With a World Series champion yet to be crowned and the opening of free agency and the trade market still a couple weeks into the future, as St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak sat down this morning for an extended media session, he wasn’t ready to outline the full approach the team will deploy this off-season. That said, he also was not shy about the need for improvement.
“The one takeaway is 88 wins was not good enough,” Mozeliak acknowledged. “We sort of all understand that this past season we saw some monumental change. We had to make an in-season managerial change, obviously that had an effect on the coaching staff and we let two of our hitting coaches go, so there was a lot of fluidity during the season to sort of adjust, but I do feel like Mike Shildt did a tremendous job getting our club back on the right direction. I also feel like over the past few weeks we’ve had some time to really look at our staff. We’re very excited about directionally where this club is going from the youth movement, but certainly understand we need to augment that in some way because even when you look at the success we had in August, we weren’t able to sustain that in September.”
A middle of the order bat and left-handed relief were two particular needs that came up.
“Overall, as we look to this off-season, we know that we have to be engaged,” continued Mozeliak, who in customary fashion declined to speak about specific free agents. “We know we have to focus on ways to truly improve this club where when you look at some of the past off-seasons, we’ve definitely had some swings and misses. We’ve definitely had some successes, but we’ve got to find a way to get over that hump because as I stated to open this, we now know 88 was not good enough. And our division doesn’t look like it’s getting any weaker. So it’s going to require both investment and intelligence to get us over that hump.”
Last off-season, Marcell Ozuna was acquired to be that big bat in the middle of the lineup. He lead the team with 88 RBIs, but that was significantly fewer than the 124 runs he drove in during 2017. And his home runs dropped from 37 to 23. How much of that was due to the balky shoulder Ozuna dealt with all season?
“I still don’t know the answer of how much it truly affected him because when you ask him, he says ‘not really’,” Mozeliak answered. “But I do think when we acquired Ozuna, we knew we were getting him off a career year, right. So was there going to be some level of regression to the mean? I think the answer was probably. Now when you look at him entering this next year, you’re hoping you might see a bounce towards the other way. But I think he’s an effective player. He’s a very, very good hitter. Defensively, he did create a level of a liability for us because of his inability to throw and I think it’s really incumbent upon him to spend this off-season being diligent about putting his shoulder in a position where it can be strengthened.
“We can show you where the water is, but we can’t make you drink. I think in his case, he’s going to have to take that very seriously and we will set him up with places to do that, whether it’s in the DR, Miami, Jupiter, wherever he’d like to do it. But eventually, he has to show up.”
The situation is much the same for Carlos Martinez, who had multiple stints on the disabled list and finished the season closing games out from the bullpen.
“If we expect Carlos, and our expectations are for him to show up to camp to be stretched out to be a starter, then he definitely has to be diligent this off-season,” Mozeliak said. “The good news with Carlos is he is planning on staying in St. Louis for the majority of the off-season so it’s a lot easier to either get someone down to the ballpark or to a PT center that we can keep track of.”
MORE PLAYER ACCOUNTABILITY
The approach with Martinez and Ozuna is part of a new overall approach the Cardinals are rolling out for all of their roster.
“We sort of understand all these little things each individual may need to address,” Mozeliak explained. “Whether it’s from the baseball side, whether it’s from the medical side, whether it’s from the mental side–whatever those are, our goal is by November 1st to present to every player a list of areas that they need to focus on so come middle of February, it’s not like ‘hey did you do that?’
“So the accountability of this off-season is going to be very real. Our expectations are going to be very clear.”
The knee issues which bothered Kolten Wong and then lead to hamstring issues for the second baseman are another example of something that will be accounted for in this new approach.
“Again, we can suggest or tell you to do whatever we think you need to do, but you have to have buy-in,” Mozeliak continued. “You have to feel it’s going to help you, but when we present and position this, our hope for the end game is that for the middle of February we can hit the ground running and not feel like we have to catch up.
“An example of that in a lot of ways is like an Ozuna. When you think about last year, we had to limit throws in Spring Training. We had to really sort of limit outfield drills because we didn’t want to A) put him in a worse spot and B) just overexpose him to somewhere where he was going to take a major step backward. So if we can handle that between now and February, then I think our level of success will be higher.”
This new approach will be more specific to each player than in the past and Mozeliak described the overall approach as “very engaged” and when asked again about Ozuna, he reiterated “the next four months matter for him.”
Currently, there are no medical procedures on the docket for any Cardinals player. That could change.
Marcell Ozuna is scheduled to meet with Dr. Neal ElAttrache the end of this month.
“Pending on how that appointment goes, may dictate something else. I don’t want to speculate on what that something else might be,” Mozeliak said. “Most people feel this is more of a physical therapy off-season for him.”
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