No ‘Mo’ status quo: St. Louis Cardinals need to get better

John Mozeliak looks on from the stands during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on July 28, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
John Mozeliak looks on from the stands during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on July 28, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

The optimistic St. Louis Cardinals President, John Mozeliak, sounds way too pleased with the current roster. Upgrades are needed, he needs to get to work.

St. Louis Cardinals President, John “Mo” Mozeliak, is an incurable optimist. Can someone please devise an antidote?

Mo says the Cardinals are just fine the way they are. “We feel like we have a really good team … a team that could actually perform better from an offensive standpoint,” he said in November, quoted by Rob Rains of Does he plan on signing free agents or exploring trades? “I think it’s a bit premature to say yes or no on that.”

To summarize, the Cards are good, there’s no need to get better, everything is going to be just peachy!

Cue up The Lego Movie theme song so we can sing, “Everything is Awesome!” Followed by “Kumbaya.” Followed by “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Can you imagine Mo’s preseason pep talk to the players? “Let’s go out there, boys, and rest on our laurels!”

A little optimism is a lovely thing but if you insist on your own skewed view of reality you can sound like Chrissie, a character from 1980’s Atlantic City who said, “I never use seatbelts. I don’t believe in gravity.” Mo has the same scorn for the evidence of aging.

Matt Carpenter, 34, is coming off his worst season, but the Cardinals honcho is counting on a bounceback year by No. 13. “My confidence, or our confidence in him is high,” he said last month, characterizing Carp’s 2019 performance as “an outlier.”

OK, so what’s Mo going to say? Toss him in the Dumpster, he’s done! Of course not. Just eight months ago, the ever-bullish Redbirds boss signed Carp to a two-year extension that will pay him $18.5 million in 2020 and the same in 2021. No one put a gun to Mo’s head. He must’ve squinted through rose-tinted spectacles and concluded, “Heck, if Carp was good at 32, he’ll be phenomenal at 35!”

We all hope Mozeliak is right and that Carpenter returns to his 2015-2018 form. But there’s a difference between hoping for something that’s a 40-60 proposition at best (healthy players who nosedive at 33 rarely turn it around) and building a contingency plan.

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For a baseball executive, optimism is no substitute for taking action to solve or prevent problems. In 1997’s The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, the author poses this question of each skipper he profiles: “Is he more of an optimist or more of a problem solver?” An optimistic manager or general manager tends to be patient, sometimes too patient, with slumping players.

The problem solver tends to react, sometimes overreact, to slumping players and other problems. But a President of Baseball Operations can’t sit on his hands and hope for the best in December. He has to do what he can to make the team better.

Stubborn optimism can, in fact, be disastrous. Do you really want your attorney to show up for court saying, “I’ve got no witnesses or pertinent facts, but don’t worry, I feel lucky today.” Or for your doctor to say, “I believe in looking at the bright side, so all I’m gonna say is there’s a fightin’ chance you’ll still be breathin’ a week from now.”

We can all adore a cocky optimist like Han Solo, who famously states, “Never tell me the odds.” Or Westly from The Princess Bride. When Buttercup says, “We’ll never survive!” he responds, “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.” But Mo is no cinema swashbuckler.

His it’s-going-to-be-great attitude is more evocative of Johnny Depp as the hero of Ed Wood, a character who believes that every scene he shoots is flawless. Retakes? Editing? Why bother? In one scene the cardboard headstone tips over and the graveyard looks laughable, but Ed is delighted. “And cut!” he says. “Print. We’re moving on. That was perfect!”

The Cardinals roster is far from perfect. Three projected starters, Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Yadier Molina, will be 34 or older on Opening Day, and all three have shown a significant decline over the past three years.

Will the team re-sign Marcell Ozuna? If not, who plays left? Can light-hitting center fielder Harrison Bader hit enough to stay in the lineup? If Carlos Martinez returns to the rotation, who becomes the closer? How much can the Cards hope to get from Adam Wainwright, 38, and Andrew Miller, 34?

Next. How the Hamels and Wheeler deals affect the team. dark

There are no easy answers to these questions, and it’s not like Mo can trade Yairo Munoz for Nolan Arenado, or Tyler Webb for Max Scherzer. Still, it’s a baseball truism that teams that don’t get better tend to get worse. The Cardinals President of Baseball Operations can’t just say he’s optimistic about 2020. He’s got to make some moves to improve the ballclub.