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Cardinals Baseball Prez John Mozeliak Is in a Bind. Can He Find a Way Out?

John Mozeliak appears to be in a bind.

I’m not saying he can’t work his way through this and find a deal to secure the impact bat he’s been searching for. The Cardinals’ president of baseball operations went to MLB’s annual winter meetings with an aggressive attitude. He was ready to get down to business. And to use his word, the Cardinals still hope to come up with that “elite” bat.

But when chatting with the media Monday, Mozeliak began to alter the message.

New terminology was mixed in.

“Incremental” … as in making incremental roster improvements.

“Upgrades” … which likely would make the team better for 2018 … but an upgrade or two won’t redefine or recast the the Cardinals’ brand. An incremental upgrade or two won’t transform the Cardinals from an 83-win team, to a hellbent World Series contender.

Is Mozeliak doing some advance spin?

Is he speaking in easy-to-decipher code, to warn the townsfolk that the Cards may have to settle for upgrades  instead of aiming much higher for the  upscale   talent?

Well, I dunno.  Moz isn’t out of time. He can still make that crackerjack move for a BIG BAT instead of reaching for the Crackerjack box to see if he can find an “incremental”  roster piece at the bottom.

No one would be surprised if the Cardinals make a deal for Marlins left fielder Marcell Ozuna.

Based on the latest media reports, I would be surprised if the Cardinals don’t come away with Ozuna.

But if the trade talks break down, and Ozuna is dealt elsewhere … then what?

The Cardinals are in a bind.

1. At least to this point, the Cardinals have made it very clear that they prefer to add impact talent through trades, rather than take a costly dive into the deep end of the free-agent pool. Of course, their philosophy could shift, based on, among other things, supply and demand and desperation. But if they plan to stay out of the expensive section of free agency, they’re eliminating a way to get better;  putting a limit on their options; and reducing the supply of talent that’s readily available to them. But if the Cardinals won’t make a large splash in free agency …. forget about J.D. Martinez, or Eric Hosmer.

2. As I warned in a piece written Sunday, when you enter a busy and crowded trade market, the competition is intense. There are multiple teams, and perhaps many teams, that have an interest in acquiring the same substantial hitter, the same arm for the starting rotation, or the same fastball-shooting cannon for the bullpen. When the supply is on the short side, the demand rises, and the price of making a trade goes up. And instead of making a relatively simple trade for Ozuna … the negotiations aren’t exclusive. The conversation isn’t between you and the Marlins. There are a bunch of teams angling for position, making better offers, making it more difficult for you to win the prize. If Ozuna is their choice, the Cardinals will have to zero in and close the deal.

Under the leadership of Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak, the Cardinals aren’t known for doing whatever it takes … they aren’t known for giving the other team anything it wants to close a deal. And while it may be true that Cards management is in a more aggressive state of mind these days, let’s not be stupid here. Even in the aggressive mode, the Cardinals are a helluva lot more disciplined and pragmatic than being wild, crazy, big-time gamblers that ignore risks. The Cardinals tend to lose out on deals to competitors who ARE wild, crazy and reckless.

3. The Cardinals have said, many times, that they have a surplus of outfielders… whether it be veteran outfielders, young major-league outfielders, or outfield prospects. But here’s the thing about this offseason trade market: it seems that a LOT of teams have more outfielders than they know what to do with.  This is a great time to be looking for an outfielder, because there are plenty to choose from among free agents and potential trading partners. And when the supply greatly exceeds the demand, it lessens the trade value of the Cards’ outfielders.

4. The Cardinals do have some promising outfield and infield prospects, are any considered  elite? If we go by the MLB Pipeline at MLB.com the answer is no … or at least “evidently not.”  Among the Top 100 Prospects, the Cardinals highest-rated position players are catcher Carson Kelly (No. 32), outfielder Tyler O’Neill (No. 87), and outfielder Harrison Bader (No. 90.) The Cardinals already have made Kelly their backup catcher to Yadier Molina and have shown no enthusiasm for making Kelly available via trade. My point is, if the Cards aren’t willing to trade Kelly — likely their most coveted position-player prospect — then that puts them at a disadvantage. Because other teams have superior outfield prospects to offer in a trade. And superior infield prospects as well. Again, the Cardinals certainly have outfield-infield prospects that other teams want  — but enough for those teams to part with an established BIG BAT in a trade?

5. The Cardinals are in good shape with young pitching, and that figures to be their best way to stimulate meaningful trade activity. The Top 100 prospects has two Cardinals, Alex Reyes (No. 15) and Jack Flaherty (No. 48.) But in compiling the list of STL’s top 30 prospects, MLB loaded it up with pitchers: Reyes, Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara, Dakota Hudson, Junior Fernandez, Zac Gallen, Jordan Hicks, Jake Woodford, Austin Gomber, Alvaro Seijas, Connor Jones, Johan Oviedo, Ryan Helsley, But with so many organizations having the fever over acquiring young power hitters, I’m not sure that young pitching has as much trade value as it used to … before baseball GMs shifted the focus to drafting and developing or trading for home-run hitters. There are more power-pitching prospects than power-hitting prospects. But yes, if a potential trade partner has enthusiasm for the young STL arms, a deal is much more likely. I said the Cardinals were in a bind. I didn’t say it was hopeless.

