With Walt Jocketty coming to town for the Tony La Russa number retirement ceremony on Friday, Cardinals fans are reminded of a time when Jocko’s Jocks dominated the NL Central. Walt’s Whackers slammed their way to two World Series appearances and one championship during his tenure in St. Louis, but the ever-popular GM was abruptly released soon after that wild 2006 season for…uh…personality differences?
But never fear, for that wily and wise Bill DeWitt, Jr. rallied the club behind John Mozeliak, first time GM in a city well-known for its love affair with Major League Baseball…and without really knowing it, Redbird fans were witness to the birth of a new era in Cardinals baseball.
Of course, Mozeliak’s claim to fame is the wacky 2011 Championship with those Comeback Cardinals…but it would be 2012 that would offer him the opportunity to remake this team in his image. With the retirement of Tony La Russa, the departure of Albert Pujols, and the unexpected absence of Pitching Coach Dave Duncan, Mo had his work cut out for him…but he also had the closest thing to a blank canvass this town has known since Whitey-ball.
And so with that, we give you “Mo’s Minions”…four players making an impact for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals that, in one way or another, have John Mozeliak to thank for their success in St. Louis.
1. David Freese. When Jim Edmonds’ time as the everyday center fielder for the Cardinals was nearing the end, Mozeliak pulled off a somewhat disappointing trade with the San Diego Padres. The Padres got Jimmy Baseball, and the Cardinals got an unknown local kid by the name of David Freese. Reports suggest Mo actually paid an extra $1 million of Edmonds’ salary in order to get Freese instead of the other prospect offered by the San Diego club. John was clearly impressed by the young’ish third sacker. Cardinals fans said…”Who?” Years later, Freese’s fame in St. Louis is reaching legendary status. His historic performance in the 2011 postseason – specifically Game 6 of the World Series – has made him a mythic figure in the Gateway City. And it looks like he’s not slowing down in 2012. With a .312 average (as of May 9th’s game), 7 home runs, and 26 RBIs, he’s been one of the most consistent and productive hitters in the Redbirds’ lineup…and he’s playin’ a mean third base, too.
2. Rafael Furcal. Rafi’s injury history made him somewhat of a gamble last season, but with the inconsistent play – alright, downright horrible – of Ryan Theriot, the Cardinals were left with no choice but to seek an upgrade. Mo pulled off a mid-season trade for the veteran shortstop…and before you know it, Happy Flight was off and running for St. Louis. Not only did Furcal provide everyday stability at a middle infield position, but he also fortified the lead off position in the order. His speed and switch-hitting ability made for a nice fire-starter for an already potent offense. And the rest, as they say, is history. The trade Mozeliak made would prove to be a key piece in the Cardinals’ bid for an 11th championship…but he wanted more out of the gimpy infielder. With concern swirling around Furcal’s health and remaining ability, Mo swiftly (after Pujols bolted for the Angels) signed Rafi to a 2-year deal. Ridiculed by many at the time, that deal is lookin’ pretty sweet so far. Furcal’s eye-popping .361 average with 2 homers, 15 RBIs, and 13 walks is easily setting the pace for this NL-leading offense.
3. Carlos Beltran. This one is kind of a no-brainer, considering Beltran’s reported preference for St. Louis, but Mo still had to pull the trigger. Perhaps the most impressive piece of this deal is the terms. Yes, Mo gave Carlos more than $20 million over two years, but the outstanding detail in that sentence is the phrase “2 years.” Sporting an improved farm system and a bevy of young outfielders, the Cardinals knew a 2 year agreement with a premiere player was the perfect bridge to names like Allen Craig and Matt Adams. Their time in St. Louis as everyday players may be close – and in Craig’s case, possibly now – but Mo was not about to sit on his hands and watch the Redbirds wallow in mediocrity. In St. Louis, the term “rebuilding” refers to the construction that takes place in Busch Stadium to make room for yet another championship banner. In a way, Beltran is living proof of Mo’s promise of continued contention in the National League. And with a .284 average, an OBP around .400, 10 homers, 27 RBIs, and 17 walks…Carlos is makin’ Mo look good.
4. Jon Jay. Okay, okay…so Mo isn’t COMPLETELY responsible for Jon Jay. But one could say he’s 95% responsible for Jay as the Cardinals’ stellar, starting center fielder. With the great Rasmus patrolling center in Busch, fans were left cringing each time a swiftly dropping liner was driven over second base. Would he catch it? Would he even stop it? Or would it go bouncing to the wall as Colby went floundering past it? In a word, his defense was “erratic”…at best. But it wasn’t just his inconsistent play in the outfield that got him in trouble. His bat wasn’t so hot either. Flashing signs of brilliance and overflowing talent, the enigmatic “Raz'” could never quite get things going with the Birds on the Bat. And then came Mo’. With a fan base and a gaggle of national media types ready to rip his proverbial throat out, Mo’ stepped up and swung for the fences. He traded Colby Rasmus. And as a result, he made Jon Jay the starting center fielder…of the World Champions. Since then, Jay has only improved. His outstanding play in center field has not only been impressive…it’s been inspiring. And he’s not too shabby at the plate, either. His team-leading .379 average complements a .432 on-base percentage and proves him worthy of a top of the order spot in the everyday lineup.
So there you have it…Mo’s Minions. Sure, there are many unmentioned players and coaches out there that owe their time in St. Louis to the Great and Powerful Mo – Matt Holliday, “Scrabble,” and even the Cardinals’ new manager, Mike Matheny – but these four stand head and shoulders above the rest in 2012.