Are struggling St. Louis Cardinals due for a front office shakeup?

May 10, 2024; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second base Nolan Gorman (16) rounds
May 10, 2024; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second base Nolan Gorman (16) rounds / Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cardinals continue on their present pace, we may see something more rare in St. Louis than an Aurora Borealis sighting: consecutive last place finishes.

And that could lead to another almost equally rare occurrence: a front office shakeup.

The Cardinals began play May 10 in fifth place in the five-team NL Central at 15-23. That’s eight games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers and a game and a half behind the division’s fourth place team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Their .395 winning percentage betters only the Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies in the National League. It’s only about a quarter of the way through the season, but that's not too early to be concerned about a Cardinal team that finished last in the Central a year ago at 71-91 (.438 winning percentage).

The St. Louis Cardinals must entertain major changes (with clear successors waiting in wings)

That was the first time a Cardinal team had finished last in its division since 1990.  The last time the Cardinals finished last in consecutive seasons was 1907-08.

Cardinal fans are known to be a patient group, but that’s primarily because their club has dominated the NL Central. Since the division was redrawn prior to 2013, St. Louis has won five of the 11 division titles and made seven of the division’s 16 postseason appearances.

The abruptness of the team’s turn negative is amply illustrated in the record book. Between 2013 and 2022, St. Louis teams compiled an 848-669 record, a .559 winning record. Since the start of the 2023 season, the club is 86-114, .430.

What’s transpired to permit the turn towards negativity? A few things possibly. The club’s stars aged. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright retired, and Paul Goldschmidt moved into the senior portion of his 30s.

But the more systemic problem has related to the front office’s inability to patch the inevitable holes. That failure falls in the laps of long-time team President John Mozeliak and general manager Mike Girsch.

Between 2007, when Mozeliak succeeded Walt Jocketty as general manager, and 2017, the Cardinal front office ruled the National League with ruthless efficiency. For that decade-long period, the average impact of front office moves on team fortunes – as measured by Wins Above Average – was close to +5.0 games per season.

No wonder St. Louis was perennially at or near the division peak.

But that has changed in recent seasons. Since Mozeliak became team President prior to the 2018 season and Girsch was promoted to GM, the average impact of front office moves on team fortunes has been -1.8 games.

In five of those seven seasons, the Mozeliak-Girsch tandem’s moves have had a detrimental short-term impact on Cardinal fortunes.

And, to date, 2024 isn’t looking any better. Since the end of the 2023 offseason, the St. Louis front office has:

*Signed six free agents who have impacted the major league roster, the three most notable being pitchers Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn. The cumulative impact of those six to date? It’s -0.1 game.

*Promoted four farm system products with a cumulative impact of -1.2 games.

*Traded away Tyler O’Neill and Richie Palacios, who have combined to produce +1.1 games of impact for their new teams.

Factor in the players acquired by those trades and a few sundry free agent transfers to other teams, and the Mozeliak-Girsch front office is on course for another season of negative impact on the roster. The cumulative figure so far in 2024:  just short of minus one-half game.

Especially concerning is the productivity of the team’s farm system. Since 2020, players drafted and nurtured by the Cardinal farm system have averaged nearly -2.5 games of first-year impact on team fortunes. Front office practice has been to rely heavily on those players; this year’s roster has 16 such system products. Their cumulative impact to date, however, is -3.7 games.

The 2024 Cardinals feature four former first-round draft choices: Dylan Carlson, Zack Thompson, Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman. To date, all four are producing negative values, and those negatives add up to a -2.2 game impact on the team’s record.

Mid-May is too early to condemn the Mozeliak-Girsch tandem with its long, albeit receding, record of success. But it isn’t too soon to wonder whether 2024 is shaping up as a pivotal year for front office stability in St. Louis. Cardinal fans have been patience, but patience is an easy virtue to practice when you’re winning.   

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