The next two months will prove to be one of the great turning points in Cardinals history. The issue of signing Albert Pujols to the record contract he has definitely earned – or letting him walk – will define the future of the franchise regardless of the outcome.
As the team and general manager John Mozeliak begin the process of making this boldest of decisions, I thought it might be a good time to look at Mozeliak’s record in the three years he has helmed the club.
Trading for players has been Mozeliak’s weakest area. Cardinals fans everywhere should rejoice that Mozeliak was not ordered to trade Pujols last summer (as I suggested at the time), because one could only imagine what we might have received in return for the game’s greatest player. A minor league prospect? A bag of magic beans? An I.O.U.?
Let’s look at the trades Mozeliak has overseen:
Jim Edmonds for David Freese (2007)- In one of his first moves, Mozeliak traded slumping and injured 37 year old Jim Edmonds to San Diego for 24 year old prospect David Freese. At the time, Freese showed tremendous possibilities as an impact bat and a smooth glove. As it turns out, Freese still has those qualities. He also has ankles made of the most delicate crystal that are prone to shattering with the slightest breeze. Meanwhile, Edmonds played for three different teams in 2010, amassing 450 at bats and hitting 22 home runs while Freese dropped weights on his foot in rehab. GRADE: C
Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus (2008)- Like many players, Rolen simply could not co-exist in the same clubhouse with grouchy overlord Tony LaRussa, so Rolen had to go. Mozeliak made an even swap here, trading for third basemen with Toronto. Glaus gave the team one good year before falling apart. Meanwhile, Rolen eventually recovered to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a divison win last year. Of course, Rolen could never do that with LaRussa running the show, so Mozeliak’s move was sadly necessary. GRADE: B
Anthony Reyes for Luis Perdomo (2008)- Another “must trade” situation, as promising righthander Reyes had made himself a thorn in the side of LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan (see a trend here?). Perdomo is a hard-throwing righthanded reliever with great strikeout rates. So, of course, the Cardinals let him escape the following year in the Rule 5 draft. Reyes, meanwhile, required Tommy John surgery and is currently in Triple A with the Indians. The real problem with this trade is that a promising righthander like Reyes should’ve garnered more than Perdomo. GRADE: C-
Mark Worrell and Luke Gregerson for Khalil Greene (2008)- Attempting to find a solid shortstop, Mozeliak dealt promising young relievers Worrell and Gregerson to the Padres for nutcase Greene. The Khalil Greene saga of ’09 was a monumental disaster for the team, but, prior to the trade, Mozeliak couldn’t have known about Greene’s psychological issues. It was a solid trade on principle (i.e. trying to get a solid player to man his natural position), but it didn’t work out. GRADE: C
Chris Perez and Jess Todd for Mark DeRosa (2009)- The first of two major moves by Mozeliak to bolster a sagging team (see Greene above) saw the Cards giving up two huge prospects to the Indians in exchange for the dynamic DeRosa. For this deal, the Cardinals gave up a powerful relief pitcher (see Perez 2010) for three valuable months of DeRosa that eventually went nowhere. The team refused to offer DeRosa much to stay, so the trade is mostly meaningless. GRADE: D+
Chris Duncan for Julio Lugo (2009)- One of Mozeliak’s ballsier moves. Although Duncan had heart, his blatant inability to play baseball kept interfering with the team’s attempts to win. So Mozeliak, over the ridiculous objections of LaRussa and Daddy Duncan, traded the kid to Boston for Lugo, who proceeded to do NOT MUCH in return. I will give this a higher score simply because Mozeliak showed guts in the face of a fractured and contentious on-field staff. GRADE: B-
Brett Wallace, Matt Mortenson, and Shane Peterson for Matt Holliday (2009) – A brilliant deal. Mozeliak traded away three overvalued prospects (will Wallace EVER reach the majors?) for one of the game’s most consistent offensive forces. Mozeliak put the cherry on this one by making it count with a deal (see below). GRADE: A+
Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook (2010)- Mozeliak traded away one of the best RBI guys since 2008 for two reasons: (1) LaRussa didn’t want to give him playing time and Luddy didn’t like it, and (2) LaRussa and Duncan coveted Westbrook. This gets a higher grade simply because Luddy had a terrible year after the trade, while Westbrook provided a solid year on the mound. But it gets a lower grade because the team didn’t need a pitcher as badly as it needed offense, and the trade took the wind out of the 2010 team’s sails. GRADE: C-
