JUPITER, Fla. • When he was hired as general manager, John Mozeliak had fissures to mend.
When his contract was last extended, he had an icon to re-sign.
With a new three-year deal announced Thursday that could make him one of the longest-serving general managers in club history, Mozeliak now has what chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. called a “vision” in place and it’s his to maintain.
“We have total alignment on our vision with this organization and that is to compete year-in, year-out at the major-league level and we know the only way to do that consistently is to have a strong player procurement and development program,” DeWitt said during a news conference Thursday at the team’s spring training. “Over the past six or seven years (under Mozeliak’s guidance) I think we’ve done an excellent job of living up to that vision.”
The Cardinals announced Thursday that DeWitt and the ownership group had added three years onto Mozeliak’s current contract, signing the team’s senior vice president and general manager through the 2016 season. His previous contract was set to expire at the end of this year. The club also announced that it had exercised the option on manager Mike Matheny’s contract for 2014. The latter was believed to be a formality entering this offseason; the only question was timing.
DeWitt said the moves assured “that we will have continuity of our baseball operations both in the front office and on the field for at least the next two years and I’m sure beyond.”
Mozeliak, 44, became general manager on Halloween 2007, ending the search to replace the fired Walt Jocketty, with whom Mozeliak had served as his assistant general manager. In Mozeliak’s five years at the helm, the Cardinals have averaged 88 wins a season, played in the postseason three times, won the 2011 World Series, and finished a victory shy in 2012 of a second consecutive NL pennant. Mozeliak has been recognized by MLB.com and the Negro League Baseball Museum as the executive of the year, and in 2011 Baseball America named the Cardinals the organization of the year.
In 2013, the same magazine is set to rank the Cardinals’ farm system No. 1 overall in talent, a first for the Cardinals since Baseball America started its rankings in the 1980s.
If he remains in the position through 2016, Mozeliak will have spent nine seasons as general manager. The Cardinals will have had three of its longest-serving general managers hold the role for 32 consecutive seasons – Dal Maxvill from 1985 to ’94, Jocketty from 1994 to 2007, and Mozeliak from 2007 through ’16. Mozeliak has seen his presence and influence expand while being general manager.
“When you think about my evolution on the job I do think when you start looking at it as just baseball, you sort of lose focus on the big picture,” Mozeliak said. “Working closely with our president (Bill DeWitt III) it’s been key from a strategic standpoint that we understand what the company needs to do move forward. That relationship has gotten stronger since Day 1.”
Mozeliak became general manager during what DeWitt described Thursday as a “stressful” time. He acknowledged that departments within baseball operations “did not see eye to eye.” There was a chill between the major-league front office and minor-league executives. The club’s growing analytics department, an influential part of amateur scouting, felt at times quarantined. Mozeliak began to heal the splits, sew the departments back together.
With Jeff Luhnow, who is now Houston’s general manager, Mozeliak oversaw the expanded presence of the Cardinals in Latin America. He managed increased resources — financial, analytical and scouting — spent on acquiring amateur talent. The Cardinals have now grafted elements of their domestic scouting approach into the international markets. Mozeliak’s first trade was moving established star Jim Edmonds for a minor-league third baseman named David Freese, who was the 2011 World Series MVP. In the past two seasons, Mozeliak has orchestrated deals to retool a flagging bullpen.
One official recently said that Mozeliak’s vertical integration approach, from majors to minors, “assures we’re all thinking the same, not pulling in different directions or on our own.”
Mozeliak’s previous extension was signed in July 2010 and put him in place to negotiate a defining contract with three-time MVP Albert Pujols. Mozeliak already had signed Matt Holliday to the largest contract in club history, but any Pujols deal would put the Cardinals in the realm of baseball history. Ultimately, Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
Mozeliak pivoted to his alternate plan, which included signing All-Star Carlos Beltran. DeWitt, an active part of the Pujols’ negotiations, saw the process if not the result as reinforcement of Mozeliak’s approach.
“I think he’s got a real sense of how to make a decision and a recommendation and not panicking into doing something that is good for the moment,” DeWitt said. “He’s a stabilizing force for the organization because he’s not going to jump into things that long-term don’t make sense even though you might get a short-term kick out of it.”
Said Mozeliak: “I always talk about Plan B and get made fun of. It’s important.”
Mozeliak joined the Cardinals after the 1995 season as an assistant in scouting operations. His career in major-league baseball began with the Colorado Rockies when Mozeliak, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., worked at a variety of positions in the Rockies’ first baseball operations staff. A lefty, one of his roles was throwing batting practice.
At the end of his new contract, Mozeliak will have spent 21 years with the Cardinals, a little less than half of his life. He was asked Thursday if he could see a time when he’d move on from the general manager position.
“Naturally you think about your future,” Mozeliak said. “Yes, my focus is on the baseball operations side, but I do get exposure to other aspects of the business. My role in overseeing that at this point is to make sure we have a succession plan in place and developing somebody like (assistant general manager) Michael Girsch to hopefully take this job. I look at my responsibility as not just what you see on the field but from a strategic manager position as well. ...
“I have a lot of confidence in where we’re going.”