John Mozeliak’s most recent contract extension with the Cardinals covered the 2021-23 seasons, yet the president of baseball operations doesn’t seem too concerned about his status as he enters the final year of that contract. Speaking with reporters (including The Athletic’s Katie Woo and Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat) today at the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up fan event, Mozeliak said that he’d spoken to ownership about a possible new deal, but “I’m not overly focused on my contract or what 2024 looks like yet.”
Since Mozeliak also noted that “I don’t want to be a distraction first and foremost,” it seems possible that we might not hear any details about future negotiations until (or if) a new deal is officially announced. Mozeliak has been in charge of the Cardinals’ front office since October 2007, and looking over that long history, two of his past extensions (in 2010 and 2013) weren’t signed until Mozeliak was in the final year of his deal. However, the Cardinals were a little more proactive in locking up Mozeliak in his two most recent extensions — his current pact was signed in November 2019, when Mozeliak still had a year to do on his previous deal.
This all being said, there isn’t much to indicate that the Cardinals are actually thinking of moving on from Mozeliak, who has been with the organization in various roles since 1995. Since Mozeliak took over from Walt Jocketty following the 2007 campaign, St. Louis has enjoyed 15 consecutive winning seasons, 10 postseason appearances, and a World Series championship in 2011. Last October, the Cards signed two of Mozeliak’s top lieutenants (GM Michael Girsch and assistant GM/scouting director Randy Flores) to multi-year extensions, hinting that upper management had an interest in keeping the front office mix in place.
It doesn’t mean that Mozeliak isn’t facing some pressure heading into 2023, given the Cardinals’ relative lack of postseason success. Over the last eight seasons, St. Louis has only a 1-5 record in playoff series, with the 2019 NLDS triumph over the Braves representing the only October trip that didn’t result in a one-and-done.
In terms of bolstering the 2023 roster for a deeper playoff run, the Cardinals had two major roster questions answered early, as the team re-signed Adam Wainwright, and Nolan Arenado chose not to opt out of the five years (and $144MM) remaining on his contract. Furthermore, the Cards also made a splashy free agent signing, inking Willson Contreras to a five-year pact that installed the catcher as Yadier Molina’s successor behind the plate.
Besides the Contreras deal, however, it has been a relatively quiet winter to date, and Mozeliak noted that some of the front office’s plans fell through. “When we reflect back on the offseason, there were certainly some things we were hoping to do that we weren’t able to accomplish…A lot of things sort of unfolded or transpired that necessarily didn’t break the way we had hoped.”
For instance, a left-handed bat was on the Cardinals’ wish list, though the team isn’t necessarily short on such hitters — Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, and Brendan Donovan are left-handed batters, while Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson are switch-hitters. It doesn’t make for a clear path to playing time for a veteran hitter, which Mozeliak suggested was a stumbling block in the Cards’ talks. “I don’t think we were a very compelling team to come to because when you look at our roster, there is competition…and I think some people just did not find that interesting,” Mozeliak said. “Typically in negotiations, it really comes down to money and years, but there’s also that factor of fitting in as that player. We were having a hard time convincing [them] this was an impactful-type role given the competition we have.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of time left before Opening Day or even the start of Spring Training, so the Cardinals will continue to look. Whether a true big-ticket addition (via a trade or from what remains of the free agent market) is possible perhaps seems doubtful, as Mozeliak noted that improvements from such players as Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, and Jack Flaherty might be the key factors in whatever success the 2023 squad enjoys. The internal depth on the roster is one reason that Mozeliak said the Cards didn’t do much exploration into adding a high-end starting pitcher or shortstop during the winter.
With Contreras as the only major new face on the roster, the St. Louis payroll is slated to be only marginally higher than its 2022 figure, which somewhat runs counter to Mozeliak’s assertion last fall that the Cards were ready to do some spending. The rise in free agent spending throughout baseball left the Cardinals hesitant about making any big splurges beyond Contreras, but Mozeliak did hint that the Cards (traditionally an active team at the trade deadline) would be prepared to expand payroll during the season.
“Do we have the bandwidth to still add to this club throughout the year? Yes, we do. Is the market something that had an adverse effect [on] us spending? The answer is of course,” Mozeliak said. “The way we operate is that we’re going to invest in what we think are smart investments, prudent, but also investments that we understand could have a backside of negativity or loss. Having said that, you’re still not going to do something just to do something, and you’re not going to spend just to spend. We like our team. If we didn’t like our team we’d be making adjustments to our team.”