Blake Hawksworth for Ryan Theriot (2010)- The Hawk wasn’t very valuable to a strong Cardinals bullpen, and they traded him for a guy who will most likely solidify team’s attitude. Unfortunately, Theriot will be playing every day in an attempt to replace the game’s best defensive shortstop with his meager offensive output. By itself, this is a good trade … but it’s not so good in the larger scheme of things (see below). GRADE: B
Brendan Ryan for Maikel Cairo (2010)- An awful trade for anyone not named LaRussa, the Cardinals gave away the game’s best defensive shortstop for what amounts to 180 pounds of ground beef. Even worse, LaRussa bad-mouthed Ryan before trading began, destroying any potential value he held. All sides should be ashamed. This only receives a higher mark because Ryan would have been abused further had he stayed. GRADE: D
Mozeliak has proven to be fairly far-sighted in making deals with existing players and exercising extentions with wisdom. Here are the deals Mozeliak has put together in his time as GM:
Extending Yadier Molina (2008)- By giving Molina four more years, Mozeliak assured Cardinal Nation that they will have one of the most dynamic defensive catchers in decades behind the plate at a reasonable cost. However, who knows what Molina, now a star, will make in 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mozeliak extends Molina again in 2011. GRADE: A
Extending Adam Wainwright (2008)- It was clear from Wainwright’s late-season dominance in 2007 that he was something special, but nobody could be sure just how good Waino could be when Mozeliak extended him for four years. Mozeliak’s foresight was rewarded as Wainwright has competed for the Cy Young the last two years (and, in my mind, won it in 2009). GRADE: A+
The Kyle Lohse Contract (2008) – Worst deal in decades. Based on one pretty good year in 2008, Mozeliak gave Lohse a four year, $42 million dollar contract. Lohse has been a disaster since. The high cost means the Cards can’t really deal Lohse, either. So we’re stuck with this guy for two more years. GRADE: F+
The Matt Holliday Contract (2010)- Although most people gulped in horror at the cost of keeping Holliday as a Cardinal (seven years, $120 million), Holliday proved once again why he earns that with a remarkably consistent 2010 campaign. If he stays healthy through the duration of that contract, it will end up one of the better contracts in Cardinal history. GRADE: A-
The Lance Berkman Contract (2010)- Mozeliak spent $8 million for Berkman, which is outrageous considering that Berkman has struggled to be effective for the last three years on crumbling knees. Even worse, Mozeliak did this in order to play Berkman in the outfield, where he will be able to run as fast as the corpse of Bea Arthur. But it is only for one year, so we’ll give him some points for that. GRADE: C
The Gerald Laird Contract (2010)- Rather than play prospect Bryan Anderson, Mozeliak bowed to LaRussa’s wishes and signed Gerald Laird to a million dollar contract. Laird has almost none of the possibilities of young Anderson, and he’s also twice the price. In the larger scheme of things, though, this is a fairly minor signing. GRADE: C
The Jake Westbrook Signing (2010) – Giving Westbrook $8 million a year for two years feels like the perfect contract. Not too long, right amount of money, and the potential to really pay off with Westbrook under Duncan’s spell. This was a solid signing that cements the rotation and makes it one of the better staffs in the National League. GRADE: A
Not signing Pujols in the winter of 2009 will possibly be one of Mozeliak’s worst moves. By uncharacteristically waiting on Pujols, Mozeliak has put himself in a position where he must AT LEAST match the ludicrous Ryan Howard deal that happened early in 2010. And the waiting this winter has only angered Pujols and hardened his position in talks.
Given what we’ve seen out of Mozeliak in the past, I think the Cardinals are going to make Pujols an offer he simply can’t refuse. This is, of course, assuming that Bill DeWitt will give Mozeliak the green light to sign Pujols at the extraordinary price he will command. I think it will happen sometime before the first of February, as Mozeliak seems to like that period for the larger deals. Waiting until Pujols reaches free agency is simply not something that would make sense to a numbers guy like Mozeliak.
Regardless, I think, given Mozeliak’s tendencies, we will soon see Pujols pointing to the nearest bank rather than heaven from now on.