A Roki Sasaki signing by the Cardinals could signify Mozeliak's ingenious endgame

John Mozeliak's tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals is wrapping up, and signing Roki Sasaki could be his master plan before he departs.
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan
World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan / Eric Espada/GettyImages

John Mozeliak is about to enter his final stage in his reign as President of Baseball Operations of the St. Louis Cardinals, and while the Cardinals haven't shown the type of success that they did earlier in his time overseeing the team, the potential acquisition of Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki could be the result of his sacrificial gambit that will trap the rest of the division in checkmate.

Sasaki, 22, has dominated Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league and has said that he would like to play overseas in the major leagues. A report recently surfaced that the Cardinals were one of eight teams that scouted Sasaki. and a serious pursuit of Sasaki could explain the front office's hesitance to snag upper-echelon arms via trades or free agency.

Mozeliak's last few years haven't gone to plan, as several former Cardinals found success elsewhere while the 2023 team floundered. To rectify the issues from last season, the Cardinals attacked early in free agency, signing Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to stabilize the rotation. These pitchers are short-term solutions, and all five of the team's starters are in their 30s. The staff was derided among fans, many of whom expect little from the Cardinals in 2024. A staff headed by Sasaki and a young positional core could change all of that in 2025.

Sasaki's major league contract would not break the bank: As he is under 25, Sasaki will be treated the same as an international free agent and be subjected to a currently unspecified maximum salary. The highest salary allotment a team received for international free agents in 2024 was $7,114,800. The Cardinals, therefore, have no excuse to cry poor and blame budgetary constraints to avoid signing Sasaki.

The Cardinals are in a period of transition, and 2024 could be another lean year for the team. But the Cardinals' decision not to go after young arms via trade, while unpopular, could ultimately be to their benefit, as they won't have to subtract from their strong offense to find a top-tier starter. Sasaki should be the Cardinals' platform upon which they build a strong young rotation focused on striking batters out instead of pitching to contact.

Mozeliak's approval rating appears to be dropping by the day among Cardinals fans, but riding out a few tough years in exchange for a future of further National League dominance is a trade any fan should be willing to make. It's easy to look at the immediate future instead of seeing the big picture several moves ahead, but a shrewd signing of Sasaki would be a brilliant way for Mozeliak to return to fans' good graces as the sun sets on his tenure.