Walking up to the podium, boos came from every corner of Busch Stadium. John Mozeliak stepped up to the microphone and delivered the perfect punchline, "I thought you were saying Nootbaar". The crowd quickly erupted with applause and laughter, a nice gesture in the midst of what had been a disastrous season.
Mozeliak knew why the boos were coming from Cardinals fans. Frankly, he's owned a lot of the criticism he has received over the last few months. He came into the offseason eerily confident in the flawed pitching staff they had constructed, and he's taken many of his statements from this past offseason on the chin because of it. No, Mozeliak did not lose his job after one of the worst seasons in Cardinals history, but I think he's very aware of the situation he finds himself in.
This is an era-defining offseason for John Mozeliak.
I don't use any of those words lightly when it comes to how people will remember John Mozeliak in light of what will happen between November 2nd and the start of Spring Training. Not many baseball executives get to even have an "era". Mozeliak has been at the helm of the Cardinals organization since October 2007. He's had 16 years as the leader of one of the most iconic franchises, not just in baseball, but in all of professional sports. Mozeliak has already signaled that the extension he signed this spring will be the final stretch of his role as President of Baseball Operations, meaning he's got two seasons left in his current capacity.
15 consecutive winning seasons from 2008-2022, six National League Central titles, 10 Postseason appearances, two National League pennants, and one World Series title during his tenure with the Cardinals. He kept franchise icons like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright around while acquiring future Hall of Famers Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado via trade. He has accomplished a lot during his tenure with the Cardinals, but the accolades are quickly losing their luster in light of recent failures.
I think John Mozeliak recognizes that. And I believe he cares about his legacy.
Part of what makes this organization great has been its ability to be a winning organization over many decades. Part of the responsibility of leading the Cardinals is stewarding the organization well, and setting up future generations of Cardinals fans to continue to experience winning baseball in St. Louis. Much of Mozeliak's tenure has been defined by sustained success, but it will lose its luster if he does not finish well.
He's got the stars in Arenado, Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras. He has budding young talent in Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Masyn Winn. He's hired and helped develop an incredible scouting department headed by Randy Flores. The pieces are there for a true National League powerhouse...until you take a look at the pitching staff.
Mozeliak has control of his destiny this offseason. Balking at the free agent and trade market in the name of caution will not fly this offseason. Yes, he's made mistakes in the past (ala Sandy Alcantara/Zac Gallen and Randy Arozarena), but he cannot let those ghosts haunt him to the point that he does not make a big splash again. Risks must be taken, as the fate of the Cardinals' short-term and long-term success depends on it.
If Mozeliak does not deliver this offseason, that is going to be the lasting impression fans have of him. Baseball is a business of "What have you done for me lately?", and legacy can only take you so far. Mozeliak needs to prove why he's the right man for the job this offseason, and his actions will be the telltale sign of how he did.
Mozeliak is a future Cardinal Hall of Famer. He will receive his red jacket one day, whether fans think he deserves it or not. Nailing this offseason won't necessarily change people's opinions of him, but it can save him from losing any goodwill he's had with fans. And honestly, if he does come up big and get the Cardinals back into World Series contention, he'll prove a lot of doubters wrong.
We are entering a pivotal stretch within the history of the St. Louis Cardinals. Here's to hoping John Mozeliak is able to seize the moment and get the Cardinals back on track, for the fans' sake, and his own.