the free agent acquisitions or trades Mo has made during his tenure and attempt to nitpick every signing and trade, but that misses the point. Even the good GMs make bad transactions. It happens. General managers don’t have a crystal ball and they can’t tell the future any better than we can. They can’t know whether the players in a trade or free agent signing they want to pursue end up continuing to perform as they had leading up to the acquisition.

The biggest danger is a GM that gets spend happy or trade happy — either financially handicapping an organization or decimating their farm system. Either (or, worse yet, both) can set an organization back for a decade. But that hasn’t been Mo. Mozeliak’s resume and track record scream success and winning, without either financially strapping the organization, depleting the farm system, or intentionally tanking for 4-7 years in order to rebuild.

Since taking over in late 2007, John Mozeliak has run the organization for ten full seasons. The Cardinals haven’t recorded a losing season in any of the ten. That’s right. Ten straight winning seasons under Mo’s watch. During that stretch, only two other teams have posted a better regular season win total than the Cardinals’ 897: the Yankees (910) and the Dodgers (900). In that same span, only one team has won more postseason games than the Cardinals’ 32: the Giants (36). The accolades don’t stop there. Under Mo’s guidance the Cardinals have achieved:

  • 2 World Series appearances (2011, 2013) with one win (2011)
  • 4 NLCS appearances (2011-2014) winning in 2011 and 2013
  • 2 N.L. pennants (2011, 2013)
  • 4 N.L. Central division titles (2009, 2013, 2014, 2015)
  • 2 N.L. Wild Card entrants (2011, 2012)
  • 10 regular season winning percentage above .500 (2008-2017)
  • Franchise record 5 consecutive seasons with playoff appearance (2011–15)

Impressive in anyone’s book. It’s also worth noting that John Mozeliak has won 3 Executive of the Year awards during his tenure:

  • MLB.com Executive of the Year (2011)
  • GIBBY Executive of the Year (2011)
  • Andrew “Rube” Foster Award as NL Executive of the Year (2012)

What does all this mean? It means Mo knows what he’s doing. His resume is as decorated as any in the business. If you were the owner of a team looking to hire a new GM or POBO and wanted one with a proven and decorated track record, John Mozeliak’s name would have to be at the top of your list. Other teams would love his services, without a doubt.

When Mo speaks in a certain tone . . .

As the years under Mozeliak’s tenure have progressed, I’ve learned that he speaks in a certain manner or tone in the media and sends some subliminal messages while doing so. Sometimes not so subliminal. Either way, when he talks this way, he means business and follows up on what he says. For a recent example, just last year Mo spoke in this manner in media early in the season and again in a press conference around midseason. He wasn’t happy with the performance of the team and stated that if things continued, there would be significant changes. He wasn’t playing.

By the time 2018 rolled around gone were Jhonny Peralta, Jonathan Broxton, Miguel Socolovich, Kevin Siegrist, Seung Hwan Oh, Trevor Rosenthal, Mike Leake, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz, Marco Gonzales, Eric Fryer, Magneuris Sierra, Sandy Alcantara, Matt Adams, and Lance Lynn. All players who had spent at least some time at the major league level with the Cardinals in 2017.

The coaching staff didn’t go unscathed either. Also gone were third base coach Chris Maloney and pitching coach Derek Liliquist. New to the MLB roster for 2018, so far, were Miles Mikolas, Marcell Ozuna, Luke Gregerson, Greg Holland, Bud Norris, Francisco Pena, Tyler O’Neill, and Yairo Munoz. Add some fresh faces brought up from the farm like Jordan Hicks, Jack Flaherty, and Austin Gomber, and you have a significantly different looking team.

Like I said, Mo wasn’t playing. I don’t think he likes missing the postseason two years in a row any more than anyone else. If anything he dislikes it more. His job kind of revolves around success at that, ya know. Mo’s trying, making moves, in attempts to right the ship.

At midseason 2018, Mo again, doesn’t appear to be happy. In recent interviews he’s mentioned the poor defense of Jose Martinez, the lackluster hustle of Dexter Fowler, the underperformance of the outfield (think Pham and Fowler here), the inconsistency of the offense, and he even specifically said that some of the offensive woes fall on the responsibility of the hitting coach. If you were listening closely, Mo said they have to look at everything in regard to making the team better. This included putting J. Martinez back in the outfield. Mo said they had to think and get creative to find ways to improve the team, both offensively and defensively. It’s clear that he’s looking both internally and to trades leading up to the trade deadline.

Conclusion

So, what does all this tell us? Well, Mo’s tone now sounds very similar to last year’s, and I don’t think Mo is playing this time either. I think significant changes are just around the corner again, and John Mozeliak is putting people on notice. Mo and the Cardinals are in a great position, both financially and prospect-wise, to make some moves. Based on Mo’s tone, I believe he and Girsch are willing to deal. The next several weeks are going to get real interesting in Cardinalville. Stay tuned Cardinals fans, should be fun!

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