After going all in, Cards mulling 2010
Building to begin in earnest after unexpected finish
ST. LOUIS -- Halfway through a promising 2009 season, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak took a look at his cards, assessed his hand and decided he liked what he saw. So he bet big.
A month earlier, in June, Mozeliak had made a relatively small bet, trading reliever Chris Perez for a third-base solution in Mark DeRosa. But in late July, he made his big move. Mozeliak dealt three of his organization's top prospects -- Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson -- for slugging outfielder Matt Holliday. He may not have pushed all of his chips into the middle of the table, but it was most of them.
Now Mozeliak must face the fact that his play didn't pay off the way he hoped. Holliday and DeRosa are both eligible for free agency, as are No. 3 starter Joel Pineiro, No. 5 starter John Smoltz and several other pieces from a division championship team. The work of building the 2010 Cardinals begins almost immediately, and it won't be easy.
"You're always thinking about next year, the year after, more big-picture," Mozeliak said following St. Louis' 5-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. "But as we sit here tonight, it's hard to do that. The fact is that there was a lot of excitement about this team, and we put a lot into it. We gave up a lot to get to where we got. So knowing that, we have to assess exactly where we want to take this next step."
The biggest question for Mozeliak may be just how good his 2009 team was. The Cardinals played a little over .500 in the first half, before they added Holliday and Julio Lugo. They went on a 33-11 tear after that, but faded a bit in September and were swept in the playoffs. The front office must decide where on the spectrum this team's true level was.
"It's hard to answer," Mozeliak said. "What team were we? Were we August or were we October? My heart of hearts wants to believe August. But there's still this September-October look. It's a great question. It's one I don't have the answer to tonight, but one I'll thoroughly think through."
If the Cardinals don't re-sign at least one of the two big midseason acquisitions, the deals will not be fondly remembered by many Cardinals fans. It's difficult to justify parting with so many pieces of the future and receiving rentals, if those rentals don't pay off in the form of a World Series title or at least a pennant.
Holliday has remained steadfastly noncommittal about his future with the organization and once again brushed off questions on the topic on Saturday night. DeRosa acknowledged he'd love to return to St. Louis, but also noted that he wanted to stay with the Cubs last winter, before he was traded to Cleveland.
"It's a talented group," DeRosa said. "I said the same thing last year. That's the way the game works. I said it last year, that the sad part is that there are going to be guys from this team that are not back. We'll see what happens. It's really the last thing in my mind right now."
Complicating matters in DeRosa's situation, moreover, is that the infielder will soon have surgery to repair a left wrist that proved troublesome throughout the second half. He played through the injury, but will have it fixed likely within the next couple of weeks.
It's just one of a lot of moving parts. So while the players finished their season on Saturday, the front office's toughest tasks begin almost immediately.
"I'll let them do it," said starter Adam Wainwright. "I'll let them handle that. I know 'Mo' and the ownership group will hopefully get a couple of these guys back. But if not, they'll put a crew out there for us to win.
"Once you've tasted this, and especially lost in the first three games like we did, the goal is to get back and do a lot better. So I don't think they're going to be happy with putting a team out there that's not going to do that."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.