Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak spoke with members of the media (including John Denton of MLB.com) on Monday at the GM meetings to discuss the offseason ahead. He addressed the team’s budget for 2024 and touched on how he plans to revamp the starting rotation. The executive also fielded questions about a coaching role for Yadier Molina, as well as rumors concerning a potential front office job for former Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom.
After finishing the 2023 season with a 71-91 record, good for last place in the NL Central, there is no denying that the Cardinals need to spend in free agency if they hope to contend in 2024. That doesn’t mean the team is going to spend recklessly, however, as Mozeliak said they plan to be “prudent” with their expenditures. More specifically, he explained that the Cardinals will likely operate with a similar payroll next season as they planned to run this past year before selling off several veterans at the trade deadline. That means they have about $44MM to work with this winter (per Denton), although one would think they’d be willing to go slightly above that number for the right player. After all, sometimes the prudent move is to spend a little bit extra to land the best free agent targets.
The Cardinals have made it clear that starting pitching is their top priority, and for good reason. Their starters finished with the third-worst ERA and the second-lowest strikeout rate in the National League last season, and their numbers only got worse after the rotation lost Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery at the trade deadline.
In August, Mozeliak said he planned to bring in three new starters this offseason. He essentially repeated that sentiment on Monday, although he specified that he’s looking for two full-time starters, plus “someone that can maybe split roles.” The Cardinals already have veterans Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz penciled into the rotation for 2024. They also have several talented young arms waiting in the wings, including former first-round picks Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore, trade deadline acquisition Drew Rom, and top prospects Gordon Graceffo and Michael McGreevy. None of those pitchers is quite ready to be trusted with an Opening Day job on the starting staff, but Mozeliak is hoping that at least a few of them will pitch “meaningful” big league innings in 2024.
There is rarely such thing as too much pitching depth, but still, if the Cardinals were to add three bona fide starters this winter, they could end up with a logjam in the rotation. That would mean limited opportunities for their young arms, and the Cardinals aren’t going to mortgage the future of the rotation for short-term gains in 2024.
With that in mind, it’s understandable why Mozeliak is interested in adding a hybrid starter/reliever who could pitch in the rotation if need be but could easily step aside if a more promising pitcher forces the issue. Nick Martinez is the most intriguing arm who fits that description, while other options on the open market include Michael Lorenzen, Sean Manaea, Jakob Junis, and Alex Wood.
In terms of additions beyond the roster, Mozeliak also answered questions regarding Yadier Molina, the beloved former Cardinal who is expected to join the coaching staff in 2024, and Chaim Bloom, the former Red Sox executive who has been connected to the Cardinals in recent days. Mozeliak could not offer much of an update on Molina, although he confirmed that the two sides remain engaged in conversations about the nine-time Gold Glove winner’s role next season. He is “hopeful” Molina will join the organization in some capacity.
As for Bloom, Mozeliak mostly avoided the question, although he did reveal that he has had “some discussions” with individuals from “outside the organization” about potentially coming on as an advisor to the front office. The long-time Cardinals executive explained that he wants to have “someone from the outside look at the inside.” Mozeliak has been the team’s chief baseball decision-maker since 2007, so it certainly makes sense that he’s seeking a fresh perspective from someone new to the organization.