The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Nolan Arenado late Friday night from the Colorado Rockies. John Mozeliak and company prove, once again, they are in no danger of losing their jobs.
The fanbase of the St. Louis Cardinals is one of the most spoiled in all of American Professional Sports. Yes, I said it. It’s been said before, and I’m sure it will be said again in the not too distant future. But the fact still remains, Cardinals fans have what most fanbases could only dream of having.
John Mozeliak took over as the Cardinals’ GM after the 2007 season following the departure of Walt Jocketty. He took the reins of a team that just finished with their worst record since 1999. Since then, he’s had 13 winnings seasons as the GM. Since then, there have been 13 MLB seasons.
In every single season when he’s been in charge, the team has had a winning record. Among those 13 seasons, it has included eight playoff births, two World Series appearances, and a World Championship in 2011. They have the third-most wins over that time, trailing only the Yankees and Dodgers, who consistently have two of the top payrolls in all of baseball.
So why, prior to 8:43 pm on Friday, January 29th, was a large chunk of fans calling for Mozeliak to be replaced?
There seems to be a misconception that John Mozeliak is afraid to make a big splash, either via trade or free agency.
Some fans think he only shops in the so-called “sale” bin of free agency, going after B-tier players like Dexter Fowler instead of big names like Bryce Harper.
Some fans think he’s pinching pennies to appease the DeWitt’s, who are more about running the team as a business, rather than a team trying to win a championship.
Some fans think he doesn’t have a “plan” to build a World Series-winning club. Rather, he just does the absolute minimum to keep the fanbase happy enough to keep the profits rolling in.
But I’m here to tell you one thing: Mozeliak and his team are smarter than you. They are smarter than me. They are smarter than our entire writing staff here at Redbird Rants. They are smarter than everyone who’s going to read this article put together. No, you can’t run the franchise better than him.
I think this trade for Arenado exemplifies exactly what the “plan” is, even if fans can’t always see it before it comes to fruition. Mozeliak isn’t going to force something to happen, he’s not one to try and fit a square peg into a round hole just because fans want it. He knows how the market evolves and uses that leverage to his advantage.
Following the 2017 season, the Cardinals missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons, the first time during his tenure as GM. The team had a strong pitching staff, per usual, but the offense was lacking. Mo went to work and agreed to a trade with the Marlins to acquire Giancarlo Stanton. As we all know, Stanton refused to waive his no-trade clause to come to St. Louis.
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This felt like a crushing blow to many fans, losing out on the reigning NL MVP will do that. But instead of trying to fit the square peg into the round hole to try and get Stanton to come by any means necessary, he pivoted. He went out and acquired a breakout star in Marcell Ozuna from Miami. He held onto all of the organization’s top five prospects (per MLB.com), and acquired a player with two seasons left before he was set to hit free agency.
Any doubt that is bestowed upon this deal is 100% hindsight. The trade was a win for the Cardinals at the time. Ozuna didn’t perform like he was capable in St. Louis and the throw-in piece back to Miami, Zac Gallen, has turned out to be the most successful part of the return, as of now.
Stanton had injury issues in Miami and those have continued to haunt him in New York, posting just 166 PA over the last two season. Stanton’s contract isn’t handicapping the Cardinals from getting better, like it would have if he was acquired, and would continue to do until 2028.
Following another season in 2018 sans a playoff berth, Mo recognized the problem and addressed it. Another sputtering offense left much to be desired at the plate. And the answer was right there. As all fans shouted in unison: “SIGN BRYCE HARPER,” Mozeliak did his patented smirk and said, “watch this.”
Mozeliak and co. no doubt checked in on Harper, they would’ve been foolish not to keep tabs on the bidding. But do you think he wanted to pay someone $25 million a season for 13 seasons? Absolutely not, that not how he rolls. The square peg doesn’t fit in the round hole.
Paul Goldschmidt was rumored to be available, and a few weeks later, the round peg was a St. Louis Cardinal.
And guess what? Mo gave up a couple of outcasts in the system to acquire THE premium first baseman in all of baseball, who instantly became the best hitter on the team. Luke Weaver struggled in 2018 and was the odd man out of the rotation heading into 2019. Carson Kelly wasn’t getting any younger and Yadier Molina was still here, ready to start every day.
To follow that up, he extended Goldy over a cup of coffee only a few months after acquiring him, locking him down as a franchise cornerstone for years to come. While that extension looked potentially to be a mistake after a relatively down season in 2019, Goldy bounced back in a big way in the shortened 2020 season.
The 2019 season was a success, the Redbirds finished atop the NL Central and were just four wins from reaching the World Series. A number of young players broke out, namely Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, and Jack Flaherty. Things were looking up for the next season, huge additions weren’t necessary, rather more of a retooling.
The 2020 season was weird, we all know that. The Cardinals played 53 games in 44 days due to COVID. A number of key players were out or struggling as a direct result of the lingering effects of the virus. But above all that, it was still clear: the offense needed to be addressed again.
Fast forward to today, and everyone is singing their praises to the bow-tied wizard. He pulled off a trade so good, people are calling it highway robbery on day one. Not only did the Cardinals acquire one of the best third basemen in baseball, but the top prospect they gave up in the deal was the ninth-best in their system.
NOT ONLY THAT, but reportedly $50 million is coming with Arenado to St. Louis to help pay for the reaming 8 years, $214 million left on his contract. The money coming back puts his contract at around $23 million AAV, which is well below what his current value would be on the open market.
But how does the square peg, round hole analogy fit here? The fans got what they wanted.
The Cardinals and Rockies were reportedly in talks about Arenado before the 2020 season was temporarily shut down during Spring Training. The reports of the Rockies asking price were crazy, saying they were asking for one, if not two of the Cardinals elite prospects in return for Arenado. Everybody and their mom knew Mozeliak was not about to pay that price, it’s not how he does business.
So, what started as a square peg in Spring 2020, was carefully crafted into a nice, round peg in January 2021.
But for a long time, it didn’t feel like anything was in the cards (pun intended).
Let me say it again: NOT ONLY did Mo steal the Rockies’ lunch money in this deal, he was able to do it in an offseason where he very clearly stated it would be very tough to add more payroll than they had last season. Every MLB franchise took massive losses this season with no fan attendance and despite what many people think, the owners of these franchises are there to turn a profit on their investment.
With all the cards stacked against him, John Mozeliak found a way to improve the team in a big way.
No, they aren’t going to go on a Padres-esque trading spree and starting acquiring every good player under the sun. But they don’t need to, and that’s fine.
Basically, this has been a really long way of me telling everyone: hop off Mo’s back and enjoy the ride. He knows what he’s doing, and this is going to be a winning ball club that will compete for/in the playoffs. In a year where it looks like the rest of the NL Central is punting the season, the Cardinals went for the jugular and said “this is our division.”
I, for one, have been a pretty staunch defender of Mo, so this article feels good for me to write as I backed nearly every move he’s made over the last half decade to people crying out that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Can we please put a moratorium on the “Mozeliak is afraid to be a big spender” belief? It’s wrong, based on very selective memories, and really makes the Cardinals fanbase look bad.
Nolan Arenado is a St. Louis Cardinal, it still feels surreal to say that. I can’t wait to see Mo’s “I told you guys so” smirk in Arenado’s introductory press conference.