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Hochman: Something must change with how Cardinals build playoff-ready roster

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Phillies down Cardinals

Phillies players celebrate winning the clinching game of the National League Wild Card series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman recalls Game 7 of the ‘11 World Series (11 years ago today), in which the Cardinals won their 11th title. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Braden Looper! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

John Mozeliak didn’t like the way it was phrased. That’s fair. To his credit, his Cardinals front office has built a perpetual winning culture — the Cards have had a record above .500 in each of the past 15 years.

But I asked if there could be a simultaneous pride in that but also an anger or frustration that the Cards haven’t won a game in the National League Championship Series since 2014.

“I think that’s your narrative,” Mozeliak said. “It’s not mine.”

Asked what his is, the president of baseball operations said: “We win baseball games. We get a chance to play in October. A lot of teams can’t say that. We’ll continue to try to put together a roster that gets us there. We hope to have more success in the future.”

St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022 talks about building back the team's offense and defense after losing Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina.

Manager Oliver Marmol himself had stated that only a World Series would’ve cemented 2022 as a successful season. Instead, the Cards lost, 2-0, in the wild-card round. And since that 2014 season, the Cardinals have won a combined five playoff games. Eight seasons, five playoff games won. Throw in 2014, when they won a lone game in the NLCS, and that’s nearly a decade of early postseason flameouts or, as seen in 2016, 2017 and 2018, missing it all together.

Mozeliak shared his perspective — he looks at each season as its own season.

He also pointed out the truth — numerous 100-win teams didn’t make the World Series this year. The playoffs often reward the hottest team, not the best team.

“So to say there were fundamental mistakes on how we built the roster, I just don’t think that’s fair,” Mozeliak said.

But I’m not referring to fundamental mistakes. Again, the Cards were good and are good annually. But something has got to change. Grandly improve the offense in order to change the postseason trajectory — and that means bigger spending on bigger names.

Why not give it a shot? Do something different and daring. Sign shortstop Trea Turner or Carlos Correa. Make a trade for a monster-mashing outfielder. Find protection for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Find a proven lefty bat — unlike last year, when the Cards paid for Corey Dickerson instead of home run champ Kyle Schwarber.

Worst comes to worst, you don’t make the NLCS anyway.

“I don’t think I’d characterize it as — because we haven’t been in the World Series in a while that we’re going to rethink our strategy,” Mozeliak said. “I think we always go into the offseason understanding what our urgency should be. It might not be the same as yours or maybe public perception. But we know that we had a successful season. We know we did not have a successful October. I think we all as fans realize — no matter how well you play in a season, there’s no guarantees you’re going to have a successful October. So we’ll certainly try to address the club, try to improve it wherever we can. And hopefully over the next three or four months, we can call that a success.”

To his credit, Mozeliak said Wednesday that the Cardinals will raise their payroll for next season’s team.

The club, after all, cashed in on the excitement surrounding Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina playing their final season ... and together. Now they need to replace those open spots — and bolster other spots. The Cards were 12th in payroll last year at about $170 million (per Spotrac). The Phillies, who knocked out the Cards, were fourth at $255 million. The Padres, who lost to the Phillies in the NLCS, were fifth.

The Cards should be able to — and should — crack the top-10 in spending in 2023.

Some of said money will end up in Adam Wainwright’s bank account. The legendary Cardinals pitcher, you may have heard, is back for one final season. During a Zoom call with media on Wednesday, “Waino” spoke of the Phillies – and filling the gap.

“When I look at that team,” Wainwright said, while waiting to pick up his kids in the carpool line, “the guy leading off every day, Kyle Schwarber, he was somebody that I think we looked at to sign last year, coming to St. Louis. But we just didn’t get him. But those big-time impact bats are big in the postseason. ...

“And I think an important part is — and (former Cards teammate and coach) Skip (Schumaker) and I were talking about it throughout the year — you need those pieces to surround those big guys in the middle of the order. Those complementary pieces are so big in setting the lineup, setting the table for the guys in the middle. And having some guys at the end of the order, too, so the end of the order is not just completely kind of soft, that’s a big, big thing.

“When you’re constructing a roster, GMs have their work cut out for them to figure out what that winning mix is. But getting that right mix is a big deal. When you have a couple of the right pieces in the middle, you have a couple of the right starting pitchers and guys down there at the end of the bullpen, you can win it. You just need a couple of complementary pieces to bring it home. ...

“You can do everything right and still not win. ... It’s not easy, but I’m confident. I think we can do it. I think our great general manager/president of baseball operations is going to go out and get the team around us that we need to win.”

This is the time to do so. This should be the winter fueled by discontent.

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