At the St. Louis Cardinals annual Winter Warm-Up last weekend, Josh from Fort Lauderdale asked a question that's been sitting on the minds of many Cardinals fans since the 2023 season fell apart...
"It feels like we are at an inflection point, and you look at certain writing on the wall like Oli's in the last year of his deal, you got Goldy in the last year, even the new signings were like three years or less, so the question is this - you plan for the worst and hope for the best, but if we get to the middle of the season and we are not doing well, how do you feel about a just total tear down, rebuild like the Astros did, like the Cubs have done and so forth?"- Josh (Fort Lauderdale, FL), at WWU
"Wow", was the initial response given by Mozeliak. He shifted in his chair a bit and then began addressing the potential doomsday scenario.
"Josh asks a very difficult question, the complete tear down, complete rebuild. And I feel like it's a very difficult question for us to do or maybe a strategy to actually try because of our fanbase. You know when you think about teams that are willing to do the teardown, start over, they're willing to basically go dark for a couple years. I don't think we are in a position to do that. And so did we leave ourselves a little door by doing the strategic way with those contracts, I suppose you could argue yes, but that really wasn't why we did it.- John Mozeliak
We really do believe in our young core coming, we're super excited about what we have, I don't think we see ourselves in a position though where we want to hit the reset button, even if we were to struggle this year. In terms of what that might look like, we are going to try to continue to win, we know we have a good young group coming, we're super excited about what we have at Memphis, so we really do feel like there's some momentum for future years...""
Clearly, Mozeliak was throwing a lot of cold water on the notion that they would consider a full-blown rebuild if the 2024 season was filled with more struggles and disappointment, and you can check out the full Q&A that Mozeliak did with fans below. But he didn't flat out shut down the notion either like he has done in the past, and some of his other comments this weekend seem to lend themselves to the notion that if things did go south, that's a least an option they could turn to if needed.
One of those indicators was regarding a potential extension with Paul Goldschmidt. When asked about the status of that, Mozeliak said "I think right now, I think everybody just wants to see how the season starts. You know, obviously, want to get off on the right track, and then we can address things like that".
There are multiple factors at play when it comes to those negotiations. The Cardinals want to see if Goldschmidt can rebound from a down 2023 season and Goldschmidt wants to see if the Cardinals can rebound as well.
There's also the third issue of CBA rules regarding contract extensions. Goldschmidt is set to make $22 million this year, and per CBA rules, the Cardinals cannot offer Goldschmidt a salary that is more than a 20% reduction from that number until he hits free agency. So that means the minimum that the Cardinals have to offer Goldschmidt in an extension now is at least $17.6 million.
Clearly, if Goldschmidt and the Cardinals both felt comfortable with that number, a deal would already be done. But it has not happened yet, even after reporting from someone like Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (subscription required) that the Cardinals would prefer to bring back Goldschmidt. Now, that report was before Winter Warm-Up, so maybe the Cardinals' stance has changed, but either way, it sounds like Goldy's future is up in the air at the moment.
Okay, so Mozeliak mostly shut down the notion that the Cardinals could rebuild after this season, and sure, Goldschmidt might now be signed to an extension, but how could any of that point to drastic changes coming if the Cardinals fail again in 2024? I believe that the Cardinals are confident that will be a winning team again this season. I believe they have every intention of trying to make the playoffs and feel good about the team they've constructed. But if 2023 taught Mozeliak anything, it's that he can be wrong, and this club could fall apart if things don't break right for them.
I'm also of the belief that this team is going to be a lot better than many fans give them credit for. The pitching additions and steps forward from the offense, mixed with a pretty weak division, give me confidence that they can get into the playoffs, but I have my doubts about where they can go from there. But I felt that way last year too, and things fell apart. So if a repeat of that happens in 2024, what could that lead the Cardinals to do?
While the Cardinals did become sellers at the 2023 Trade Deadline, something they really hadn't done in the John Mozeliak era leading up to that, they mostly refrained from any major changes outside of trading away rental players. No one really got fired, they added to their coaching staff instead of subtracting, and none of their cornerstone players had any doubt about being a Cardinal for the 2024 season. If the worst-case scenario happens for a second straight year though, I think we'll see major shakeups to an organization that values consistency and continuity.
Let me repeat, one more time, that I do not see this scenario playing itself out in 2024, but, I wanted to take some time to explore what could happen if the Cardinals fail again this coming season, so I identified six drastic changes we could see in St. Louis if the wheels fall off once again.