6. How many prospect gems are the Cardinals willing to give up? Mixed signals. I wouldn’t expect Mozeliak to come out and say that they’ll trade the best prospects to any team at any time in exchange for the BIG BAT … but again, the Cardinals aren’t naughty by nature. They are conservative by nature.  “Clearly we have a lot of young talent,” Mozeliak told reporters in Orlando.  “We’re just trying to navigate how to think of where do we want to give (it) up? What are we willing to trade? For us, some of this is, yes, we have some pieces. But we are also in this for the long haul.” Yep. Mixed signals. Just to use one power bat as an example: would Mozeliak agree to trade for Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu if it means agreeing to the Chicago’s reportedly excessive demands? Probably not. 

Now, let’s get onto the FUN stuff….

Let’s get silly…

WARNING: I am about to go into my smart-ass mode here:

7. Manny Machado!  GO GET HIM,  MO!  DO IT NOW…. RIGHT NOW, WE SAY!   Twitter was ablaze Tuesday afternoon, with multiple media entities reporting that the Baltimore Orioles are willing to trade their excellent third baseman, Machado, for the right deal. And to top it off,  Machado supposedly wants to play at his natural position, shortstop. This outbreak of Machado madness had Cardinals fans staggering toward the fainting couch; the excitement was overwhelming. One little issue: Machado can become a free agent after the 2018 season. He will command a record-setting contract — or close to it — on the open free-agent market. We are talking $400 million or higher. Do you really believe that Machado would give up free agency to sign ahead of time with the Cardinals? Really? Do you think Bill DeWitt is going to host the spirit of George Steinbrenner and give Machado a half-billion dollars or something?

8. In case you missed it … Giancarlo Stanton rejected the Cardinals because he wanted to play for a team that’s ready to win a damn World Series right now. The Cardinals are no longer a destination franchise. This isn’t 2002 and Scott Rolen. Do you really believe that DeWitt is going to outbid the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Red Sox any other big shooter to make an offer that Machado couldn’t turn down? Do you think that this Miami native is dreaming of the calm life in the Midwest? If your answer to these questions is YES … then please … for your own health … splash some cold water on your face, find a quiet place, and sit for a spell. Cool off. I say this because I care.

Oh, yeah … and it would be absolutely loony for the Cardinals to give up the farm for one season of Machado

9. Josh Donaldson! GO GET HIM,  MO!  DO IT NOW! It is also believed that the Toronto Blue Jays are reconsidering their plan to hold onto Donaldson, their third baseman. OK, maybe Donaldson would be a more likely and sensible target. This isn’t to say that he would be cheap to acquire, or cheap to sign. But as a free agent after the ’18 season, Donaldson won’t be be as expensive as Machado, or Bryce Harper. But he will still be expensive. The contract will be huge. Are the Cardinals willing to go all out to meet Donaldson’s contract demands? Does he have any interest whatsoever in signing early and relinquishing his first crack at free agency? Doubtful. We don’t know for sure … but doubtful.

10. So to review this situation if I may: the Cardinals do not want to shop in the most expensive departments of free agency … they would like to make a trade, but they have encountered busy competition from teams that want to acquire the same players … the Cardinals have a small nation of outfielders they are willing to trade — but many teams have plenty of outfielders to trade  … and the Cardinals’ top outfield prospects aren’t as elite as the outfield prospects that other teams can offer … the Cardinals have attractive pitching prospects, but are teams more interested in trading for young power bats instead of power arms? Not sure. But maybe … the Cardinals say they are in an ambitious mood to make deals, but Mozeliak also added that his team is “in this for the long haul” which implies they won’t go nuts and give up too many of their best and brightest prospects … there’s a chance of trading for a one-and-done star, like Machado or Donaldson. But what is the price for making such a trade, are Machado and Donaldson willing to sign here and stay here and forego free agency, and is Bill DeWitt going to outbid the the big-spending, large-market teams to keep a one-and-done player in St. Louis? DeWitt is going to take on the Dodgers’ hedge-fund billionaires to score major man-card points? Don’t think so.

The Cardinals are in a bind.

I am here to help.

Mozeliak could pull some razzle dazzle and trade for Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria. Never mind that he’s 32 … never mind that his performance declined in 2016 …. never mind that he’s a prime candidate to enter a steep decline phase … never mind that he is owed a guaranteed $86 million that takes him through his age 36 season (2022) with a team option of $13 million for 2023 … and never mind the side-by-side comparison of Longoria and Jedd Gyorko over the last two seasons.

If Mozeliak can get the Tampa Bay closer Alex Colome — and it’s fantasy-baseball time! — starting pitcher Chris Archer in a monster deal that would only be made if the Cardinals are also willing to take Longoria’s contract off the Rays’ payroll … well, what the hell.

My friends at Team Post-Dispatch already are purchasing the party hats and organizing the “Welcome  to St. Louis Mister Longoria Parade!” on Market Street.

Cardinals fans (and the medias) LOVE Longoria … they absolutely LUFF him …  Longoria could be 41 years old and slugging .297 and have less home-run power than Ray Oyler (Google him, kids) and the BFIB would be delirious with joy just to have Evan in a Cardinal uniform. Because they LUFFFFFF him. So moving Archer out of the equation … even if Mo takes on the Longoria contract as part of a deal for Colome, who is being sought be several other teams …  it doesn’t matter. Mozeliak will be a hero. If he acquires Longoria, Mozeliak’s popularity will soar to unprecedented levels. We LUFFFFFFFFFF  Longoria. Best Christmas present ever!

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie