At an invitation-only event recognizing St. Louis Cardinals bloggers at Busch Stadium on Sunday, general manager John Mozeliak spoke candidly about the team's present and future.
He quickly acknowledged that 2012 has been more of a struggle than the front office hoped when they arrived at spring training.
“It’s been a frustrating year from a baseball standpoint, in that you think you’ve pushed the right buttons in the offseason leading up to spring training,” he said. “I think the one risk going into it might have been the age factor—the health factor. As we sit here in early September, it’s definitely been the Achilles for this club.”
Mozeliak was quick to point out that there is a silver lining to the struggles of some players.
“I always look at it as one man’s loss is another man’s gain, though,” he said. “You always hope that someone else can step up and make an impact performance. We know we can try to groom down in the minor leagues, but I think this year has been one of those years where we start to tease ourselves with it, but we just haven’t been able to put it in that bottle and sell it in a successful way yet.”
Several examples would include Lance Lynn filling in for Chris Carpenter, Joe Kelly filling in for Lance Lynn and Jon Jay after the Colby Rasmus trade. Mozeliak said sometimes it takes that type of adversity in order to give players the opportunity to “show their stuff.”
“For example, losing [Jake] Westbrook [Saturday night] will now create an opportunity for some young guy to step up and get those starts,” he said, without commenting on whether that “young guy” could be recently promoted RHP Shelby Miller. “When you look at the year Berkman had, last year we rolled the dice with him and won the lottery. This year we rolled the dice and we lost all of our money. That’s the cost of this game.”
While he acknowledged that age and health were major issues, Mozeliak said he believes there is more to the 2012 team than what is seen on the surface.
“I think it’s sort of ironic that it’s how we will be defined,” he said. “If we end up playing deep into October, it will look like a very successful play. If we don’t, I think it will come back to that sort of risk profile that we took on about a year ago and it didn’t pay off.”
Regardless of how the Cardinals finish the season in 2012, both Mozeliak and team president Bill Dewitt III believe the future is bright for the organization.
“I think long-term the Cardinals have a great future coming,” he said. “We have a lot of depth [in the minor leagues]. That’s definitely the strength of this organization."
“What I look at as sort of a successful model at the major league level, you can’t sustain it without what we have in the minor leagues. I couldn’t be more optimistic or more thrilled about what we have coming,” Mozeliak said as he addressed the United Cardinal Bloggers organization. “I think it’s going to put this organization in a very strong position for years to come.”
While Mozeliak did tout the organization’s farm-system depth, he also acknowledged that it takes more than just player development to make a successful franchise.
“Clearly, when you have the expectations of winning like we do here in St. Louis, you can’t rely only on one source of talent,” he said. “Just a strong minor league system isn’t the measure for success. We’ve got to make sure that the decisions we make on the free agent market complement what we have coming up."
“In terms of talent retention, if we’re going to do it, we need to try to make sure we’re investing in the right players that we believe in long-term,” Mozeliak said.
That mode of thinking, in regard to the organization’s pieces coming together over the next several years, has had a major impact on his philosophy regarding how to view the minor league system’s impact players—such as Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong and even Shelby Miller.
Simply put, the Cardinals' general manager doesn’t view prospects as trade chips.
“I look at those ‘chips’ as assets that I want to see playing here and not something I want to go out and trade for short-term success,” Mozeliak said.
All in all, he sees the state of the organization as both solid and exciting.
“St. Louis is in a great spot,” he said. “We’re going to have good baseball for many years to come, and certainly, we have to make sure we make the right decisions moving forward and invest in those right players, but I do think our future is bright.”