ST. LOUIS -- The problem with being one of the smartest organizations in baseball that rarely makes personnel mistakes is you have to add logic – good, sound logic that is – to all of your moves. Thus, trying to find out what a John Mozeliak type move is has become a little bit easier to determine as the seasons have gone along.
Exhibit A: The Cardinals don’t surrender draft picks to acquire players. They just don’t. They surrender players to free agency to acquire draft picks, but they don’t do the opposite. Draft picks are gold to the Cardinals. That’s how they’re built. That means you can pretty much forget about Nelson Cruz or any other hitter tied to a qualifying offer.
Exhibit B: The Cardinals don’t trade away high end prospects for short term help. That’s not Mozeliak’s style. A common argument against this is his 2009 megadeal with Oakland for Matt Holliday. The difference there is he had a player in Brett Wallace who everyone thought (incorrectly, it turns out) that he’d hit but his value to St. Louis was playing 3rd base. Once it became clear in the minors that Wallace had to play 1st, he was significantly less valuable to the Cards because they had Albert Pujols. Thus, Wallace became trade bait. There is no such player now who has value to other teams but doesn’t fit this one. Trading Rob Kaminsky, Alex Reyes or even Marco Gonzales doesn’t sound like something Mozeliak will do.
There’s only one other guy in free agency – Cuban Yosmany Tomas – who has star potential yet doesn’t require surrendering a draft pick or being traded for. Historically, the Cardinals don’t get involved with those bidding wars because the money becomes pretty crazy for a guy who hasn’t proven a thing at the Major League level.
That leaves the Cardinals with few options to remain logical and not assume a boat load of risk. They could go small and sign someone like Alex Rios (coming off a season where he hit just four home runs for the Rangers in 492 at-bats) or Ryan Ludwick (had a .683 OPS at age 36 for the Reds). But those guys won’t cost a lot for a reason. They’re past their prime and could easily bomb by hitting .240 with five homers.
If that happens, that’s almost as bad as giving up too much money. If someone’s going to hit .240 and struggle, shouldn’t it be Stephen Piscotty and/or Randal Grichuk? At least they’d be getting valuable at-bats which would further their development at the big league level.
That leads us to the possibility of standing pat. Is it the worst thing in the world if the Cardinals give their highly thought of (granted, not as highly thought of as Oscar Taveras, but highly thought of nonetheless) prospects significant at-bats for the first three months of the season?
Moves – or non-moves – made in the offseason are typically misinterpreted. If the Cardinals go into 2015 with the outfield mix they have now that wouldn’t mean they’re committing to Piscotty and Grichuk for the whole year. It just means they’re committing to them for April, May and June.
If Mozeliak gets lucky and one or a combination of both of those guys give enough production in right field then he wins big because he didn’t allocate any wasted resources to blocking his players. If he doesn’t and they have a giant hole again in right field, the GM could simply make a move at the trade deadline in July to fix things for the stretch run.
Doing nothing is not without risk. Sure, they could pass up on someone who may be ready for a bounce back year (like Rios). They may not be able to find anything in July that adequately solves their problem. No one knows what will happen.
But when evaluating all of John Mozeliak’s options and assessing the risk associated with each of them, don’t leave out the option of standing pat. The Cardinals like to build from within and go with their own players. Stephen Piscotty and/or Randal Grichuk could surprise you in 2015 and take control of right field.